“I’m not mad. Not anymore. I recognize madness and that makes me happy. Madness is doing what you hate for little bits of paper and metal. Madness is living in fear and hiding from joy. Sure, madness is also lighting your hair on fire and screaming ’I’m a rutabaga!’ But I have an easier time with that kind of madness. I mean, really, who hasn’t felt like a rutabaga?” asked the Hatter.
Alice had never felt like a rutabaga, but she didn’t say this. Instead she asked, “How did you get here?”
“I took the train,” said the Hatter.
“There’s no train here,” said Alice.
“I assure you that there is.”
“There are no tracks, only trees.”
“This train needs no tracks, no wheels, no engine, caboose, or steam. It is a train of thought, and requires only an open mind to be seen.”
“The train is in your head?”
“I assure you it is not.”
“But you said…”
“Do you find your thoughts are always in your head?” He asked. “I thought not. Now if you will excuse us, Hare and I have a train to catch.”
“Where are you going?” asked Alice.
“Somewhere with a little more… substance.” The Not-So-Mad-Hatter turned, followed closely by the shambling Hare.
“Wait,” said Alice. “Take me with you.”
The Hatter stopped, but didn’t turn. “You don’t know where we’re going,” he said.
“Anywhere is better than here,” she said.
“I’ve been to Anywhere, and I can assure you that it’s not. You see, the problem with Anywhere is that it’s still Here. Oh sure, you can go Anywhere, but when you arrive, all you’ll find are blisters and the same Here. The geography changes, of course, but very rarely does the perception.”
Alice looked around. Trees and shadows looked back.
“But, surely if I,” she began, but the Hatter was gone, as was the Hare.
“Don’t be so… literal,” came the Hatter’s voice. It echoed through the trees, everywhere and nowhere at once. “I know it can be difficult, seeing as you’re only five letters on a page.”
“But I’m not five letters! I’m a girl!”
“Four letters then,” said the Hatter, his voice fading. “Do try to keep it above four. Three letters get lost so easily, though not so easily as one.” The Hatter’s last word ended as a distant whisper, and he was gone. Alice fancied she could hear a train rumbling somewhere in the woods, but decided it was just that – a fancy.
“A train of thought,” she muttered. “Whoever heard such nonsense?”
She looked around.
“But he is gone, isn’t he?” She felt sad, but remembered the Hatter’s last words and decided to be courageous instead. That was a word that stood out.
“Courageous Alice,” she said. “Although frightened and bewildered Alice are just as long and more true.” She sighed, and then stalked off into the trees. Perhaps she could find her own train in here somewhere, or out there anywhere.