Cliffhanger Contest: 3RD PLACE WINNER – Alexi Dalamagas!

Alexi Dalamagas

The Wonderland of Terror

By: Alexi Dalamagas

Every minute felt like an hour, as Taylor stared sluggishly at the blank ceiling. The noisy chatter of students echoed within the bus and Taylor twiddled her thumbs, as she waited impatiently for her stop to come. Exhaust sputtered outside from nearby cars, and a gentle mid spring rain splattered the windows. Taylor was known to be a unique and studious girl, in fact she had straight A’s in almost every class. Though she was an exceptional student, she didn’t talk to many people, and she had been lonesome for most of her life. She felt it wasn’t necessary to waste her time on people who would just eventually leave her, scar her, and even hurt her. It was her mother who made her feel this way. She still remembered what her mom had told her when it was her first day of Kindergarten. 

“Remember Taylor, no matter how many friends you make out there in the world you’ll always have me. You’ll make friends, and they’ll hurt you, and you’ll make friends that you’ll keep forever. But, I need you to remember that I’ll always be your number one best friend, through everything, and I’ll never leave you or hurt you.” That day Taylor’s mom smiled broadly, and swept her off her feet, kissing her good-bye, and then letting her go off to school. She never forgot her mother’s words after that day. But, her mother was unable to keep up to her word. Three years later, when Taylor was only seven years old, her father told her the terrible news that her mother had passed on, for an unknown reason. She couldn’t forget the look on her father’s face after he had told her the news. He held her tightly in a hug, heartbroken, with rheumy pale blue eyes full of worry and sorrow. After that day, she was afraid to make friends again. Her mother had said she would always be her number one best friend, that she would never hurt her, or leave her, but she had left her and hurt her, so Taylor vowed to never risk going through that experience ever again. People had spoken to her, tried to get to know her, but she had always kept her distance away from others, and preferred to keep her eyes constantly submerged in a good book. It helped her forget her worries. Now there she sat, five years later on the bus, anxiously checking her watch, drowsy from the bus rocking her back and forth against the chair in front of her. She felt herself falling into a sort of trance as she sat there, the whole bus transitioning to a blur. Her eyes fluttered repeatedly, as the students’ voices on the bus soon became indistinct. 

Taylor found herself falling into a dark hole, no light abound, a dark aura surrounding the area. She tried to scream but no sound came out of her mouth. It was as if she had a piece of duct tape, taped to her mouth, forbidding her to speak. To her surprise, suddenly after falling, she had landed safely at the bottom of the anomalous hole.

“Welcome to Wonderland!” A voice screeched in the peculiar world she was in. 

Who are you? She attempted to scream, but remembered her voice was muffled, and nothing came out. She was fazed as she wandered the dark hole, but there were no boundaries, no matter how far she ran, she never reached the end. Her heart thrashed, as she continued to run, as fast as she could, away from the nightmare she was in, back to reality. A piercing scream echoed in the endless darkness, and she covered her ears, while desperately sprinting away. Faint cackling penetrated within the cave, as she hurried, desperate to find light. But at once, she stopped running, and uncovered her ears. An unfamiliar object was right there in front of her, in this deranged world she found herself in. She squinted her eyes and saw a painting drifting in the distance, sitting a few mere feet away, waiting to be admired. It was an extraordinary painting, with intricate details of a large garden littered with white roses, in front of a castle. She rushed over to get a better look at the strange phenomenon, when the floor beneath her collapsed. 

“You’ll be back soon!” The same voice shrieked, with a devilish laugh, and that was the last sound Taylor heard as she fell to her downfall. 

“Hey kid! Kid! Kid wake up!” A man’s raspy voice yelled, while coughing. The foul scent of smoke and tobacco filled the air and Taylor quickly woke up, startled and confused. Half asleep, the figure in front of her suddenly became clear and her bus driver stared down upon her. Her bus driver or Sam as the kids on the bus called him, was wearing a worn out flannel shirt, ripped jeans and had a nasty look, while blowing smoke into her face. 

“Where are we?” Taylor demanded, yawning noisily. She looked outside the window, trusting that the same familiar white house that she lived in would be in her view. But to her shock, an old, run down apartment stood next to where Sam and her were on the bus. Snowfall covered the once-grassy grounds outside, and a vast forest sat nearby the apartment. 

“Where are we, ya ask? In the town where I live, because you fell asleep on the bus, you moron!” Sam grunted angrily, nostrils flared. He fixed his stare on Taylor, glaring at her menacingly, as if daring for her to insult him.

“I’m sorry, what!? I fell asleep?!” Taylor exclaimed, standing up quickly, snatching her backpack. “Well, you need to take me back then because I don’t live here,” she said confidently, adjusting her posture. He inched closer to Taylor, blowing black smoke in her face, and cackled at her irritably. 

“You think I’m gonna drive you back? Ha! You’re insane,” he snorted, walking hurriedly away from where Taylor stood, as if desperately trying to get away from her. 

”HEY! What do you think you’re doing?” Taylor cried, as she darted to catch up with Sam. 

“Leaving you here because by the time you finish lecturing me on why I should drive you back, it would already be morning!” He grumbled, while opening the doors and exiting the bus.

“No please! I need to get back home!” She screamed, as she chased after Sam, panic rising in her. “Okay look, I didn’t mean to get off with you on the wrong foot, but I don’t even know where we are, and I have no way to get back home,” she pleaded, crossing her fingers behind her back, praying that somewhere in him, he’d have some sense of compassion. 

“Alright, y’know fine. There’s a payphone around here somewhere. Use it, get a ride, problem solved. Now go away,” he said, blowing a puff of smoke into the air. Taylor plugged her nose at the nasty smell, as Sam rushed toward his apartment. She sprinted, following him up the concrete stairs of his old apartment, coughing from the hideous tobacco stench. He looked over at Taylor and scoffed, not bothering to help at all, while Taylor gasped for air.

He has a heart made of stone, she thought. While Sam dug in his pockets for his keys, Taylor finally caught up to him, only to see him unlock the door to his apartment. Picking up the pace she charged at the door, attempting to get in before he closed it.

“No wait! I still need-” She hollered, catching her breath. Before she could even finish the thought, he slammed the door in her face, locked it, and was gone in a flash. She banged on the door violently, frustration creeping within her. Her temper reached its boiling point, and she kicked the door hard in rage. It’s no use, she thought. As if her day could get any worse, rain and thunder raged on above her, soaking her from head to toe. 

“Great,” Taylor thought out loud. She decided she wasn’t going to just sit on the stairs in front of Sam’s apartment, moping, and set off in search of finding the payphone Sam mentioned. She walked down an unfamiliar street, shielding her head from the falling rain, with a newspaper she found nearby Sam’s door. On the side of the street, she saw an old man sitting near a stop sign, staring into the distance. 

“Excuse me sir, do you happen to know where I might find a payphone around here?” Taylor asked politely, to the elderly man, who continued to stare into the endless cloudy sky, unaware of Taylor’s presence. “Sir?” She questioned, hoping to grab the man’s attention, who remained motionless.

 “Guess I’ll just be on my way,” Taylor mumbled, glaring at the elderly man while picking up her pace. 

“Walk straight, take a left, and you’ll find yourself there. Hurry up though, this isn’t a safe neighborhood to be in. Strange people,” the old man muttered, pointing in the direction she should head off in. “Thank you so much!” Taylor said, continuing down the sleek sidewalk, flooded with puddles. 

As Taylor walked down the street, attentive to her surroundings, nightfall hit, darkness creeping in, leaving her walking alone in the silent night. Thankfully, it had stopped raining but daunting barks in the distance, sent chills up her spine. Lamp posts, all around her flickered in unison and she felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. Ugh my legs ache, she thought, groaning. I need a break. At once, Taylor stopped strolling down the street, and sat down on the curb of the road, sleepy and tired. Nearby cars zipped past her as she gazed up at the shining stars in the sky. She wasn’t going to give up searching after all this time. She needed to get back home. Taylor sped down the sidewalk, hungry and exhausted but kept going. A cool breeze blew in her face and she crossed the street taking a left, as the old man told her. As she crossed the road, she reached a dead end. Still with no payphone in sight, only but a forest near her. Had the old man, and Sam been lying, she pondered, observing the vast amount of towering trees and bushes in the forest. She squinted her eyes, frightened, but at the same time intrigued to see what lurked within, when a ray of light shot up in the sky, from the forest. Was someone shining their flashlight? Without thinking, Taylor’s curiosity got the best of her and she sidetracked off into the forest to see what had sent a spark of light into the starry sky. She tramped in the thick snow, soaking her sneakers, but didn’t mind as she hurried along, using the flash of light as a guide through the puzzling forest. Sounds of barking and the hooting of owls became sharper and Taylor’s stomach tossed and turned at the thought of meeting face to face with a coyote or wolf. At last, she reached the source of the light, and saw something glowing in the snow, near a tall, ancient tree. Engrossed, she dug up the snow with her hands and they turned a burning red, from the ice cold snow. Oddly as she shoveled the snow, she felt a strange sensation in her veins. It was as if something in the snow was rippling, like water, except with an abnormal texture. She continued to dig, leaning closer to get a better look, when a slimy arm reached out of the rippling snow, slowly drawing her in. She screamed as loud as she could, hoping someone would hear her shrieking cries, as she fell into the darkness of a bottomless hole, trapped. A sinister familiar voice whispered in her ear, “welcome back.”