Swirling mist oozes from under my feet, and I am deathly cold. I flutter my eyelashes, waiting for my sight to adjust to the sudden dark. It feels as if I have fallen down a rabbit hole. Where am I — the question dissolves on my tongue. You know where you are, the wind whispers. I know that voice, I think. But I have never seen this place.
All is monochrome before me. Bone white to soft silver, pewter to charcoal — the world is striking with its sleek palette. A night bleached of colour, the rocky ground and sinister silhouettes are thrown into relief by the pale moonlight. I am alone but for the rotting corpses of fat caterpillars littering the earth. When I step on them, the sticky blood on my sole does not bother me. Nor does the solitude. Blood and isolation — I spent my life dealing with one or the other.
Curious, I pass through wrought iron gates. Curled like cats’ claws waiting to pounce, a railing top snags my sleeve. A slow rip as the fabric is wrenched apart — I welcome the sound. The unnatural silence is beginning to unnerve me; not the rustle of wind through trees or the call of a bird to break it. Even the beat of my heart is mute.
A misty cemetery lies in wait. Empty, but for the headstones sticking out of blackened earth like misshapen teeth. Again, the voice fills the wintery air — luring me further inside. Come closer, it purrs. I obey, following the overgrown path. Stone monuments cast uncanny shapes on the flinty grass. Some headstones are cracked and overgrown; others are well-tended with polished statuary. All bear the same name.
A bouquet of silver bluebells strewn on one grave catches my eye. I crouch down for a better look, keenly aware of the damp mist clinging to my ankles. A small glass jar filled with little white pills sits amongst the blooms. When I read the engraving on the marker it stills my breath. Alice’s Twenty First Birthday. Yes, I know this place now — it is a graveyard of memories. Mine. I touch the granite and feel the humming of a memory within; Dancing and singing and blushing. Hot sweat dripping down overexposed skin. The stone warms under my touch as images tumble into my mind; gin in pink teacups, white powder lining a saucer, scarlet lipstick. A filthy bathroom stall with flaking yellow paint. I pull my hand back, shake my head to dislodge the gnawing fear. There is no point dwelling on the past.
Instead, I pick up the bluebells. They are icy cold, the frosted petals glittering in the moonlight. Lost in their simple beauty, I almost forget the pill jar waiting in my other hand. Almost. Cautiously, I take one pill out, thumb the smooth curves of it. Such a tiny thing. Eat it the voice croons. I am familiar with pills. Intimately. They brought me here, after all. Eat it, the voice says again.
But I am not hungry.
Slipping the jar into my pocket, I crush the pill to dust then continue deeper into the cemetery. Decay, the tangy scent of it, fills my nose as I reach a crumbling mausoleum. White granite stands stark against the onyx sky. Windows hover overhead like gaping wounds. Shadows bleed from them, send shivers skittering along my arms. Nestled between two pillars is a locked door.
Carved on the left pillar is the figure of a man in a top hat. The checkered suit seems out of place, more suited to a tea party than a tomb. I pause to study him. There is something in his smile that disturbs me. Is it grief? Or madness? Perhaps it is both. An odd image, though not as disturbing as the one carved into the other pillar; A human-sized hare wearing coattails and a straw hat. What should be an absurd figure is instead vaguely threatening. There is no mistaking the violent madness in the creature’s overlarge eyes. A jolt of fear in my gut turns my attention, instead, to the coal-black door.
What lies inside, locked away? I wait for an answer. The voice remains silent. When I clasp the iron handle, the slim gaps lining the door fill with a blinding shock of light. I stumble back — a little dazed — and trip over a small glass bottle. Pain reverberates along my bones as my forearms smack the ground hard. Breathing heavily, I lie on my back cradling my elbows. Smokey clouds float across the night sky. I watch them form and reform. A queen. A heart. A rabbit with a clock. The pain subsides as I paint cloud pictures in my mind.
The bottle waits patiently.
When I eventually pick it up, my stomach drops. Inside is a liquid blacker than despair. Curious, I uncork it and sniff — ugh, licorice. Hastily I return the stopper, and see the words scrawled on the bottle. Drink Me. The glass is cold against my scratched skin.
I pull out the pills. Compare the two containers. Eat or Drink.
My last meal was when I kneeled by a piss-covered toilet and swallowed more pills than my dry throat could bear. When I wished for relief from the throbbing demands of life. Now, all I wish for is a way home. At the thought, the containers begin to glow.
“What happens if I eat these?”
Life, the voice answers warmly.
Agony. Ecstasy. Color.
“And if I drink this?”
The voice is hesitant when it says, Death.
Escape. Fear. Blackness.
Is that my only choice? I hate choosing between black or white — there are too many shades smudged between. Death has often called my name, its seductive voice promising me peace and new beginnings. More than once, I have considered its offer. And yet. Is this monochrome worth sacrificing the vibrant color of life? Abandoning the joy of fresh strawberries, spring daffodils, sunsets on the horizon. I do not know if I am brave enough to try again.
Behind me lie buried memories, before me the unknown. I’m not ready for either. Can’t I stay nestled in the strange wonderland of my mind instead? A bell tolls from above, twelve deep cries that shatter the silence.
Choose now. Life or death. My own voice echoes back to me. You are late.
Every nerve screams at me to protest, to argue. To demand more time. But my still heart knows better. With shaking hands, I choose a glass container and open it. Bring it to my lips. Swallow.
Down another rabbit hole I go.
is a young bisexual woman who lives in Dublin surrounded by books and half-dead succulents. An avid reader, she has a masters from Trinity College in Irish Literature and since graduating has worked as a bookseller and school librarian. She is currently working on her first novel.