Page 32

And so it was.

It was a book. Where every page had a different pocket.

Alice reached out, amazed, to touch one of the pockets, and Oliver jerked the book away from her.

“What are you doing?” he asked, horrified.

“I just wanted to—”

“One does not simply reach into a pocket!”

“Why not?”

“What do you mean, why not?” Oliver looked absolutely ashamed of her. “What kind of manners were you raised with?”

“Hey,” she said, stomping one foot. “That’s not fair. I have very good manners.”

“Oh? And your mother taught you to go digging in other people’s pockets, then?”

“No,” Alice said, going red in the face. Then, more quietly, “I didn’t realize they were other people’s pockets.”

Oliver’s expression softened. “Have you never seen a pocketbook before?”

Alice shook her head.

Oliver’s voice was gentle and sad when he said, “I take it your mother’s hometeaching lessons were not very thorough?”

“Not thorough at all,” she said, staring at her feet.

“My apologies, Alice.” And he really did sound sorry.

So she looked up.

“Pocketbooks are full of other peoples’ pockets,” he said simply. “And one must not touch another person’s property without permission.”

“That seems fair,” she said.

Oliver nodded.

“So how do we get permission?” she asked.

“Well, we have to ask them, of course.”

“All of them?”

“Some of them,” he said, closing the book carefully.

“Won’t you please let me look in the book?” Alice asked. “I promise I won’t pick any pockets. I’m only curious.”

“I have to return this to a friend of mine,” he said, “so let’s wait until we’re in his presence. Besides, there’s very little light here, and it’s never safe when the sun comes out.”

Alice stared at him. “You never told me that.”

“I certainly tried to, didn’t I? Anyhow, now that we’ve got the pocketbook, we can turn our attention to other things. There are still a few items we need for our journey, so we’d better get a move on.”

Alice rushed forward so eagerly she nearly tripped over her skirts. She trailed too close to Oliver and kept stepping on his heels. Alice was now rightly afraid of Furthermore and its hidden dangers (and if she had to choose between here or home, she’d choose home every time), but everything was so interesting here—so different, so suddenly terrifying—that it was somehow addicting. After all, Alice had known loss and loneliness and bone-deep sadness, but she’d never known anyone who’d wanted to eat her, and a small part of her wondered what that was like, too. The thing was—now that she’d had enough time to process the shock of it all—Alice found herself rather . . . flattered by the idea. Our young friend had been paid very few compliments in her life and, strange as it was, she was pleased to know that someone thought she’d make a fine meal. That had to mean she was high-quality magic, didn’t it? That had to mean she was made of something strong and sustainable. Didn’t it?

Of course it didn’t. But then, very few grown-people have ever made sense of a young person’s mind, and I’ve no great ambitions to count myself among the pioneers. In any case, Alice was now more fascinated by Furthermore than ever before and she wanted to know everything about life in this strange land. Oliver, however, was reluctant to share.

“But where did you live?” she asked him, half jogging in an effort to match his pace. “Was it nice? Did your mother come to visit?”

Oliver laughed in this strange, incredulous way that twitched his face and pinched his nose. “My mother?” he said. “Come to visit? Alice, be serious.”

“But didn’t she miss you?”

Oliver raised an eyebrow at her. “I doubt it. Besides, would you want your mother to visit while you were on a task?”

Alice blushed. “Well, seeing as I’ll never have a task, my answer couldn’t really matter, could it?”

Oliver stopped, bit the inside of his cheek, and was generous enough to look ashamed of himself. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I forgot.”

“Yes. I nearly had, too.”

“Do you still have your card?”

Alice nodded, her fingers reaching for the stiff piece of paper tucked inside her skirt pocket.

“I still think you should unlock it,” he said.

“Yes, well, I think we should find Father,” Alice said, and looked away.

Oliver opened his mouth to speak, exhaled sharply, and said nothing more on the subject.

It was Alice who finally broke the silence.

“So what else do we need to get?”

Oliver glanced at Alice’s bare feet and said, “Shoes.”

“Shoes?” Alice hurried forward, startled, to catch up with Oliver, who’d already begun walking again. “But I never wear shoes.”

“You’ll also need to get clearance before we can leave Slumber,” he said. “So we’ll need to get you a ruler, of course—as all visitors must carry rulers—and then we’ll need to get it filled, which—”

But Alice had frozen still.

Oliver was speaking, but Alice could no longer hear him, and it took him a moment to realize she was no longer following his lead. When he finally looked back, he found Alice planted in place, her eyes wide with wonder.