Chapter Nine

In which Emma meets the Shimshake.

Finding Wonder

 

Emma groaned as the sun beat down on her, her own sweat dripping off her brow before sizzling to nothing. These mountains should have been freezing. Or that should have been the case with all of this snow swirling around her feet. But no. It was stupidly hot. For no reason.

She kicked a little of the snow out of the way, a few flakes feeling cool on her burning legs. She was surprised they didn’t sink into it, or that her shoes weren’t sopping wet from it. She was even more surprised that the sun wasn’t melting it down into an ocean. But that was Wonderland, she guessed.

“What is this stuff, anyways?” she asked.

“Silence. Keep your questions unasked.” The rabbit boy said.

Jerk.

She couldn’t believe she was following him. For all she knew he was lying to her and just sending her to her doom . . . but then why would he save her?

Emma thought back to the previous night, before the stool fight to the near-death. The rabbit boy had saved her from those rows of teeth back in the blue forest. If he really wanted her dead, he would have left her there. Right?

She looked up at him. His ears twitched this way and that, possibly listening out for danger. She wondered what kind of dangers this place held.

Her eyes wafted over the trees that had started sprouting up in front of them – wait, were they actually sprouting? – and the silver-white snow that still glistened underfoot. There was nothing that drew her attention. It just seemed . . . peaceful.

It reminded her a little of the meadow she had found at the fixer-upper Victorian Adelle had dragged her to. She had to admit that now she missed the house, even with all of its problems. Like the fact Adelle wanted her and her brother to live there for the rest of their natural lives. At least that place had her phone and playlists.

“Call it quits.”

The rabbit boy’s shoulders stiffened.

“What do you mean?

“This is obscene! Quit thinking of home. Now there is more road to roam!” He swung his arm out. “Look about! You’re shifting the range with your thoughts so derange. Focus on the castle now, or we’ll never make it to the Queen. Disavow those thoughts, or I swear I’ll get mean!”

Emma gritted her teeth. Was he trying to annoy her with that stupid rhyming?

“Sorry if I miss my own bed! It’s better than walking for miles on end like we are now-“

The rabbit boy stopped and spun around. Emma froze at the site of his wild eyes and flattened ears.

“Wh-what is it-“

The ground rumbled and Emma lost her balance. The rabbit boy caught her and held her close.

“Earthquake?!”

“No.” She could feel the rabbit tense. “Rabid Shimshake.”

He pulled her closer, nearly squishing her, and jumped. She tried not to scream as the wind bit into her face. She wriggled her head free in time to see a giant bear slashing at where they just were.

The beast roared up at them.

The rabbit boy and she landed on a high tree that sprouted from nowhere.

Emma held onto the boy, her whole body quivering. “Wh-what is that?”

The creature growled, swaying his massive horns back and forth. Its fur seemed to roll in waves down its massive back.

“No smack about that; it’s a Shimshake and it makes the earth quake.” The rabbit boy whispered. “It’s whiskered and nothing but trouble. We must leave here on the double.”

The creature turned towards their hiding spot. Emma held her breath.

Even with its tusks sticking out, it seemed oddly familiar. Like the creature from the meadow.

“H-hey, I think-“

“Don’t think. Don’t even blink.”

She huffed. “I just-“

“Enough. No more should be discussed.”

“Hey!” she muttered as low as she could. “I think that thing was in my-“

“For once be shy. I certainly don’t want to die.”

“And neither do I-“ Crap! Now he was making her rhyme! “I’m trying to tell you something-“

“No. Not one thing. Now, Alice quit.”

“I am not Alice!”

The creature roared again. It had spotted them. Emma thought she heard the boy curse as he jumped once more.

The creature head-butted the tree and smashed it into little chips. The ground shook underneath as its fur rumbled in waves.

Emma screamed.

The rabbit boy landed on another tree, and again the monster came pummeling towards them. One jump, one tree busted, one more tree to land on.

“We can’t keep doing this!” Emma shouted over the roars and quakes.

“Those breaks!”

The rabbit boy jumped with Emma to the ground. He swooped her up into his arms and ran for a snow-dusted mountainside.

“We’re going to climb that?!”

“Brat! We’re going to hide in that.”

“Wha-”

The rabbit boy ran straight for the side of the mountain. Emma clenched her eyes, ready for the impact. Ready to become mush for the Shimshake.

But nothing hit her besides a few sprinkles of snow.

“Oh. Open your eyes and look at this surprise.”

She unhinged her lids and peered into nothingness.

“A-are we dead?”

“No. we’re in a cave – a mountainside shed.”

The rabbit boy let her down. She tried to steady her shaking legs.

“Will that thing-”

“No bet, no ring. That beast can’t see beyond the mountain’s glamour as long as we aren’t noisy and don’t clamor.”

Great. She mentally slapped herself. Now they were stuck here because of her big mouth. Didn’t her dad always tell her to choose her words wisely?

“Can we have some light at least?”

A light flickered on.

“Oh thank y-”

She looked back at the rabbit boy, his face paler than usual. Emma turned to see where the light was coming from.

Behind them, a little further in the cave, a toothy grin stared back at them.

Emma could feel the air chilling – freezing – as the disembodied grin crept closer.

The rabbit boy pulled her behind him. He walked back, nearly stumbling over her.

They both kept their eyes on the creature-thing.

The thing laughed at them. Emma could start to feel the sun on her back. It was forcing them out of the cave.

The thing lurched forward. The rabbit jumped back into Emma, sending them both out into the sun. She could hear its maniacal laugh as the Shimshake roared again.

“Rabbit!”

The boy shoved her out of the way as the beast lunged at them. She plummeted to the ground, just seeing a glimpse of the beast as it entered the secret cave.

She covered her ears as roars and screeches filled the air. Then, everything was silent.

Emma dared to move, only to stop when something shot out of the cave. A bit of bloodied fur hit a tree and slid to the ground, the snow covering it up instantly.

She dropped back down to the ground. Her whole body shook worse than before. This place wasn’t a Wonderland, it was a horror land! She had to get away. She had to . . .

“Rabbit?”

She looked down at the rabbit boy, who had landed beside her. His ears laid over his limp body. He didn’t move.

“Hey?” She crawled over to him. “Y-you okay?” She shook his shoulder, but he still didn’t move – didn’t protest.

Emma turned the boy over to his back. And that is when she saw the blood. Purplish-red blood was trickling out of his side. Her eyes widened. The Shimshake must have torn into his side with its tusk.

She flinched away. How could she fix this?

The pack!

She took off the pack that the woman had given her earlier, amazed it was still in one piece. She ruffled through it. A lamp, some sandwiches and carrots, a spoon. But where were the band-aids and gauze?! Come on!

“My, my,” a voice came from the trees.

Emma whipped her head towards the noise.

Sharp teeth appeared one by one, moving along with the words. “Aren’t you and Cottontail in a predicament, now?”

Feather-like fur spiraled into existence.

“You might need some help.”

Two big black eyes popped out of thin air.

“Maybe I can help.”

Emma’s stomach dropped. The Cheshire stared down at her, his hungry smile facing her.

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© E.N. Chaffin 2018. All rights reserved. Any reproduction without author permission is against the copyright laws of the United States of America.

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