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Authors: Dakota Chase

Mad About the Hatter

BOOK: Mad About the Hatter
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C
OPYRIGHT

Published by

H
ARMONY
I
NK
P
RESS

5032 Capital Circle SW, Suite 2, PMB# 279, Tallahassee, FL 32305-7886  USA

[email protected]

http://harmonyinkpress.com

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of author imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Mad About the Hatter

© 2015 Dakota Chase.

Cover Art

© 2015 Paul Richmond.  

http://www.paulrichmondstudio.com

Cover content is for illustrative purposes only and any person depicted on the cover is a model.

All rights reserved. This book is licensed to the original purchaser only. Duplication or distribution via any means is illegal and a violation of international copyright law, subject to criminal prosecution and upon conviction, fines, and/or imprisonment. Any eBook format cannot be legally loaned or given to others. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law. To request permission and all other inquiries, contact Harmony Ink Press, 5032 Capital Circle SW, Suite 2, PMB# 279, Tallahassee, FL 32305-7886, USA, or [email protected].

ISBN: 978-1-63476-148-2

Digital ISBN: 978-1-63476-150-5

Library of Congress Control Number: 2015939859

First Edition August 2015

Printed in the United States of America

This paper meets the requirements of

ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992 (Permanence of Paper).

C
HAPTER
O
NE

 

 

H
ATTER

S
EYES
remained closed, but he was awake. Indeed, he hadn’t slept a wink in what felt like forever, even though it couldn’t possibly have been more than a mere quarter of eternity that had passed. He heard the lock rattle and the cell door creak open, just before a large hand pulled him roughly from the bunk to the floor, where what felt sure to be a booted foot connected with his ribs. His body instinctively curled into the fetal position, as if that alone would protect him should the owner of said foot decide a full stomping rather than a single kick was necessary. Pain shot through him like lightning, his nerves screaming. Cracking open one eye, he looked up at the Red Guard looming over him and felt a bit of relief. For once, perhaps, luck was, if not on his side, at least not galloping full-out in the opposite direction.

His quick glimpse told Hatter this guard was getting a bit long in the tooth to administer full-on stompings. Proper stompings required a great deal of energetic stamping, as well as vigorous browbeating, enthusiastic kicking, and spirited name-calling. There was a decidedly pink cast to this guard, as if he’d spent far too many years outside patrolling the Queen’s borders, his color slowly bleaching out under the brutal kiss of the Wonderland sun. He looked tired and worn, and Hatter noticed a crack in the armor on his left knee. Hatter almost smiled, deciding full-on, proper stompings were quite beyond this guard’s capacity. Hatter wondered what happened to all the younger, stouter, more crimson guards the Queen usually sent to administer the royal stompings.

Perhaps they had somehow all fallen out of favor with the Queen. Now, there was a lovely thought that cheered him considerably despite the ache in his ribs. He wondered if the other guards’ red heads were still attached to their red bodies, or gracing a series of pikes decorating the Queen’s croquet lawn.

His money was on the pikes.

After all, it never took much offense for the Queen to call for the Axe. Her temper was so quick he wouldn’t be surprised if this faded old Red Guard was all she had left at her command.

Nah. Hatter wasn’t that lucky.

Still, it was nice to dream.

“Get up, you.”

Another kick, albeit not as powerful as the first, sent Hatter scrambling to his feet. He was as quick, at least, as the pain in his ribs would allow.

The guard nodded toward the cell door. “You been summoned right and proper, you has.”

“A right and proper summons? Oh, dear. That won’t do. Not at all. Look at me!” He brushed futilely at the filth clinging to his cutaway coat and pant legs. Two fingers came away covered in a particularly gruesome spiderweb studded with tiny fly corpses. He grimaced and shook it away. “I’m not dressed for a proper summons. No, indeed. You simply must go back and ask Her Majesty for a right and improper summons instead.” He sat on the edge of the bunk, and crossed his legs. He tugged on his rather soiled, slightly frayed, fingerless gray gloves, and tamped his top hat down on his head. “Don’t worry about me. I’ll wait right here.”

For a long moment, the Red Guard looked confused. It was almost painful to watch as his expression morphed through several degrees of uncertainty as he obviously tried to muddle his way to understanding. Confusion, befuddlement, mystification, and bewilderment progressed each in their turn to puzzlement and stupefaction, which followed one another in quick succession before finally culminating in total disbelief, which, after an all-too-brief moment, deepened into intense irritability. A beefy hand reached down and plucked Hatter off the bunk as if he weighed no more than a dormouse, depositing him none-too-gently on his feet.

The Red Guard might be faded, but he was still as strong as any Hatter knew. He wondered for a brief moment if guards were chosen for their strength, or if they were somehow infused with it when they took the job. He wouldn’t be surprised if it was the latter. The Queen’s physicians had a boggling array of medicinal remedies at their disposal.

“None of your word games, Hatter. Get on with you, I say! The Queen is waiting, she is.” The Red Guard gave Hatter a shove toward the door.

He rolled his eyes. Wonderful. The very person waiting for him was the first person he wished dead—preferably beaten about the head and neck with her own damnable croquet mallet—and the first person who wished
him
dead, no doubt in a most discomforting manner probably involving hot oil and pikes. Having the Red Queen waiting for him made things oh, so very entertaining.

If one were easily entertained by things like unfathomable pain and eventual decapitation, that is.

His cane tapped against the flagstones as he followed along the twisting walkways of the Red Castle. He actually had no trouble whatsoever walking; the cane was more an affectation, an accessory, not a medical necessity. When given his choice, he went nowhere without it. It was a handsome cane, as such things went, carved from some unknown exotic, darkly oiled wood. It was as twisted and knotted as both his soul and sense of humor, and topped by a smooth cobalt blue diamond the size of a goose egg. Quite striking, indeed. Good
for
striking as well, which he proved when he suddenly spun on his heel and cracked the Red Guard atop the head with it.

The guard dropped like an ill-baked soufflé. Hatter sidestepped the body, pausing just long enough to bend over and straighten the Red Guard’s epaulettes—tidiness was a virtue, after all, and since Hatter possessed so very few of them himself, he felt inclined to practice those rare merits he did have—before taking off at a brisk pace.

He skirted the Royal Topiary, keeping his head low so the Red Gardeners, always armed with terribly sharp shears and remarkably short tempers, wouldn’t see him, then turned and hurried down a very narrow alley between the Royal Stables and the Royal Tannery. The reek of manure from the former and the stench of the vats from the latter forced him to hold his breath until he cleared both buildings. By the time he left the alley, his eyes streamed tears and his lungs burned for oxygen. He stopped, bent at the waist, wiped his eyes with his sleeves, and gulped greedy, noisy mouthfuls of blessedly sweet air.

Which, alas, was his mistake.

“You there! Hatter! Stop!” Another Red Guard, this one decades younger and shades redder than the last, called out from a nearby garden patio. “Seize him!”

Hatter didn’t need to turn around to see the dozen or so Red Guards swiftly approaching him from behind—he could hear them tramping across the patio like a herd of stampeding elephants in tap shoes. When they rushed him and pinned him to the ground, they
felt
like a herd of elephants as well. Porkers, each and every one of them. They really needed to lay off the tarts.

To add insult to injury, one of the fat bastards farted on him.

After enough time passed—he assumed they were hoping that with time, the pressure of their combined weight would squeeze him into a diamond, and trusted they were thoroughly disappointed when he remained uncooperatively fleshy—the weight lifted away, and he was yanked to his feet.

His ribs, sore from his earlier stomping, ached anew, although he refused to let the guards see his pain. Stubborn pride wasn’t exactly a virtue, but it was close enough that he counted it as such, especially since he had so very few authentic ones. He brushed his lapels, hoping his indignation showed half as well as the bruises he knew must be blooming on his face. “My hat and cane, if you please.”

His answer was the diamond knob of his cane pushing into his stomach hard enough to force the breath from his lungs… again. Gasping for air, he glared at the guard who held his beloved cane. “I feel obliged to warn you about the curse.”

The guard harrumphed, but a shadow of unease flickered in his eyes, just as Hatter hoped it would. The Red Guards were notoriously superstitious, after all, as was anyone who served the Queen for any length of time. They spent the majority of their day crossing their fingers, knocking on wood, spitting into their palms, and tossing large portions of their wages into fountains, wishing wells, and other small bodies of water in hopes of catching enough luck to avoid her displeasure one more day, and keep their red heads attached to their red shoulders. “C-curse?”

BOOK: Mad About the Hatter
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