How a slide can change
I counted to three and pushed, propelling myself forward, down the slide and into the tunnel, the sound of children giggling and the cool metal surface beneath me. I was having so much fun as the colours of the tunnel zoomed pass, green, red, yellow, and then everything changed.
The children’s voices melted like snow, metal changed to earth, and I found myself in a rabbit hole, still sliding rather than meeting the sky and my mama’s arms, I was now alone beneath the surface. I wanted to cry, this is not how it usually goes, after the tunnel I’m meant to be on the swings not here following a rabbit trail.
The ground speeds along, dirtying my dress and hands as I try to stop, to no results. I’m falling and falling and then right before the end I see a flick of white, a rabbit? Quickly I push myself forward, trying to catch up to it. I love rabbits, they’re so cuddly.
Down and out of the tunnel, I see so much green, trees everywhere, tropical flowers and the birds, I can hear them chirping a song that I’ve never heard before a soft musical note. I get up from the ground the same time a bird lands and I realise the bird is the same size as me, but how I don’t know, everything else seems to the right size… but not the bird.
“You need to follow the rabbit”
I hear the bird say as he looks towards the curtain of vines where a flash of white has just passed through. The rabbit! Yes, I nearly forgot, I must get to the rabbit; I thank the bird and follow after the busy rabbit.
“Mr Rabbit, please wait for me!” I say as I chase his tail, but he doesn’t turn around, he doesn’t even seem to have heard me in his rush.
“Mr Rabbit!” I can again as we pass through the forest and into a field of mushrooms, it was so adorable that I nearly stopped to admire it, all the mushrooms of different colours and sizes, they were like flowers among the deep green grass. But I mustn’t get distracted again. So I continued to follow the rabbit.
We kept running across the field until he suddenly stopped, turned around and gave me a big grin laced with…something I’m not sure really. He watches me as neither of us move , seconds go by before he speaks “Madeline, you’re here at last” he said with a slow, fake, soothing voice, all traces of haste now gone. With slow steps, he walks towards me, like prey and predator, I can’t move as he gets closer and closer, my heart skips and everything is telling me to run, but I can’t move. The Rabbit stretches out his hand “Come play a game of vines and ladders with me girl”
I stare at his hand, why had I been so insistent on following the rabbit, so much so that I didn’t even question why the bird was the same size as me or even where my mama is, I miss her, I think as my eyes wander from his hand to his face and his expression has changed. A hint of annoyance is on the crease of his forehead. I watch as his other hand fixes his monocle before grabbing my hand, taking the choice from me.
Hand in hand, he leads me to a house at the end of the mushroom field, I struggle as we approach the blue mushroom shaped house but his grip is firm as he drags me inside, locks the door and lets go of my hand. I scramble to the wall, away from the fluffy white rabbit, his fur fools me no more. “Now, now, Madeline, don’t be so scared, I would never harm you” He said with a blank face.
“Then why did you lock the door?” I forced out; I need to be brave.
“Because I can’t have you getting away, really, I just need you to play with me, don’t you want to play?” He said as if it were perfectly normal to say such a thing, “I’ll let you out when you promise you’ll play with me” He said, walking into the kitchen and coming out with a plate of biscuits.
I watched him set them on the table and sit down, helping himself to a snack of the chocolatey goodness, my mouth almost waters just looking at it, but I mustn’t. Mama’s always told me not to accept food from a stranger. He sees me watching however and offers a me piece, stretching the plate towards me and I really, really want one, but no! “No thank you” I say to him.
“I didn’t do anything to it, if that’s what your worried about” He said as he continued to eat, still with the plate held towards me. “I really would recommend you eat one, you’ll need it”
I’ll need it… I didn’t understand why I would need it, I’m not hungry and I can last quite a bit without eating “Not in this world you can’t” He said reading my mind
I stared in shock, how?
“Don’t worry about it… you’ll need to eat every 3 hours, or this world will rip you apart”
“Rip me apart!?” I said in horror, my hands shaking at the thought of being torn to pieces.
“That’s right, so eat please” he said unfazed by it all.
I slide down the wall and curled into a ball “Please take me home, I never wanted to come here...” I mumbled “please, please take me home”
“I can’t… you have to play with me first” He said
I looked at him, his soft fur a complete contradiction to every word he says and I know I need to get up, so I do with a deep breath, in, out and up I get “…If I play with you, will you take me home?”
“Of course,” He smiles and stretches out the biscuits, this time I do take one, I need to eat. We eat in silence until the whole plate was empty, him having ate every piece but one and then he got up and walked to the door without a glance at me, he unlocked it and walked out.
Was I supposed to follow him? do I want to, no, of course I don’t… not anymore. But how will I get home if I don’t, I don’t know anyone here but the rabbit and the bird who isn’t here. Closing my eyes, I breath and walk, following the rabbit once again.
Pass the field and into the woods we walk, on and on until the sky pierces through the trees, onto an open board of black and white squares that had ladders and vines placed within, it looked like magic. “The ladders go up” he said pointing at the ladders that ascend to the clouds “and the vines go down” The vines also hung from the clouds, it was a surreal mess of ladders and vines organized only by squares.
The rabbit sighed before speaking again “In a minute, the bird you met before will arrive carrying a dice, he will be rolling it for us. The game is very simple really, just walk the number the dice lands on and if you arrive at a ladder you climb it and if it’s a vine, then you slide down, of course the vines don’t really do anything if you’re on the ground floor” He paused and turned to me with a glint in his eye “Do you know what the objective is?”
“To get to the top?” I said, feeling that I somehow knew this game
The Rabbit gave a cackle “No, the objective is to it make it back to the ground” He said snapping his fingers and changing the scenery just like that, we were now in the clouds, the very top floor and they were like velvet beneath my feet. The top floor looked very similar to the first with the only difference being the texture of the board; my eyes wondered around and there was the bird, perched in the top left corner with a dice the size of a football in his beak.
“Ah Bird, you’re early!” The rabbit said as he noticed the bird. The bird didn’t reply but instead gave him a wary look. I wonder why… “Well now that everyone is here let’s begin the game, Bird, roll the dice”
A load thud was heard as the dice landed on the board as if it weren’t made of clouds, it bounced and rolled along before finally landing on a 6. I saw the rabbit smile just before a swarm of small birds appeared and knocked me down, it didn’t hurt but like the dice, when I fell, a sound that didn’t sound like falling into the clouds rang out. Confused I lifted my face from the clouds and saw that the rabbit was still standing, dodging the birds with ease as if he did this every day.
“I do, we’ve been waiting for you for a long time now Madeline…Do get up soon, you have to walk the 6 squares to your right”
I nearly forgot he could read my mind…why didn’t the rabbit tell me this part of the game before we started. The small birds were still above me, just waiting to strike again and so I thought it would be clever if I didn’t get up, but crawled instead. I only as far as one square before Bird, the one who was the same size as me, pulled me up by the neck of my shirt. “I’m sorry” He said, flying to the dice, snatching it up and returning to his corner.
So now I was standing again when another small bird launched at me and I dodged, I dodged! But quickly I started moving again, there were more coming. I ended up falling 10 more times before finishing my turn. The Rabbit made it through his turn within seconds, he also had a 6; it’s not fair that he got to practice and can now show off about it.
“There won’t be any small birds on the ground level” He said. The game went on like that with me falling and stumbling while he strolled through making idle talk, how it annoyed me. But I pushed on, eyes on the vine until I finally reached it and slid down without a second thought, glad to be leaving that eyesore of a rabbit behind.
The level below was a bit darker, but it was still identical to the top and I noticed that the bird with the dice had followed me down…but it wasn’t my turn yet…
He turned his back towards me and said “Hop on”
I looked at him, what does he mean hop on?
“Quickly, I’ll explain later, we need to go before the rabbit notices”
I looked from the bird, to the game and saw that half of the small birds were flying down from the top level; I hopped on his back without another thought and we flew away. I don’t know if this was the right choice, but I can’t stomach the thought of enduring who knows how many more levels of this game if I didn’t have to. We flew in silence for minutes of time before the bird finally spoke.
“Madeline, I’m taking you home now because I can’t stand to watch this anymore. We are currently in the kingdom of cards and you are the land’s prophesied girl, the girl who will open the portal to heaven and that game of vines and Ladders was the portal”
“That was the portal? How?” I asked, which got a sigh from the bird. “I don’t know” He said “Only the queen knows how, but that isn’t important right now. What’s important is that the queen can never get access to heaven, she wants to destroy and replace heaven with the kingdom of cards”
“why is this world called the kingdom of cards?” that probably wasn’t the best question to ask, but I don’t even know what to make of what he just told me… replacing heaven with the kingdom of cards…?
“It is called the kingdom of cards because our queen is the Queen of Hearts” and I didn’t know what that meant either, so I just watched the mushroom field pass as the wind moved around us, I watched as the mushrooms ended and the woods started, we were retracing my steps but from the sky this time.
“We’re approaching the tunnel now, I’m going to shrink us down and fly you back home, don’t panic if you don’t see me with you on the over side, I’ll be in the kingdom of cards” He said as I saw the rabbit hole that brought me to this world, I saw it and I cried, I’m going home!
“Get ready!” the bird said as we neared the entrance and began to shrink. I nodded and bird zoomed in, flying through the dirt until earth changed to metal again and I was sitting at the entrance of the tunnel slide.
The bird was not here, and I didn’t panic, just sat for a moment, still crying, and looking at the end of the slide…
“Madeline dear, are going to come down?” I heard my mama say from below, my mama!
“No!” I said drying my tears and taking the stairs, into my mother’s arms as she took me home.
The next day, I got a strange letter… it read
I’m sorry your visit with us had been cut short, the bird had to take you home because my Rabbit henchman had been acting against my orders and so you had to go home before he ruined everything.
But don’t worry… I’ll be seeing you again very soon my dear.
The Queen of Hearts”