"Tommy. Before you retire for the eve, would you check with the cook? Julie thinks she saw a bug in the dining room. We may have to fumigate again," Mary Richley instructed her butler, Tom Sley. "Maybe you should search that storeroom again?"

"Yes, ma'am. If the cook is still her--"

"I'm sure you can take care of it, Tommy."

She lay back on a comfy lounger next to the pool while Tom carried a tray of leftovers out, back to the kitchen. Of course the cook, finished for the day, had left for town. That meant he'd have to do the work himself. After washing those dishes and putting them away, he sighed and, grabbing a flashlight to check hidden spaces, slammed the drawer shut and searched the storeroom. No insects were found.

It had been a long fateful day for the man. Only that morning, his employer had given him a month's notice. Apparently, the family wished to hire a younger butler. His thirty years of employment there were coming to an end.

In retrospect, Tom knew he should have suspected. The Richley Manufacturing Company was in the process of defining a new image for itself. Other servants had already been let go in favor of newer, younger and more attractive employees. Even Ethel, the longstanding cook, had been replaced with a younger edition. It was the same at the many factories the Richley's owned. At the age of 66, Tom anticipated a long lack of employment.

Tom, however, didn't intend to go out with a whimper. He had his own plans on retirement, more lucrative ones.

***

Although extremely wealthy, fifteen-year-old Julie Richley was pampered but not a social animal. She went to a private school, her contemporaries equally rich. Her parents were responsible adults and expected her to be the same.

Not interested in sports, Julie was the studious type. Although her school insisted on reading the classics, she was much more interested in more violent types of fiction, especially paperback action series.

Julie still hadn't convinced her parents to buy her a motorcycle, but hadn't given up trying. Tall and lean for her age, along with long reddish-brown hair, she knew she'd look good with hair flowing in the wind and a powerful two-wheeled steed under her.

She hadn't yet heard of Tom leaving and would have, actually, not cared a whole lot if she did. To Alice, staff was staff, hardly on a par with kids her own age. Some employees were close, yet not so close to the girl. Though Tom would sometimes drive her to school, he did it on the other side of a partitioned limo, hardly a word exchanged.

As Tom ruminated on a complex illegal retirement plan, Julie was occupied in an illicit business transaction with her pusher.

"I'm not paying that much, Bobby. It's not as though these are nasty drugs, they're only cigarettes and cigars."

"Taxes are going way up, baby. Didn't you read the paper?"

"Not yet, they haven't. And that's only a rumor."

"They're illegal for you, baby. You're not eighteen." He shrugged. "I know you're in a hurry and it's not as though you can't afford it."

"And I know you don't wanna be stuck with them, Bobby ... baby. Who else is going to buy normal cigarettes from you?"

"I have another customer ... even younger. Take it or leave it." He picked the large package from the pavement and turned away. "And Alice pays with real gold."

"Better reconsider ... honey, babe, boob. I'm buying these for Alice, the one you mentioned, and I can always get my butler to buy them for me … legally." Julie moved in closer, angry eyes joining his. "A word from me, booby boy, and Alice will find another source."

"Gimme the cash. Okay? Damned broads … sticking together."

Taking the large package of cigarettes, cigars and lighters, Julie deposited them in the back seat of her Mercedes and left for Alice Adam's home. She was anticipating a visit to Wonderland. Neither Julie nor fourteen-year-old Alice smoked. The cigarettes were used by both the black and red queens as rewards for their friends and workers. Gargoyle Dragon, or Gargie to his friends, smoked the cigars.

(Note: Little Alice Adams found out by accident that if she pulled a photo of Wonderland up on her father's huge computer monitor, she could crawl inside to visit. She'd been doing it for years, ever since she was four.)

At fourteen, Alice Adams didn't need a babysitter for the time between when she returned from school and when her parents returned home from work. That was when she enjoyed quality time, even if it was alone.

Sure, Tom Cat was there but the two didn't get along too well. Not since she'd refused to let him eat even one of her then pet, Snowball Rabbit’s, kids. It had been years, but Tom was still angry. After all, Alice had had six rabbits and all he wanted was the one. The smallest one, at that. It was enough to anger any kitty. Now Tom happened to be locked onto the back porch with only an empty rabbit cage for company because Alice didn't trust him not to sneak into Wonderland with them. Didn't Alice have ANY thought of fairness? was his thought.

Every month Alice went in to visit and resupply the queens with smokes and was only waiting for Julie to arrive.

Alice had learned animal speak years before, though Julie hadn't. Most little kids can learn if they really try, and Alice had tried. No matter, since everyone in Wonderland could understand each other. Except, that is, for a few of the most stupid ogre's, who couldn't even understand themselves.

Most of the ogre's were nice people, among the many mythical creatures forced into Wonderland by encroaching civilization. Some, though, usually the younger ones under 200-years-old, were still rebellious.

After brief kisses and hugs, Alice booted the computer and brought up a .jpg photo of Wonderland, they entered through the screen, one by one. The red cards had built a wooden platform on the other side, so the trip was quick and easy.

First through was Julie, then Alice, herself. In their excitement, they failed to notice three strangers peeking around the kitchen doorway. They had been following Julie in order to kidnap her.

***

"What you waiting for?" Tom the butler whispered. "That's her, the redhead."

"I'm scared," Lennie Tompkins, whispered back. "They ... like went right into that computer. Nobody can do that."

"It must be a trick. They're on to us," their companion, Trinka Lemorski said. "Come on. Let's find out."

"We can still get her," Tom the butler said as the three hurried toward a flickering monitor.

"Where's that at, like?" Lennie said, one hand on the huge contrivance. "A pitcher an a field or somethin'?"

"Out of the way, stupid," Trinka pushed his hand off the monitor while shoving her other hand and arm, inside. "See? If they can get inside, so can we."

"I din't think kidnappin' would be so hard," Lennie said, watching Trinka's butt go through the screen. "Like, why don't we find a drink an talk ‘bout it first?"

"Move it, you ox." Tom lay flat to pull himself inside onto the platform, reaching back to signal Lennie to follow. On the other side, they brushed themselves off while watching the two girls entering a path on the other side of a freshly-mowed grassy field. Tom briefly hoped nobody would turn that darned computer off while they were in there. "I'll wait here to guard the entrance. Two small teenagers shouldn't be any problem for you."

Actually, older Tom was already exhausted and didn't like the idea of running across the prairie. As his companions hurried after the girls, he sat down on one side of the wooden platform to wait.

***

The two girls didn't notice the action behind them. They kept going into the woods, following one of five paths that wandered through Wonderland.

The two oldest pathways were the parents of the other three, who wandered around seemingly at random. Paths having little regard for residents, they loved to flip around the countryside at will, sometimes making it difficult if not impossible to get from here to there, or even back to here from there. Thankfully, Wonderland residents were familiar with the process and merely waited until their destination was in sight before stepping off.

Before long, the teenagers could see a small purple cottage in the distance, safely nestled between two large sheltering elm trees. Since the cottage, itself, was made of elm, trees around it were proud of the little home and made a point of keeping rain from its roof. It wasn't the largest, nor newest, building in Wonderland, but was the most loved.

It was also the home of Alfred the white rabbit and his wife, Snowball. Yes, the very same Snowball Rabbit that used to be Alice's pet and companion. It also sheltered two of Snowball's kids, Billee and Billy.

Although Alice knocked, first with a hand, then a fist and, later, with her shoe, there was such a cacophony inside that the door remained closed. Finally, she merely turned the knob and opened it to find a small party going on.

Snowball Rabbit and husband Alfred appeared to be practicing undercover horizontal gymnastics in the bed while a tea party proceeded across the room.

There was the walrus and the carpenter chatting with the mad hatter while Elmer the dormouse poured a fresh supply of melted butter into a teapot. Most of the noise seemed to be coming from the carpenter busily nailing biscuits to the tabletop. In their defense, they were freshly baked and, sensing a long life before them, extremely resistant to being eaten. Their screams only accentuated the pounding of the hammer and guffawing of the walrus. The walrus didn't mind because he was waiting for fishsticks to warm-up in a microwave. He abhorred buttered biscuits without fish to go with them.

Seeing the girls, the carpenter stopped, allowing three biscuits to escape, jumping into the teapot to drown.

Two rabbit heads appeared from beneath the covers, Snowball screaming, "Ohhhh, my GOSH, Alice and Julie. What are you – Stop Honey, that tickles -- doing here?"

Space was made at the table, though there were no extra chairs handy. Butter appropriately mixed with tea and dead biscuits, Elmer rushed back and forth to pour cups for the rest of the guests. For a change, and a huge change it was, the house was reasonably quiet.

The End of section one of four. If interested, I can IM the rest to you.
Charlie – hvysmker