Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Checkout (06/09/11)
TITLE: Stolen Tarts
By Phee Paradise
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“You can’t just close it and leave. You have to pay, you know.”
I looked up to see a Sheep sitting in a rocking chair behind a counter with a cash register on it. It appeared I was in a little shop with wall to ceiling shelves crammed with all kinds of odd things.
“Pay for what?” I don’t know if I was more confused by the sheep, who was knitting as she rocked, or by her words.
“Pleasure, of course. Did you not enjoy the book?”
“Oh yes. Loved it, especially the nonsense poems.”
“Poetry is extra.” A little bell rang as she reached out and pushed some keys on the register. “That’ll be two tarts for the book and an extra for the poems. Three tarts please.”
I didn’t know what to say, so I looked around. There was no wall behind me. Instead a path wound through some trees and crossed a brook, as if the shop were in a big park. I decided if Alice could take things in stride, so could I.
“Where am I going to get tarts?”
There was a blurring in the air above the checkout counter and a big grin gradually appeared. The mouth said, “The Queen bakes them fresh every day, as the King is so fond of them. You could go to the palace and ask, if the Knave of Hearts hasn’t stolen them today.”
I didn’t wait for the rest of the Cheshire Cat to appear. I turned and made my way down the path. I hoped it would take me to the Wonderland palace and not the Looking Glass one. There was a banquet in the Looking Glass, but I didn’t remember reading about tarts. I went past the White Rabbit’s house, and then a large mushroom with two pieces broken off the edges. On impulse, I turned down the path to the March Hare’s house. The tea table was laid out under a tree, but no one sat in the chairs. I didn’t see any tarts either. So I went on and eventually came to the croquet-ground. A few hedgehogs wandered around the ridges on the field; otherwise it was deserted too.
I jumped, but smiled in relief to see the Knave of Hearts sitting under a rose tree with a big platter of tarts on his lap. Red paint dripped down on his shoulder from the roses above his head.
“Would you like a tart? The Queen baked them this morning. She’s going to be yelling when she finds they’re gone.” He grinned, but his eyes darted around the field before he took a bite of the tart in his hand.
“Why, thank you.” I sat on the grass, making sure I wasn’t under any of the painted roses, and looked at the platter. Each tart was filled with strawberry jam and was the size of my palm. I wondered how I was going to carry three without smashing them.
“Actually, do you mind if I have three?”
“It’s not very civil to ask for more than you’re offered.”
“I know, and I’m sorry, but I need three to pay . . .” I stopped, wondering if he knew he was just a playing card in a dream inside a story.
“Pay for what?”
“Well, the Sheep said I had to pay for the pleasure of being here.” I waved my arms around. “In Wonderland.”
He squinted his eyes at me. “You’re a foreigner. Have you seen the Queen? Better stay away. She’ll want them to take off your head.”
He shifted his legs and bit into another tart. “Are you going to the trial?”
I didn’t know how I would explain that I’d already been to it, so I just nodded. He chewed and stared across the croquet-grounds, then guffawed, crumbs flying out of his mouth.
“You’re going to pay to watch my trial with the tarts I stole.” He laughed again.
It was a bit ludicrous and I started to laugh with him, but then the moral dilemma struck me. How could I pay my debt with stolen goods?
I jumped up and brushed the grass off my jeans. “Thank you, but never mind.”
I headed back, wondering if all sin was nonsensical. Maybe the sheep would accept the quarter I had in my pocket.
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