The Cockled Carroll

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By Ryan McSwain, ©2015

Many have asked how I, a spoiled layabout, came to my current station. I lied to each and every one. Maybe it’s just you, but there’s something about me, so listen as I tell you the real story. It is a winding tale like that of a mouse, but every word is true. At least, I think it is. I’ve been high for years.

I walked into the deserted grounds of Alice Park as the sun punched out for the day. An abandoned South Korean amusement park might not be your ideal vacation destination, but I needed a place dedicated to the Lewis Carroll books. So it was either that garish travesty in Dorset or this, and I’m already banned from the place in Dorset for the pants incident.

Rusting card soldiers guarded the park, but made no move to stop me. Past the tattered banners of the entrance arch, a Jabberwocky-sized Cheshire Cat leered from atop a building. His gaping black eyes accused me. I never trusted that asshole cat. Giving him a wide berth, I entered another building only to find a sitting room nailed upside-down to the ceiling. Totally impractical for biscuits. Back outside and beyond the trees stood a structure shaped like a giant shoe, as in There-wan-an-old-woman-who-lived-in.

“Amateurs,” I said. “There’s no shoe house in the Alice books. Should’ve hired me on as a consult.” I’m an expert on the works of Lewis Carroll, you see. I wrote my doctoral dissertation arguing the characters are not intended as political satires but as Jungian archetypes. Or rather that would’ve been my thesis, had I not been kicked out of the program for an entirely different pants incident.

It was while researching my aborted thesis that I learned of the legendary Cockled Carroll. The story goes that in 1972, Dr. Timothy Leary’s Swiss lab assistant spilled an experimental derivative of LSD on a collected edition of the canonical Alice stories, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. The shrivelled pages acted as blotter paper, and anyone who placed a piece on their tongue fell down the rabbit hole, through the looking glass, and boom, Alice, straight to the moon. Whether by occult forces or the power of suggestion, any partaker of the Cockled Carroll hallucinated the elements from Alice’s adventures.

I dismissed the story as nonsense worthy of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson himself. But I could not drive the notion from my mind. I grew obsessed, finding no relief in my work, alcohol, or masturbation. My books brought nothing further to light, and my fellow scholars mockturtled my search. Fortunately, there are still hippies in Cambridge, and hippies are less judgmental of shamanic quests.

Worthington succeeded where my superior brain had failed—Worthington of the dreadlocks and patchouli oil. Fortunately, I covered the exorbitant cost with my trust fund. Worthington hummed Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” as he fished through his bag. He handed me a plastic case containing a tiny scrap of paper. Part of the word ‘hearth-rug,’ lower-case ‘h,’ remained legible, meaning it had been torn from somewhere in Looking Glass. My face betrayed my disappointment at the meagre portion.

“This might be all that’s left, man,” he said. “But it’s all you need. My source says Leary nixed the formula because it has no half-life, no half-life at all, man. You lick that pulp and it’s inside you forever. As your attorney, I recommend selling it on Silk Road and investing in a healthy mutual fund.”

But I had money; what I craved was epiphany. When Worthington learned my intended drop zone was in South Korea, he had a fit. “Are you crazy, man? The South Koreans gave my buddy twenty years just from testing his hair for THC. His hair, man!” But I would not be persuaded. Once I had doubled his retainer, Worthington called his friend the glass blower. The sympathetic artisan encased the fragment in a smooth, sturdy capsule suitable for suppositing.

In Alice Park, I stumbled upon the glistening Caterpillar statue, the glass vase of his hookah smashed by ruffians. From his perch upon a fiberglass fungus, the man-sized moth larva looked alive in the moonlight. “Fuck it,” I said. This was as good a place as any.  I removed the recently-sterilized capsule from my pocket and entertained my common sense a final time.

“You could find anything in there, man,” Worthington had said. “Sure, it’s all well and good if you find yourself in a bed of flowers and bread-and-butterflies in a golden afternoon. Maybe you’ll go to a tea party. But what if you meet the Queen of Hearts, or you end up in The Wood Where Things Have No Names and forget everything forever, man? What if you unleash the goddamn, motherfucking Jabberwocky, man?”

I am not a brave soul, but I was already a trespasser and international drug smuggler. Might as well see it through, eh? I cracked open the glass capsule with a pebble and blew away the shards. Closing my eyes, I pushed thoughts of Jabberwockies and Bandersnatches from my mind and laid the fragment on my tongue.

“It tastes of vanilla,” someone said.

I opened my eyes. Nothing had changed. But just as I began to seriously question my life goals, something moved behind me. I turned to face one of the card soldier statues, a six of clubs with its face crumbled away. The moonlight squirmed in the air. From behind the statue emerged a four-foot red lobster, standing on its hind legs and holding a hair brush. It waved a large claw at me and skittered away.

“Who are you?” asked a condescending voice.

I looked up to see the Caterpillar, puffing away at his opium pipe with a demure expression. His body couldn’t make up its mind about how many feet it had—there were dozens one moment, hundreds the next.

Giddiness crept over me. “I say my name is Puddin Tame. Ask me again, and I’ll tell you the same.”

“What do you mean by that?” asked the Caterpillar sternly. “Explain yourself!”

“I’m not sure how well I can do that. I’m looking for Alice, you see—“

“I don’t see.” The Caterpillar blew a brilliant blue smoke square. It wrapped around me, smelling of poetry.

“Where can I find Alice?”

The Caterpillar’s tiny hands lined up in two rows and pointed to his left. I thanked him and walked into the trees.

“Come back!” called the Caterpillar. “I’ve something important to say!”

I tried to make my way back, but the glowing trees wouldn’t hold still. I heard a rustling in the branches above me. A horizontal crescent moon appeared. One piece at a time, the Cheshire Cat faded into existence. “Oh, fuck me,” I said.

“What’s your beef with me, buster?” asked the Cheshire Cat.

“Oh, just that you’re a dick. You’re one of the few who act like they’re trying to help Alice, but really you’re fucking with her like everybody else.”

The Cheshire Cat smiled so wide his head separated at the back into two pieces. “Sometimes fucking with people is the best way to help them. Case in point.” He pointed one claw straight down.

The ground disappeared, replaced by water. I fell in with a splash, and tried to remember if I knew how to swim. Just as I came to the conclusion that, no, I did not know how to swim, and, yes, I was most certainly drowning, a rowboat drifted beside me. It offered me salvation in the form of an extended oar.

I clumsily pulled myself into the boat to find Alice herself waiting for me, a curious look on her face. The young blonde girl was a John Tenniel illustration brought to life, but she wore the blue Disney dress.

“I really must say.” She spoke with the voice and precise pronunciation of Kathryn Beaumont. “Of all the creatures inhabiting my dream, you are the queerest. And that is saying something.”

“Your dream?” I asked. “I’m fairly sure this is my psychotic break.”

“Don’t talk nonsense. You’re just one more bit of fluff my mind has invented to amuse me. If I were to wake up, you’d go out—bang!—just like a candle.”

“That would explain quite a lot,” I said. “Alice, I’ve come to ask for your help. I want you to be my lifestyle coach.”

“Whyever would I do something so absurd? It’s positively anachronistic. Besides, I lack the necessary credentials.”

“Alice, lifestyle coaches need no credentials. And you are the fearless Anima, the child of the pure unclouded brow. I find my life confusing and often terrifying, but you eat confusing and often terrifying for breakfast. You openly mock the injustice of the Queen of Hearts. You possess the compassion to steal the Duchess’ hideous pig-baby. You have a dangerous lack of self-control. Please, dear Alice, return with me to England and be my spirit animal.”

“I might be willing. Yet what if I am, as you say, the hallucination? Won’t I disappear when the chemical evaporates from your addled brain?”

“The drug shouldn’t filter out. If it really will remain in my system, you should be able to as well. Please. You advanced from a lowly pawn to queen of the chess board. I implore you, help me do the same.”

She considered my argument as the boat floated down the river. “As you say, little dream, I am not without compassion. I will return with you and fix your pathetic life.”

So I hope that answers your question as to how a madman rose to the rank of president at King’s College.

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