The opening night reception at AliceCon was bathed in normalcy, as normal as an audience of Lewis Carroll disciples could be. Acolytes dressed as hatters, hares, hedgehogs, and other Carrollian characters convened in the cavernous ballroom like a belfry of bats. Near the stage, the Queen of Hearts held court, serenaded by a three-piece band and a tipsy walrus warbling “Jabberwocky” to the tune of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” After the last wimoweh, the walrus pointed at the Queen and wailed “off with their heads.” He then flippered over, spilling his hot buttered rum.
As the band announced a break, the Queen, a.k.a. Charlotte Litchfield, discreetly checked her costume for rum spatters. She was interrupted by baritones barking in unison.
“How d’ye do?” they said.
Tweedledum and Tweedledee—George and Harold Smith—posed arm in arm before her. In typical Tweedle fashion, they held out their free hands so that, as she grabbed both hands at once, they twirled around in a circle: a wisp of a woman whirled between ponderous ovoids.
“So pleased to see you both,” the Queen said when they halted. “It couldn’t possibly be AliceCon without you.”
“Contrariwise,” said Dee with a smirk. “It would be AliceCon, but oh, so dreadfully pedestrian, my Queen.”
“True,” she replied. After three decades of attending AliceCon, the Tweedles had the lock step walks and Carrollian lingo down, as did no others.
Dum leaned in confidentially and the Queen bent down so she could hear him over the background babble.
“Are the rumors true?” he said. “That Jake-ass is writing a bastardized Alice TV show?”
“I am afraid so,” she replied.
“Damnation!” Dum said. “How in heaven can we stop him?”
The Queen adjusted her crown. “I don’t think we can; the best we can hope for is that his TV series, no matter how appalling, reinvigorates interest in Carroll’s works.”
“Nohow,” Dum said. “Not if he’s really turning Alice into a caped crusader.”
“Which has been drearily done,” said Dee. “Psst.” Dee touched Dum on the arm and gesticulated toward an approaching character. Jet-black hair, pointed sideburns, and a black satin cape featuring a scarlet lining identified him as a Hatter (or an Elvis impersonator who’d fallen through the wrong rabbit hole).
Dum’s scowl matched Dee’s and, placing an arm around each other’s neck, the Tweedles trundled off.
“Fat boys bitching that I should be booted out of Wonderland?” Jake-the-Hatter said, sneering at the retreating figures. Without waiting for the Queen’s response, he monologued how he’d been pumped for information about his TV series ever since he’d entered the room. “Some cursing caterpillar just took a swing at me.”
“Which of his dozen or so legs did he use?” she mumbled.
“What did you say?”
“All these years with AliceCon, Jake, and you still don’t understand that long-time Carrollians like the Tweedles don’t like change.”
“That’s why they’re Cheshire chumps, smiling in the face of their own extinction,” Jake replied. “I’m all that stands between Lewis Carroll and obscurity. Look,” he said, waving his hand at the sparse crowd. “Two hundred and ten signed up this year. Four years ago we had double that. If we don’t attract new blood, AliceCon will go the way of the Dodo.”
“There are three dodos in attendance, and I’m well aware of the problem, Jake,” the Queen said.
“Don’t get huffy, your highness. We each have the same objective: put AliceCon back on the A-list.”
“And if you make a tidy profit?”
“What do you care, if it revives the patient?”
“Alice as a martial arts expert? The Tweedles bosses of a crime syndicate? What next, the White Rabbit as an assassin using watch-bombs? ‘I’m late—no, you’re late!’”
“Great idea, Queenie. Mind if I steal it?”
With strident chords on the lead guitar, the band resumed their performance, their booming base drowning out conversation. Jake wandered away to escape the noise while the Queen reclaimed her throne and observed the crowd.
The next morning, AliceCon was abuzz: figuratively with speculation surrounding the TV series, and literally as a small drone flew overhead shooting videos.