According to Alexi’s grandmother, the stuffed white Rabbit is to blame. 

“That’s what you get for letting him play with that dirty thing,” she says a few days after Alexi’s eighth birthday. “Staring into those dead eyes is making him peculiar.”

“He isn’t peculiar, he’s brilliant,” says Alexi’s mother Diana as she pours coffee into tiny china cups. They are patterned with purple pansies that look like bloated faces. “And it’s your dead rabbit, Mom. I don’t even know where you got that thing.”

Gran heaps sugar substitute into her coffee. “Well, don’t come crying to me when he gets his face shoved in the dirt on the playground.”

Diana pours two more cups—Alexi’s, which is mostly milk, and Rabbit’s, which is entirely air.

Alexi sits beside his mother, kicking his legs. Rabbit doesn’t have a chair, because Rabbit is dead and dead things get to sit on the table. The big yellow flowers in the vase are dead, and the salmon they’d had for dinner last night had been dead. Alexi isn’t sure where salt shakers and napkins come from, but he is pretty sure they’re dead too. 

Rabbit isn’t really white—her fur has faded to a chalky grey and her eyes are shiny black beads. She is slightly ragged from all the time Alexi has knocked her into furniture. Gran might complain about how filthy Rabbit is, but Rabbit is always there, waiting for Alexi whenever he and his mother visit.

Alexi’s Gramps squints up from his newspaper. “The rabbit and that get-up? He looks just like a little Alice.” 

Alexi smoothes milky fingers down the white and blue dress he’d put on for tea time; it’s one of dozens that hang in the closet of his mother’s childhood bedroom. He doesn’t know what being an Alice means, but he likes the way it sounds. The way it begins like his name and then veers off in another direction.

“More jam, little Alice?” Gramps offers the bowl, but Alexi shakes his head. He and Rabbit hate raspberry jam. The seeds get stuck in their teeth.

“Don’t call him that!” Gran scolds. “You’ll just make it worse!”

His mother’s mouth goes very thin. “Juice, Alexi?”

Alexi nods. “Rabbit likes juice.”

After tea time, Rabbit and Alexi go upstairs to change out of their party clothes, Alexi walking and Rabbit dragged by the ears. Alexi changes out of the dress and puts on a yellow skirt, and Rabbit gets a gauzy scarf draped over her head and pink socks forced onto her little curled-up front paws.

“Gramps is right,” Rabbit says as they survey themselves in the mirror. “You do look like an Alice.”

Alexi winks at himself, first the eye he has shadowed blue, and then the one in silver. “What’s an Alice look like?”

Rabbit doesn’t respond—sometimes she goes smugly quiet.

Alexi does get his face pushed in the dirt at school over the next few years, but so do a lot of kids, and none of them are secretly called Alice. More likely it’s his skinny arms and legs and crooked teeth, and his tendency to bite back when he’s mocked. His third-grade teacher tells him he shouldn’t pick fights. Alexi tells her the fights pick him. 

When Alexi is ten, his mother opens a small café, and she and Alexi move into the apartment above. It means more money, but it also means far fewer visits to Gran’s house. Rabbit is annoyed. No matter how many times Alexi tries to explain small-business ownership to her, she just sniffs and turns her faded pink nose up into the air. Eventually, around Alexi’s eleventh birthday, Rabbit stops talking to him entirely. 

A few summers later he sees a special on small mammals on TV, and he remembers the little yellowed creature that used to whisper to him at the dinner table and critique his outfits when he dressed up. He leaves the show on and wanders through his grandparents’ old creaking house, photographs of ancient family members staring down at him from the walls. He finds Gran smoking a cigarette in the garden and she scowls when she sees him. She hates his choppy black hair and pierced ears almost as much as she hated the tea party dresses.                       

“What, that old rabbit?” She takes a deep drag and coughs. “Got rid of that years ago. Right after your grandpa died.”

At Christmas, Alexi wears a pair of dangly earrings, tiny leaves of pressed gold and bronze. Gran practically rips them out of his ears, waving them in his mother’s face. “What are you doing buying these things for him? Look what you’re turning him into!”

“I didn’t buy Alexi anything,” Diana says. “He bought those earrings with his own money that he made working his own job.”

“Yes, a job you gave him! You treat him like a little prince, cushion him from everything!”          

Alexi wishes the ice in his veins would spread to cover his ears, so he doesn’t have to listen.

He wanders through the dead garden to the lily pond where he and Rabbit used to sit, breathing in the mildew and sharp smell of fish food. Alexi has read somewhere that goldfish are only small because people keep them in such little tanks. In lakes they can grow to be as big as tree branches. Alexi feels like that sometimes; his life is tiny and he’s crowding himself out, hunting himself to extinction. He’s tried to stop growing, to stop craving more, but the longing oozes out of him like pus from a wound. 

“Gran’s wrong. I don’t want to be a prince.” He speaks aloud to Rabbit, even though she’s not here anymore. “I just want to be able to wear a damn pair of earrings without everyone having a panic attack.”

* * *

In ninth grade, Alexi gets into his first real fight. 

He’s rolled up his shorts like some of the girls do, partly because of the June heat, but mostly just because he likes how it looks.

Gideon Shires, however, does not like how it looks. He has a wide, mad smirk whether he’s pissed off or happy to see you, so at first when he cruises by in the halls with his friends, beaming at Alexi, Alexi smiles back tentatively.

Gideon’s chocolate-kiss eyes glimmer.

“Faggot. Faggggooottt.” He says it again and again as he advances down the hall, faster and faster until everyone is looking at him. He fades off into indiscernible noise and shrieks of laughter.

The word is not what ticks Alexi off; it’s that Gideon thinks he’s just going to take it. That he can insult Alexi and then turn away, totally confident that he is safe.

His first punch catches Gideon low on his back, and his second hard on the side of his face. The surprise factor allows him to do some damage. Gideon and Alexi are about the same size, but Gideon has friends—all of them with similar sneakers and haircuts, all vicious. Alexi has no one.

Later, when his mother finds him in the nurse’s office with a split lip, black eye, and swelling knuckles, he tries to articulate the anger. He was a tide pool and the anger was a wave, pulling all the creatures inside of him out to sea.

* * *

Despite what his Gran might say, Alexi’s job isn’t easy. He has to memorize the twenty-two varieties of tea, all of them in their own little wooden boxes lined up behind the counter. He knows how to grind coffee and steam milk. He makes lattes for the college students with their laptops covered in stickers, serves slices of coffee cake to gangs of soccer moms. On Fridays, the same group of old men come in and order a single pot of English Breakfast tea. 

“Feathers,” grumps one of the men one Friday, who always wears a tie and banded hat. He points at Alexi’s bead and feather necklace.

Alexi braces himself. “So what?”

“Are you a bird?”

“Uh.” Alexi is derailed. “…No.”

“Then why feathers?” He flicks Alexi in the chest. “Should be finger bones and locks of hair! Don’t you have any pride for your species?” 

Hat Man has fuzzy eyebrows and he and all his friends are dressed in varying degrees of shabby finery—wrinkled suits and ties and handkerchiefs in pockets. They play checkers and argue politics. 

“What’s your name, kid?” Hat Man asks. 

“Alice.” Why not? He doesn’t give a damn what these old dudes think, and if they leave it would be better for business anyway—they barely buy anything and take up a lot of space.  

“Hear that, boys?” Hat Man’s eyebrows swoop. He’s got lint stuck in one today. “Alice.” The men all nod in approval, like it all makes perfect sense, the same way it’s always made sense to Alexi.

One morning Alexi arrives at homeroom to find his desk occupied by a girl in a green velvet dress. Her hair is short and sleek and dyed white. She doesn’t take her eyes off him. Not for a second.

“What?” he snaps. He hasn’t worn a dress in years and his piercings have nearly closed. What could she be staring at?

“You’re late,” she says as the bell rings, and pops her gum around a wide smile. She wears a men’s wristwatch that she’s spinning around and around her arm.

Alexi catches glances of her in the hall between classes all day, in her short dress and ugly combat boots with the dirty laces. She looks his way with her button-black eyes and she smiles. 

“Do I know you?” Alexi approaches her on the curb after school, where she is once again sitting by herself and watching him. “Because you’re kind of creeping me out.”

She leans back on her hands and splays her legs, dress creeping up her thighs. “Do any of us really know each other? Truly?”


He’s absolutely sure that the teacher called her name this morning, he just can’t remember what it is. “Who are you?”

She preens at her bangs and flutters her lashes. “Look close, honey bun.” Then she starts to giggle. It makes Alexi want to punch her almost as much as he wants to punch Gideon Shires.

“Oh, come on,” she groans. She mimes unfolding something in midair. “Imagine this is a scarf and that I’m wrapping it around my head. Or, you’re wrapping it around my head because I don’t have hands.”

A tingling starts in Alexi’s fingers and moves deep into the core of him, like his body is all empty, echoing corridors. The black eyes and the white hair and the voice.

He flees, chased by her shouts. “It’ll come to you!”


* * *


A sea of murmurs wakes Alexi in the night. He blinks against the blue-green light creeping through his blinds, cool, like light from an aquarium.

He puts on a hoodie and pair of Chucks, and creeps down stairs carpeted in red velvet. At the bottom panic blooms inside him; everything is on fire. But no. There is fire, but it is confined to candles and torches and delicate paper lanterns that drift unsupported against the ceiling.

There are people everywhere, far more than the café should be able to hold. Dozens and dozens of mirrors cover the walls and the ceiling, many of them fused into the plaster like they’ve grown there rather than been hung.

That’s not how mirrors work, Alexi tells himself. But figures move inside the glass all the same, who don’t necessarily match up with the people in the café. And the people themselves … they’re wrong. Backward. Alexi thinks it’s because they have too many limbs—or not enough? Joints that bend the wrong way. It’s possible they have eyes where mouths should be, noses on foreheads, an ear sticking to a neck—but he can’t seem to focus on one face long enough to be sure. Alexi’s stomach clenches and his skin crawls with a million tiny caterpillars.

A gruff, booming voice echoes from a corner. Alexi thinks he recognizes it. As he moves through the crowd, every face turns to look at him.

“Alice,” they say with mouths in the wrong places. “Alice.”

The old men are in the corner. They are all smoking (which isn’t allowed) and a bottle of whisky sits in the center of the table. As Alexi watches, Hat Man pours a shot into his tea. 

“Alice!” Hat Man claps Alexi on the shoulder. “Here, I got you something special.” 

“It must be Friday,” Alexi says, brain scrambling for something familiar.

Oh, yes!” Hat Man agrees. “Also Kazoo Day. Library Day, Asian Elephant Day, and Broken Appliances that Languish in Your Basement Day. Any day you want!”

“Oh—cool,” says Alexi. Hat Man seems to want him to be excited.

“Here, I got you something special.” From beneath an overturned teacup, Hat Man produces a string of large beads. “Brand new and one hundred percent dead!”

Alice rubs his fingers across the lumpy beads. They aren’t beads at all—they’re skulls. Miniscule human skulls.

“Thank you,” he says, and puts them over his head. His body obeys his mind the way it does in a dream—like someone has wound him up and let him go.

The men all huff their approval around their cigars.


“Very fine indeed!”

“A real stunner!”

He turns away and nearly walks into his white-haired stalker. He tips backward in shock; she doesn’t belong in his dreams. She catches him around the wrists before he can fall. She looks exactly the same as she did at school, except she has a pair of sleek white ears sprouting from the top of her head.

Despite his disorientation and the swirling grotesquerie around him, a childlike delight builds up inside Alexi. “Rabbit?” 

“In the warm, nubile flesh!” She bounces on her heels, then flicks one of her ears like she’s slapping away a fly. 

“What … how…” His mind skips several tracks. “—Where did you get those shoes?”

“The internet, where else? And what about you? Your fashion sense has really gone down the shitter since I’ve been gone.”

Since it’s the middle of the night and he’s just woken up to a home invasion, Alexi finds that a little unfair.

“Why don’t you dress up like you used to?”

“Because,” Alexi says very slowly, and his voice trembles like an acrobat on a beam. “I’m a boy.”

“And I’m a dead rabbit,” Rabbit says, spinning on her heel. “But I don’t let it cramp my style.”


* * *


Alexi has never had a hangover before, but the next morning he is wrung out like a damp towel. His memory hurts and there are holes in his head (possibly the other way around) and by the time he gets to school his muscles are trembling and he can’t remember half of what happened the night before. It had all made so much sense when it was happening, but now he can’t conjure it into anything plausible.

Seeing Rabbit in homeroom doesn’t make it any better.

That was a dream, he tells himself. You just dreamed your imaginary rabbit friend into the body of an awkward girl at school. But when she sees him, the girl gives him a fluttering wink that reminds him of an ear flicked his way and says, “Hippity hop.” And when he sits down next to her, it isn’t like making a new friend. It’s like greeting an old one.

Alexi has the dream again two nights later, except this time Rabbit is nowhere to be found. The only unoccupied stool is beside a boy in a suit and hat and paisley tie. He holds his weight on his forearms, hunched over a glass of something sludgy and grey. A gravel smoothie. When Alexi sits down, the bartender puts a coaster in front of him. It has DRINK ME printed in bold white letters.

“What’s in that?” Alexi asks, pointing to the glass.

The boy tips his head back when he drinks, tapping the glass with the tips of his fingers. He has a beautiful throat. and long hands. “Two parts resignation, one part despair, with a twist of total bullshit.” He grimaces at Alexi. “The Cocktail of Life.”

This guy doesn’t seem normal, exactly, but he’s more normal than anyone else here, so Alexi asks, “Do you know what this place is?”

“Haven’t figured out the theme yet? It’s Wonderland.” He wriggles his fingers. “Anything’s possible here.” His laugh is deeply scornful. “Or that’s what they told me. Mostly, people just come here to drink and dance. Whatever.” He takes another sip of gravel. “You can do anything you want, but no one knows what they want.”

“I do,” Alexi says.

“Seriously? Do you really?”

Alexi finds he can’t meet the boy’s gaze. “Sort of.”

“Right. No one does, and even when they do, they’re too chickenshit to get it.”

Alexi points to the boy’s drink. “Hence the resignation?”

A crash explodes through the café, a hundred mirrors shattering at once, screams of pain and a laugh that rolls like thunder.

“Jesus.” The boy drops his drink. “Not again.”

“What’s happening—?”


He grabs Alexi by the sleeve and yanks them both across the bar, sending a wave of half-empty shot glasses and resignation splattering around them. They hit the floor and Alexi bangs his elbow. The boy sprawls half in his lap. His body is unbelievably warm.

A reedy, grating voice cuts through the screams. “We know there’s a fresh one here! Maybe two! Tell us where they are, and nobody gets hurt!” A thud and a yell; clearly people are going to get hurt regardless. “Do you think we’re joking? Where is Alice?”

Alexi and the boy go rigid, like they are connected to the same strings that have just been yanked.

“You’re an Alice, aren’t you?” Alexi whispers. “Like me.” 

“Everyone here is an Alice. Or used to be.” The boy’s heart pounds; Alexi can feel it inside him. 

“They find you eventually, and when they’re done with you, you’re all—.” He lifts a limp hand to wave it in front of his face. “Screwed up. I always hide, so they haven’t gotten me yet.”

Alexi catches the boy’s hand and holds it, because they are both small and scared and the world around them is big and dark, the café opening up to the firmament of this upside-down dream world, as everything fades to blackness of sleep. 

* * *

Alexi doesn’t know how to get in touch with Rabbit; she always finds him. Today she’s lying on the grass in her green velvet dress and ugly shoes.

“What’s an Alice?” Alexi asks.

Rabbit props herself up on her elbows. “Ooh, you’re starting to remember! That was fast.”

“Just tell me!”  

“Fine.” She flops back down, talking to the sky. “An Alice is anyone. Anyone can be Alice.”

“I thought Alice was just from a book.”

“Well, the guy who wrote it definitely was one. He wrote a lot of bullshit. Stuff about me always being late, and Walruses and Carpenters and metaphorical shit.” She taps the side of her head. “That’s what happens when you get on the drugs.”

“So I’m an Alice.”


“Why?” He clenches his fists into the skirt of his sundress. “Is it because of my name? Is it because I’m a—.”


Alexi feels a soft brush of rage, a cat’s tail against him. “You’re the one who told me I should wear dresses—”

“Oh my god.” Rabbit kicks her legs into the air and laughs until her cheeks flush pink. “You people are so cute. Seriously, you should see what the rest of the universe says about you.”

The rage is a slap now. Alexi’s hands are trembling.

“You people eat and breathe and walk your squishy bodies around, make sounds that come out of a hole in your face, push your parts into other people’s parts to get off—” She snorts and covers her mouth to keep the giggles in. “And you think wearing a dress is what makes you a freak?” She sighs out a long breath. “No wonder all you Alices get caught eventually. Bunch of simples.”

Slowly, Alexi lets his teeth unclench. He doesn’t quite believe her, but he trusts her enough to try, because she is Rabbit and she knows him better than anyone else.

* * *

In spring semester, Alexi gets in another fight. He’s gotten into a lot since eighth grade—but this fight Alexi goes looking for.

Since the last party, he’s been trying to pick his fashion sense out of the shitter. He starts with longer t-shirts and athletic pants, then leggings, then those big off-the-shoulder sweaters that are so warm and so comfortable.

Hardly anyone seems to care. This is the twenty-first century, he tells himself. A boy in sparkly flats isn’t exactly news. 

But Alexi can always count on Shitstick Shires (as Rabbit calls him) for his daily dose of abuse. Gideon has a list of slurs so thorough and obscure that Alexi thinks he has to be Googling them. What’s worse, Gideon is even better looking than he had been the year before. 

“Is it messed up, hypothetically speaking—,” Alexi had once asked Rabbit. “To fantasize about licking someone’s neck while they’re threatening to cut your dick off?”

“Ehh. We’ve all done it.”

What does feel different is a floaty, asymmetrical dress he’d found at a thrift store, blue with a pattern of white rabbits.

“In honor of your benefactor,” Rabbit had said.

He feels tingly and charged when he wears it, like there’s something bubbling under his skin, and when he sees Gideon head alone into the boy’s bathroom, he can’t resist.

There are a ton of things he wants to say—all of which revolve around different forms of you are a douchebag! A sexy douchebag! But all of that blows away when Gideon turns around and in place of the usual Instagram smirk is raw, shocked fear.

And that’s just blood in the water. Blood in the fish pond, and Alexi can’t resist. So he just says, “Hey, asshole,” and punches him in his pretty mouth.

The fight is spectacularly loud, but it’s a full ninety seconds before two teachers dash in and haul Gideon and Alexi apart. Blood glimmers on the floor and the sight of it makes Alexi giddy. Either it came from his body, or he forced it out of Gideon’s. 

They tell him that he is being separated from Gideon for Gideon’s protection, which makes Alexi erupt into squeaky giggles. This, combined with the bloody face and smeared eyeliner, has Mr. Carpenter the guidance counselor looking ready to have him detained when his mom shows up. Diana doesn’t say anything. She doesn’t even look at Alexi.

“Mr. Shires says you assaulted him,” the counselor says, hands folded on his desk like he’s about to say grace.

“Yeah, I did.”

“He says this attack was completely unprovoked. Is that also true?”

Alexi fiddles with the edge of his skirt. “Yeah.”

Diana swears loudly. “Unprovoked?” She glares between Alexi and Mr. Carpenter. “That kid has been hounding Alexi for years.”

Oh, god. “Mom, don’t—.”

“—He has been tormenting my son over his—his personal choices, and what have you idiots done about it? Absolutely nothing!

Diana sits back in her chair, shoulders heaving. Mr. Carpenter is beginning to look certain that the mother is just as dangerous as the son. She has espresso smudged on her neck. At least she had put a sweater over the F*ck Boys Get Money T-shirt she’d been wearing earlier that morning.

“You bring up another point I want to discuss with you, Mrs. Robins.” Mr. Carpenter smiles blandly.

Diana must have known it was coming, but she still reacts with outrage. “Tell me where,” she snaps, stabbing her finger down on the desk. “Tell me where there’s a rule against boys wearing dresses.”

Alexi buries his face in his hands. He wishes he had another pair to cover his ears to drown out the conversation. 

There is no rule per se, Mrs. Robins, but there is a dress code, and rules against clothes that will cause a disturbance. If a male student were to, say, walk into the restroom when Alexi was in there, he might be—uncomfortable.

Alexi’s veins cave in on themselves. He feels like a cavern after a rockslide.

Aren’t there laws against this sort of discrimination?

Alexi thinks of the broken Alices in the club. Bits of him are sliding off and getting mixed around. 

State law protects transgender students, yes. If that applies to Alexi, we can take steps. Maybe allow him to use the staff restroom. But I’m afraid otherwise he’ll have to follow the dress code for boys.


* * *


Diana is silent for most of the drive home, while Alexi curls up in the passenger seat with his backpack in his lap and a suspension on his record. 

At a stoplight his mother finally says, “Why do you like those clothes so much?”

Alexi’s stomach fills with cold meltwater. He hugs his backpack tighter to him.

“I’m not saying you shouldn’t,” his mom prods. “I’m just asking why. I’m trying to understand so I know how to help you.”

Alexi draws in a breath that seems to contain no oxygen. “I don’t … I don’t need help, Mom. I just don’t want it to be a big deal.”

Diana smacks her hand down against the steering wheel. “Well, neither did I, Alexi. But then you went and attacked that boy.”

Alexi says nothing.

“Do you want to be a girl?” she asks, when the silence stretches from seconds to minutes.

Alex stares out the window, following the loop and dive of the power lines on the side of the road. “I don’t know.” 

But he does know. He knows that being a girl would just mean a whole other set of rules, new things he can and can’t wear, more obligations. What he wants is so simple; why is it so hard for people to understand? 

“I don’t want … I don’t know, I just like my clothes.”

“Alright,” his mother says, although he can tell she doesn’t understand. She doesn’t get why he can’t just do what he’s supposed to, wear T-shirts and baggy jeans and khakis, ugly flip-flops in boring colors when he’s at school. The clothes don’t make the man, Alexi. You can be whoever you want on the inside. Just follow the rules when it counts and you can be whatever you want when it doesn’t.


* * *


Rabbit doesn’t come to the mirror café that night, and neither do the men looking for a new Alice among the old, so Alexi dances, body possessed by the strange melody echoing from the enormous phonograph in the corner, crank turned by a tiny man in a giant hat. As long as he keeps moving, fear can’t touch him. Anxiety can’t touch him. Alexi doesn’t recognize the music, but then again he does. It’s every song he’s ever heard.

The boy at the bar is here because he’s always here. He watches Alexi throw himself against the bodies and wandering hands of the Faceless and the Melting and the Twisted, and he scowls. Alexi burns with satisfaction that the boy can’t keep his eyes off him. It adds to the tropical storm inside him, and he is spinning, spinning, spinning. 

When he finally staggers over to the counter he is so slippery with sweat that his hand glides across the bar. He flows up onto the stool. His whole body is primed for sublimation. 

“Having fun over here?” 

The boy sneers into his glass of resignation. Even twisted up in derision, his mouth is pretty. And so is his neck, and his elegant fingers. A slow brilliance rises in Alexi. He can’t believe how stupid he’s been. He blames the dream logic of this place. 

“Let me try some of that,” he says.

“No.” The boy covers his glass with his hand.

“Why not? Is it only for asshole closet cases who come to Wonderland every night for shots of despair?”

The boy goes still as ice. Still as marble. Then he turns furious eyes on him and Alexi sees it—beneath the hat, beneath the practiced indifference is the boy whose blood Alexi had finally felt on his fingertips.

Alexi grabs Gideon Shires by his ugly fucking tie and kisses him. He tastes resignation on a hot, rough tongue before Gideon shoves him back. He drags a sleeve across his lips. “Don’t touch me.” 

Wild laughter explodes from Alexi and he lunges for Gideon again, except this time he slaps him. Watching him hit the ground here is even better than the filthy tiles of the school restroom. He aims a kick at Gideon’s stomach, slow enough for him to catch, which he does. Now it’s Alexi who is on his back on the checkerboard floor.

The new Alices are fighting and the old push closer, whispering, their distorted faces all turned toward the bar.

Alexi looks up and sees that the ceiling isn’t a ceiling, it’s just empty space. Then Gideon is on him, kissing him so hard their teeth knock together and his head smacks the floor. Dazed, Alexi allows it for a few seconds before he bites down savagely. Gideon hisses out a curse that quickly becomes a yell, and when he rears back his mouth is red.

“You’re crazy!”

Alexi bares bloody teeth. “And you’re pathetic!”

The fight slips into Wonderland awareness. Just impressions. Shocks of pain, moments of contact that are sometimes violence, sometimes something else entirely. Exhaustion crushes Alexi, adrenaline saturates him. He sees Gideon propped up against the bar, breathing hard, jacket torn open, blood on his skin. Beautiful neck covered in bruises.

Alexi wants to take a picture and hang it on his wall.

He pulls himself to his feet. Around him, the music wails and the lights swirl. “One glass of despair,” he tells the bartender. “Neat.” He’s not actually sure what that means; he’s just heard people say it in movies.

Gideon grabs at Alexi’s leg. “Don’t drink that shit.”

“Why not?” Alexi is burning up, cheek aching where Gideon had landed a punch. “You do it all the time.”                     

“Because you—you’re not like me, okay? Stop—” He staggers to his feet, blood still dripping from his mouth. “Don’t give that to him!” he snaps at the bartender. “Alexi, don’t!”

Alexi wraps his fingers around the glass, cold and biohazard green. It beats against his palm like a heart. 

“You’ve never said my name before.” He drinks.     

At first it just tastes bad. Chemical sweetness and a syrupy aftertaste. Then it hits his stomach and the cold is like a stab to the ribs—impossible, choking. Alexi whimpers.

“I told you, idiot! I told you!”

He had only taken a sip, but a little despair goes a long way.

Alexi is lying in his bed above his mother’s shop, but he is also sitting on a barstool in a backwards place called Wonderland. Both parts of him are shaking loose and falling into one another.

Breaking glass and screams, mournful wails that Alexi isn’t sure are from outside his head or in it. And then he is being borne away by creatures with hard fingers and stinking breath, with high splintering voices that repeat over and over,

“Where is Alice give us Alice we want Alice.”

And finally: WE HAVE THE ALICE.


Gideon’s voice echoes in his head and he closes his eyes. When he opens them, he is staring up at nothing. Wonderland is capped by an infinite blankness.

Gideon is here too. Two Alices for the price of one.


They are moving, but it does not feel like he is being supported by anything. He is just gliding on his back through city streets lined with distorted buildings, their windows melted and twisted like the faces of the dancers in the club.

“Rabbit. Rabbit,” Alexi says. He’s shouting so loudly his throat hurts, but the noise that comes out of him is barely a whisper.

Warm fingers lace with his. They are softer than usual, slick with downy fur.

“Hey. I’m here.”

“Where—I, I can’t see you—” Alexi tries to turns his head, but he doesn’t seem to have one anymore. “I’m scared.” 

“I’m kinda scared too, kid.”

“Do you think—”


“I don’t want to be quiet,” Alexi says after a minute’s consideration.


“I don’t want to be alone with my thoughts.”

Nothing makes sense; everything surrounding Alexi is probability, infinite, indistinct waveforms.

Why does the Wonderland club look like his mother’s café?

Rabbit says, “What else would it look like?”

Alexi clings tight to his thoughts, gathers them in even as they try to slide away like marbles on a wooden floor.

I’m kidnapped. Kidnappers use vans. They throw you into the back of smelly vans with blacked-out windows that belong to someone’s uncle. They drive you out of town and hold you captive in warehouses. They tie you to a chair and make a grainy video with voice synthesizers and animal masks.

No, too far ahead. Just focus on now.

Gradually, Alexi feels the juddering of the tires, the gritty floor against his cheek. Then stained seats, tinted windows, and a curved ceiling lurch out of nowhere and adhere to his awareness. Despair still sloshes inside him, an overwhelming soporific that wants to keep him in the dark. He swallows it down like nausea.

Then he sits up.

His eyes adjust and everything is so precisely as he had imagined it that for a second he thinks that he’s awake, that he really has been kidnapped and what he remembers about Wonderland really had been a dream. But then he realizes that he can still hear the hungry, grinding voice calling his name.           

Gideon is here too, lying on his side, arms and legs tucked in. He is cold to the touch but he’s still moving, which means he isn’t dead.

“Gideon, Gideon—”

Gideon makes a noise like a lawnmower trying to start and rolls onto his back. Alexi recoils.

His eyes are fluttering moths, one on his forehead, one sliding down to sit on his sharp cheekbone. His nose has oozed, crooked, crumpling until it is threatening to drip off his chin. He has too many fingers sprouting from the wrong places.

“Al—Alexi.” Gideon’s beautiful mouth opens on his cheek, saliva glistening at the corners—he is sliding apart, losing himself, and Alexi can’t bring himself to touch him. His stomach twisting at the visceral wrongness of it all and he slumps back against the wall.

Wrong, wrong, wrong, pounds his heart.

Wrong, wrong, wrong, say the eyes and sneers that follow him down the school halls.

Alice, says his grandpa’s voice, Alice, says Rabbit.

Alice, say the monsters from the void. The ones hungry for his soul and his sanity.

“Alexi,” says Gideon again, voice watery. Alexi doesn’t know who to answer. He doesn’t know who he is.         

Gideon reaches for him, too many fingers brushing his leg. Alexi cringes back, breath heaving. He smells sweat and Axe body wash, a sweatshirt that gets worn too much and laundered too little. The way Gideon had smelled when they’d fought, when Alexi had held him pinned against the filthy restroom floor.

He reaches down and gently extricates his leg from the fingers. Gideon’s breaths puff like he’s trying to blow out candles. They sit there in the foul-smelling little van—a horror that Alexi had needed to dream up to make sense of anything.

“You’re still an Alice,” Rabbit tells him from where she’s crouching in one dim corner. He’s not sure if she is a girl or a stuffed bunny again, all shiny bead eyes and shriveled paws. It doesn’t matter. “Whether you like it or not. You have all the power.”


“Watch it,” Rabbit says. “Think fast.”

The monsters are here, waiting and hungry. 

Every story is supposed to end with a kiss. Alexi looks down at Gideon, leans in and kisses him—his mouth is still soft and vicious, even in the wrong place. Everything is there, still working, heart still pounding blood through Gideon’s body. All of the mixed-up people in the café, they’ve never hurt Alexi, never touched him. They just watch and whisper and try to feel a little bit of his light, his Aliceness. Not frightening, just strange. Gideon groans, deep and piteous, like he can taste the despair. He bites, but Alexi leans into the sting.

Alexi doesn’t think his kiss will fix either of them—the churned up parts will always be there, the hungry watchers, the whispers and the fear. And when he wakes up in his bed above his mother’s shop he just breathes, every inch of his skin tingling against the damp sheets. His mouth stings. His heart bounces through his veins.

When he untwists himself and stands up, he feels like his feet barely touch the ground. He levitates down to the dark café, espresso machine a hulking beast in the gloom, chairs upside down on tables. Outside, a car with its top down passes.

He thinks about calling Gideon and realizes he doesn’t have his number. He imagines him waking up across town, mouth aching, skin flushed, and all his senses full of Alexi.

He gets a glass of water from the tap. Then he goes back to bed.


* * *


His classes are the same, his teachers, and the low mechanical tone of the bell. Rabbit is gone. She’s not tipped back in her chair, flashing too much thigh, she’s not planted by his locker full of fresh derision for his fellow students, she isn’t hanging around the gym to walk him home at the end of the day.

It aches, missing her, but it also feels right—timely—the way it had not years ago when she had stopped talking to him. Maybe he’ll see her again. Maybe he’ll get a postcard with a muddy paw print, but Alexi doubts it. He thinks, probably, that she has done everything she can for him.     

Alexi’s problems don’t dissolve into the wispy steam of a happy ever after. People still laugh at him and whispers follow him in the hall. He still gets detention for disruptive behavior and dress-code violations. He and Gideon don’t become friends. They barely talk, and when they do Gideon is furtive and awkward. They don’t kiss each other until they bleed. 

But parts of Alexi feel raw and new, like he has just surfaced from a long fever. The fragments inside of him are looser, closer. He feels how easily they could bend out of shape. It is a powerful feeling, but also a frightening one. 

Potential energy, a bowstring before an arrow is released.

He knows what Gideon’s blood tastes like, how his mouth feels caving under his own. The peculiar crush and rumble of forming the space around him into something coherent. He is malleable, and so is everyone else. The world is big and dark and stranger than he thought.

That knowledge burns inside him, making currents in his bloodstream. It feels like change. It feels—in slow, building moments—like hope.




I have always had a taste for the whimsically grotesque. I’m not sure where it comes from. Maybe Dr. Seuss books filled with creatures with furry, elongated bodies, or the Oz books, with all of their walking and talking inanimate objects. My favorite movie monster is Guillermo del Toro’s shambling, emaciated Pan’s Labyrinth creature, with its eyes in its hands.

As I’ve grown up, I’ve become more interested in exactly what makes us, as a species, so viscerally horrified by looks and behavior that aren’t “normal.” I don’t think it’s innate. I think it’s beaten into us by groupthink and the control that others can exert on us by making us fear.

Five years ago I saw a call for an Alice in Wonderland pastiche anthology, focusing on modern retellings. It got me thinking of a story about a young person who struggled with conforming themselves to what people think is the right way to be. The correct way to look and behave. To consistently strain against the limits of their own skin and body, to not even know what they actually want to be. Only knowing that there’s probably no “right” answer.

It took until several years after writing this story to realize that the young person in question was me.

Since then, I’ve shared this story with other trans friends—both nonbinary and transfemme—and their immediate question is always, “How in the world did you ever think you were cis?”

{ Edited by Alexa Wejko. }