In the end, it was the unicorn that had saved her, giving her courage to leave it all behind: to open the secret door of the stairwell and fly with winged feet down the twenty stories of High Tower ‒ to freedom. She never looked back from that day to this.
It had all begun ‒ well ‒ as all stories do. Long ago and far away, in a land not so different from this one, there lived a poor couple, who had little hope of ever changing their fortune, except for one single treasure. They were bestowed a hidden knowledge about their first-born child Alice. The midwife had predicted that no matter what ill omen befell her, Alice had a fate line of good outcomes; this was forever etched on her tiny hands, a sacred gift from the great white spirit of the unicorn.
Although she had no knowledge about this remarkable gift, Alice nevertheless went about her life with an intuitive knowing. All would work out no matter what the circumstance. And so it was that when she was accepted to enter the renowned Knowledge-of-All-Things University, a scholarship was awarded to her. And upon graduation, she was granted the highest honour ‒ the coveted golden pen from which enchanted ink would flow as long as her heart remained pure.
Thus, she set out to find her place in the world. But no one had warned her about the dragons and witches along her path. Even the trusted hare whom she had faithfully followed down the rabbit hole had proven to be a harsh task master and a rigid time keeper.
She had tried to make friends with the eccentric folk in her office. There was Henry, whose hyena laugh even penetrated the sound proof partitions, disrupting all potentially intelligent thought. Just beside him sat picture perfect Penny, forever poised in catlike elegance before her keyboard. And behind the single closed door was the frantic, foxlike caretaker Dr. Red, sequestered from all human contact.
Each morning, Alice walked mechanically through the security gates of High Tower, along with countless other drones, having presented her identification card which held no other distinction than her name ‒ Alice. Each morning both the retired commissioner Walrus as well as Dormouse the elevator attendant bobbed their nodding heads at all those who entered. Taking the elevator never made any sense to Alice; she worked only on the second floor, an easy walk up. Taking the elevator was a rule, however, she had learned to accept, among many others.
Over time, she had pretty much given up hope of ever finding her rightful place, until that one special morning, when an unusual event occurred. Just as Alice tried to pass through the security gate, the piercing reverberation of the alarm echoed through the lobby.
“Hold it there, Young Lady!” Commissioner Walrus bellowed, his face crimson and bothered, ready to burst ‒ along with his ill-fitting uniform. “Don’t you try to sneak by without your identification card.”
“I’m very sorry! I must have left it in my other bag.” Alice’s meek voice was apologetic. She was painfully aware that the line of agitated drones was quickly piling up behind her. “You know who I am. You’ve let me come through this gate for the past five years, Sir.” Alice pleaded.
“I certainly don’t know who you are, Young Lady!” Walrus’ response was firm. “No card! No entry!”
Then from the mass of discontented buzzing bodies, a clear voice of authority commanded:
“Let her pass! She is with me.”
The sea of drones parted as a tall man in a smart silver-grey suit made his way to stand beside Alice.
“Of course, Mr. Knight!” Walrus submissively clicked his heels, turning off the alarm as both Alice and her champion passed through the gate and into the elevator. Everyone knew Mr. Knight though she had no idea that he knew her. He smiled kindly when she thanked him for coming to her rescue.
And the morning that had begun poorly, continued to turn out alright for later that same day, Alice was summoned to the office of the High Wizard, on the twentieth floor of High Tower.
“I have need of someone who can be my scribe.” He bid her sit in the leather chair, across from his massive mahogany desk. “I understand from Mr. Knight that you have been seeking to use your golden pen.”
Now that came as a complete shock to Alice. How did anyone in this perfunctory, heartless place know about her dream to write with her golden pen? And then it came to her. Of course. He was the High Wizard. He could summon up whatever information he wanted. How grateful she felt to be recognized at last!
Thus, Alice became the scribe of the High Wizard who took her to all important meetings. He taught her that she who held the pen had the power to speak of any event as she perceived, as long as it was honest and untainted. He also explained many other things that would serve her well through her life journey. For several years under his rule, her magic ink flowed freely. But sadly ‒ as all stories must go ‒ the happy times changed. The High Wizard fell ill and was not heard from again. It was rumoured that he had departed, not by the elevator but through the aid of some unseen magic.
Over the years, he was replaced by others. Although Alice continued as their scribe, she held little respect for most who seemed to be more like Dementors than High Wizards. They each instructed her to tell their story, in ways she knew to be false, because the ink from her golden pen slowly began to dry up.
Then one day, while sitting in her corner office still on the twentieth floor of High Tower, it came to Alice that she was no longer inspired or contented. She was beginning to turn back into that same soulless drone whom she had long ago left behind.
Suddenly, out of nowhere ‒ because that’s how true magic reveals itself ‒ Alice caught sight of the fleeting features of what she knew to be a unicorn and whose voice she sensed saying:
“I will once again fill your golden pen with the sacred ink, if you do my bidding.” Alice eagerly nodded now recognizing the voice to be that of her first High Wizard. He continued: “And I will also show you a new path. Follow the Exit sign over a secret door that leads to the stairwell out of High Tower. From there ‒ fly away to freedom!”
And she did.
©Katalin Kennedy from my Echoes of Footstep