The old door didn't so much creak open as it banged, and Alice practically lunged inside with the heavy box of decorations. She dropped the box with a relieved sigh. The thick dust that covered everything poofed out in all directions as the cardboard met the wooden planks of the attic, catching the golden light that filtered through the dirty windows. Alice shoved the box up against the wall with her foot, and stood, surveying the scene for a moment.
Janice hadn't been kidding when she'd said they didn't come up here much. The dust now swirling around the air clung to everything, and abandoned spiderwebs glittered in every corner. The ceiling sloped inwards, peaking above the door, with three great beams that corresponded to the big pillars in the library below. A series of boxes much like the one she'd just dragged up the long staircase lined the walls, some with an old copy of a ruined book gracing the top of the pile, and others with less natural adornments, like old tinsel, or buckets. The warm yellow light of the summer afternoon suffused the room, and for a moment, she felt a strange nostalgia, like she was hiding in grandma's attic until far after she should have gone home.
That feeling snapped abruptly as her eyes rested on the floor at the center of the room.
There was a mirror. At least, there had been a mirror—what remained was a mess of fragments, scattered across the floor almost up to the door where she stood. The remains of the frame were missing. But the oddest thing was the total lack of dust on the mirror—even the floor it sat on was coated, but the mirror itself was completely clean. No footprints led up to it, or away from it.
Alice, quite suddenly, had to get back downstairs right this second.
She turned, but the door had closed behind her. She grabbed the handle, trying to open it until she remembered Janice's warning about the sticky lock. She bit her lip, trying to fight down the panic as she twisted the doorknob this way and that to no avail. She was stuck.
“What, leaving so soon?” A voice she knew from bad memories echoed out from behind her. “Alice, I thought we were better friends than that.”
She swallowed hard. “You... are not real.”
“Am I?” She refused to turn around and see him standing there, rising from the mirror like she would rise from a pool of water. “Then why, my dear Alice, are you so afraid of me?”
“You're a bad memory. A figment of my imagination. I'm not crazy anymore, darnit, and I know that you are not real!”
“Of course you're not crazy, Alice. You were never crazy.” His voice was smug, smooth, intoxicating, the perfect gentleman that he wasn't, he wasn't, she knew he wasn't. “But do you really have to take it out on me? I'm hurt.”
“You're a fictional character. I thought you up when I read Alice in Wonderland when I was seven. You don't exist. I know that.”
He laughed, like bells. “Alice, you know I was there before that.”
“So I was crazy before that. I'm not crazy now. Go away.” She clamped her eyes shut, keeping her hand on the doorknob as an anchor to reality. “You're not real.”
“Alice...” His voice was pleading in a way that already had what he wanted, the way he always had. She could feel him stepping across the fragments of the mirror, flickering in and out of reality as he touched them. “What happened? It used to be so easy for you to believe in me—all you needed was a book. Just that, one book, one afternoon—and you knew I was there.”
“I was crazy.” The words came in a half-sob. “Go away. Wherever you've been for fifteen years.”
“I never went away, Alice. You stopped believing, but I never went away. The others did, but you know...”
“Go away!” she shouted, finally whirling to face him. “I'm not crazy, I refuse to be crazy! I'm imagining you because of the mirror and the stress and I must be panicking, that's it, I'm panicking because the door won't open and oh no don't come any closer...”
“Shush.” He put a hand over her mouth, balancing precariously on a shard of mirror. “Now, Alice, dear, won't you calm down? This does neither of us any good.”
He was different than she'd remembered him. The parts were all there—the long curly hair barely held back in a ponytail, the well tailored suit jacket, the ridiculous top hat and white porcelain teacup in one well-manicured hand. But he was different—his eyes were darker, though still half hidden in shadow; his hair was brown now, instead of white, rich and dark like coffee or dark, expensive chocolate, shining like silk as it curled around his half-smiling face. The hat was even more ridiculous, if that was even possible—it had gained bits and pieces of belts and metal and a clock, stitched in to the grey fabric with black as night thread. The coat was a different cut, with flaired sleeves and a tie wrapped around one arm. And the ace of spades winked at her, tucked into his hat band, just as it had been when she had last seen him fifteen years ago.
He removed his hand from her mouth as her breathing returned to normal. “There, that's better.”
“You've changed,” she said breathlessly, trying very hard not to believe her eyes.
“You've changed, and so I have too.” He smiled a little at that, ducking his eyes beneath the dark brim of the top hat. “I am whatever you need me to be.”
“Gone?” She quipped, trying to regain her courage.
“Hah, no, not today.” His smile was a little more forced. “You can see me now. That's a start.”
“I'd rather not, thank you.”
“I'm just going to pretend you didn't say that.” He took a step back onto a different shard of mirror, moving like a dancer. “And enjoy my brief time with you. This, after all, is a rare opportunity.”
“If you so much as touch me...”
“You know me better than that,” he admonished gently. She hated to admit that she did. “We could have tea, Alice, what would you say to that? Just how we used to.” He gestured with the teacup.
“Not happening.” She swallowed. “I'm supposed to be working. As soon as Janice notices I'm not back, she'll come upstairs, and find that the lock stuck. And then she'll let me out, and I'll be fine, because there's no mirrors down there, so you can't follow me.”
“A shame.” He sighed. “My one lucky chance, and it has to be ruined completely by your lovely friend downstairs. Perhaps my friend the cat could distract her for a while.”
“Cat wasn't real either, don't you try to trick me like that.”
“I assure you, Alice, Cat is just as real as I am.” He turned, moving back towards her across the shattered glass. “Would you like to...”
“No. You're not real, he's not real, and you stay away from me!” She flattened herself against the door again as he stepped closer. He sighed again.
“You wound me, Alice, you really do. When have I ever hurt you?”
“Let's see, how about when you made me crazy.” She meant for that to sound exactly as bitter as it did, aiming the words like bullets.
“You were never crazy,” he replied placidly.
“Don't you go trying to trick me like that, I was crazy. I know I was crazy. I have to watch out or I'll go crazy again, and so help me if you take one step closer I will go straight back to that psychiatrist and have you medicated out of existence for good!”
“Rather drastic, don't you think?” He stood a few feet away, seemingly lost in thought. “But you would never do that, Alice. You wouldn't give up your imagination for the world.”
“I'd rather not.” He spun on one foot, pacing back across the mirror shards. “So you won't have tea, and you won't be civil, and you won't let me bring the cat to see you even. What a disappointingly boring adult you've grown up to be.”
“I'm sane. That's what counts.”
“Oh, Alice, I would so disagree.” He stopped again, then motioned to her with the teacup. “Well, if I can't come to you, why don't you come to me? If you are so sure that I am not real, then show me you have nothing to fear. Three steps.”
“This is a trick.”
“What would I gain by tricking you?” he asked patiently, hands outstretched pleadingly. “Three steps. That's it”
“You're going to pull me through the mirror or... or something, I don't know. No.” She shook her head violently. “I'm not coming over there.”
“Both you and I know that's not possible. If I'm not real, and you're not crazy, then show me that you are not so afraid of a broken mirror. Three steps, Alice. It's not too far.”
“No!” She finally broke down, sobbing. “No, no, no! I don't want to have to do this! It's my first day, and I don't know anyone, and I just moved in and I have no friends and now You, of all people have to show up and I...”
“Shh, shh, I'm sorry.” He moved quickly over to her again, wiping her tears with his purple handkerchief. “Don't cry. I just wanted to talk, is all.”
“Why are you doing this...” she whispered, her words half broken by the intermittent sobs.
“I'm not going to answer that until you can stop crying. Chin up, Alice.”
“Why are you doing this?” She choked back the tears, trying to look him in the eye. “Why trap me here, with the sticky lock and the broken mirror, and on my first day? Why are you even here; I mean, don't you have someone else to drive insane?” Her voice cracked again, and he smiled weakly.
“Come now, come now. Every hatter must have his madness.” He put a hand to the doorknob, leaning in close to her as he balanced on the last shard of the mirror. “It's just that you, dear Alice, are mine.” With that, the door clicked open, she stumbled backwards into the stairwell, and the hatter-the Mad Hatter, her hatter, the one she'd created and played with and loved and gone insane for-vanished into thin air.
It's not Alice in Wonderland fanfiction, I swear. It very heavily references that book, but it's not--the book is a book in this story just as much as it is in real life. Which also implies that this Hatter is not that hatter. He's a little bit... different.