Vincent in Wonderland


What I am in the eyes of most people-a nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person-somebody who has no position in society and will never have-in short, the lowest of the low. All right, then. Even if that were absolutely true, then I should like to show by my work what such an ec­ centric, such a nobody, has in his heart.

-Vincent vanGogh

Zundert, The Netherlands – 1864

Vincent skipped every other step down the stairs in a mad dash from his bedroom. He’d seen two of his father’s most long-winded parishioners walking up the path to the parsonage, and he didn’t want to get stuck listening to the same stories they repeated week after week. He was terrible at pretending to be interested.

He grabbed his blue bottle in case he saw any in­teresting bugs and fled out the back door just as the guests knocked at the front. He ran out of the garden, through the moor, and into the marsh. Each footfall sent mud splattering everywhere, and he loved it. Mud was real-the stuff underneath, hidden by the grass and the flowers. His parents only seemed to care about how every­ thing looked on top–everything, including him.

He reached the bank of the big creek and plopped down on a sandy patch of ground, chest heaving from his run. Beetles scooted across the surface of the water, and a heron landed with a faint splash in the muddy shallows of the shore opposite him. He ran his hands across the grains of sand, enjoying the feel of the rough grit.

The iridescent green of a water bug glinted in the sunlight, and Vincent reached for his bottle, then rose to his knees and leaned out to capture it. It danced out of reach, and he sank back to watch it skate away.

A rustling near the far hillock drew his attention, and a head bobbed into view. He frowned as the face ap­peared.


At thirteen, Hendrik had two years and about a foot in height on Vincent. Hendrik pointed in his direction as three more sets of shoulders topped the rise. Vincent couldn’t make out the words, but Hendrik’s mouth moved, and an echo of laughter reached him. The town boys always terrorized Vincent if they could, calling him strange, taking-and often breaking-his things, and shoving him in the dirt.

Vincent stood, vacillating between the desire to de­ fend himself and the desire to escape. He noted the wide brook behind him and opted to run. He’d certainly end up in the water if they cornered him on the shore.

He took off running, not toward home, but in the direction of the barrow mound on the moor. Most people were too superstitious to crawl into the burial mounds, but Vincent had investigated this one a long time ago and never found anything. It was partially caved in and barely big enough for him to hide within, but nothing marked the opening while the summer vines overgrew it. He didn’t think the boys would find him if he reached it ahead of them, and he was fast. This, he knew from experience.

When he topped the next hill, he rounded through the trees so he could approach the barrow mound from the back. It was the long way around, but if he took the shortest route, he’d still be in plain sight when the oth­ er boys came over the knoll. This way, he’d come to the entrance from the rear, and they’d never know where he went.

He sped on, branches whipping his face, thankful the mossy ground under the trees muffled his footsteps. He stopped at the edge of the tree line, breathing hard and checking for his tormentors. The dash from here to the barrow would put him out in the open. He ran as quickly and silently as he could toward the hillock and never stumbled. He knew the moor as he knew his own mother’s face.

The underbrush crashed with the other boys’ approach–they certainly didn’t attempt any stealth–but the swell of the barrow rose before him, and they were on the far side of it. He reached it and knelt in front of the opening, carefully parting the brush that hid it to climb in. He rearranged the vines covering the hole, then backed in as far as he could-thankfully, far enough that the light from the opening did not touch him.

Their voices reached him now. “Did you see where he went?”

“Back to his mommy, I bet.”

“Just like the little coward to run away!” That last one was Hendrik’s voice.

Their lumbering footsteps grew louder and loud­ er then passed into silence as they entered the trees. He didn’t think they would come back to look for him. They didn’t seem to have the patience for an actual search.

Vincent stayed where he was, though, relaxing into the cool dirt, taking in the dank smell of the earth. The light fell in patches across the ground in front of him, flickering as a breeze tickled the leaves.

He knew someone must’ve been buried here at some point, but that didn’t bother him. He actually enjoyed the dark stillness inside the barrow. He found it comforting.

The dead expect nothing of me.

Suddenly, the earth shifted behind him. He fell back, and a let out a sharp cry.

That’s not possible. I put my back to the wall when I scooted in. Unless….

He remembered the cave-in. Maybe it had been hiding something all along. He reached around and felt nothing at his back. A soft pitter-patter startled him, and he rounded to see a flash of white melt into shadow be­ hind him.

There can’t be anything alive in here! It was hardly big enough for me to lie down flat.

He moved deeper into the mound-deeper than it should have gone, deeper than it ever had before. Step after step, his bewilderment grew, but so did his curiosity. The tunnel shrank smaller and smaller, forcing him first into a crouch, then a crawl. Only blackness lay in front of him and only silence behind, but the familiar brown velvet of earth still padded his hands and knees with its clammy cushion.

I should go back for a candle. If there is anything to see, it won’t be very interesting in the dark!

But mother would never let him take a candle, and this tunnel didn’t even exist last week.

What if it isn’t here when I come back?

So, he pushed on. His crawl became a shuffle as the tunnel constricted even more, and he nearly turned back, but he found the dread of not knowing far outweighed his fear of going on.

Another rustle sounded in front of him.

I’ll probably get eaten, and no one will ever know what happened to me.

The thrill of adventure sent a shiver up his spine and goosebumps down his arms. It urged him on. He put his hand out once more and found only dirt.

But I just heard something further on! This can’t be the end.

He continued his blind investigation, moving his hand methodically across, up, then across again, careful to cover every inch. When his hand reached the level of his eyes, he felt an opening. Though surprised to find it angled up, he pulled himself into it and began to climb.

He continued up and up into darkness until he felt another wall of dirt. He pushed against it tentatively, startled when he broke through with almost no effort at all, revealing a shockingly bright light. Something shoved him from behind as if with invisible hands.


Normality is a paved road. It’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow on it.

-Vincent vanGogh

Vincent released a ragged cry then closed his mouth in silent wonder. A new world lay before him. He rubbed his eyes.

I’m hallucinating. Or I’ve fallen asleep, and Tm dreaming.

He shook his head.

I suppose I could’ve crawled clear under the brook and right into Belgium . . .

But he knew he couldn’t have gone as far as that because he’d accidentally wandered into Belgium once before, though, of course, not by means of traveling un­derground.

And this is nothing like Belgium anyway!

Red and orange leaves lit up the tops of the trees, brighter than any autumnal shade. Tall and willowy, they swayed in the breeze as if they lived in the water rather than the air. Long vines cascaded all around him, drifting this way and that, their blue-green buds fluttering and swirling around him like a thousand butterflies.

“It’s Vincent, yes?”

Vincent jumped and spun, tripping over his feet and falling hard into a sitting position. But only a small white rabbit stared at him with its beady eyes. It sat unnaturally still-its nose didn’t even twitch-and it only had one ear.

And then the rabbit opened its mouth and spoke. “Welcome to–“

Vincent screamed and scrambled to his feet.

“Don’t be afraid,” it said.

“But you’re  you’re a rabbit!”

“Yes, yes, something like that. Are rabbits alarming then? I really thought I’d picked the least threatening thing possible, but perhaps I chose unwisely.”

Vincent stared in disbelief.

“I could change again, if you like,” the rabbit said. “Would you rather I were bigger? Smaller? Looked some­ thing more like you?”

“You… “–Vincent stammered–“don’t even un­derstand what you’re saying.”

“Don’t you? I took great pains with the language, if nothing else.”

“No, no. I understand the words perfectly. I just don’t know what you mean.”

The rabbit cocked its head. “Difficult distinction. Words are their meanings, aren’t they?”

“I suppose. But are you saying you can turn into something else?”

“Yes, of course. I always forget how difficult this is,” it muttered. “I haven’t delivered a message in ages. I do try not to alarm the bodied creatures. It generally takes for­ ever just to calm them down, but you’re already listening, at least. The young ones are generally quicker. This isn’t really my body as I haven’t got one; I picked this form in order to communicate with you. This rabbit’s body was sturdy and quick enough, but it’s so much smaller than yours, it seemed harmless.”

“You don’t have a body?” Vincent asked.

“Not so to speak.”

“Then what are you?”

“A herald.”

“No, I mean, what do you look like if this isn’t your body?” A flutter ofleaves drew Vincent’s eye. “And where are we?”

“Ah, yes, that second bit would be part of my com­munique, wouldn’t it?” The rabbit stood on his hind legs, and a scroll of parchment materialized in his hands. He pulled a tattered string tied around the brown paper, un­ rolled the document, and began to read. “Vincent Willem van Gogh, welcome to Sian, this new world and so on and so forth, various formalities.”

The rabbit’s paw followed several lines of text before he spoke again. He seemed to be skipping over an awful lot of it. “Yes, here’s the important bit: your skills are much desired to aid in the preven­tion of the severest of calamities. We know we can count on you, et cetera… “–he skipped some more–“… thank you for your kind attention. Please be advised as to the risks concerning bodily harm and/or bodily alteration of which all potentialities should be considered, including the possible cessation of your corporeal existence.”

“That’s terribly vague.” Vincent attempted to peek around to read the letter himself, but the rabbit released the end of the parchment, and it curled up with a snap. “Do all the messages go like this? And do people often say yes without any further information?”

“Not as often as I’d like,” the rabbit said, “but then as I told you, I don’t bring very many messages.”

“Well… ” Vincent said, half to himself, “.. .if I could help prevent severe calamity in any world, I’d like to think I would try, notwithstanding the risk.” He stared at the ground for a moment. “Are people in danger?”

“Certainly,” the rabbit said. “This people will, in all likelihood, never exist at all if the danger is not thwarted.”

“So,  you’re saying I’d be protecting this world’s–Sian’s–future?”


“Why me?” Vincent asked. “I haven’t really got any skills. I’m mostly a disappointment according to anyone you might ask.”

“Well, then, let’s not bother asking them,” the rabbit said. “Going by all the wrong criteria, I’ll wager. I seem to remember that being a common problem among the humans.” Its nose twitched in a rabbit-like manner for the first time. “You know, I do think people usually ask more questions about the ‘new worlds’ bit.”

Vincent shrugged and looked around. “I see worlds everywhere. This one’s just bigger.”

“Hmm ….” therabbit said. “I begin to understand why you were chosen.”

“You haven’t answered my question, though,” Vincent said.

“Haven’t I?”

“No,” Vincent said. “Why me?”

“You will discover that in time.” The rabbit waved dismissively.

“And you never told me what you really look like since this isn’t your real body.”

“Ah, that would take too long to explain, wouldn’t it?” A pocket watch appeared in the rabbit’s hand, and the he tapped its face impatiently. “Now, you must choose. We’re late.”

Vincent realized the letter seemed to have disap­ peared.

Wish I could’ve read all the parts he left out.

“Aren’t you going to give me any more information?” Vincent asked. “Any idea what the disaster is? What my skill is?”

“That’s all for now. More later, and you’ll have an­ other opportunity to return if you choose. Or I can take you back straightaway. Send you right back the way you came.”

This jarred Vincent from his contrary line of ques­tioning. “Oh, no. This is  ” He trailed off, noticing once again the gentle vines swimming in the breeze, the mag­ ical quality of the light in the air. “This is a world worth saving, I think.”

“Very well. We’d best be off then.” The rabbit hopped a few paces, and Vincent fell to walking beside him.

“I’m not afraid of rabbits,” Vincent said.

“But you were afraid of me?”

“Rabbits don’t normally talk.”

“Ah, yes. I suppose that might be discomfiting.”

“And… umm”–Vincent smiled a little–“you’re missing an ear. Did you know? They have two.”

“Oh, dear.” The rabbit raised one paw to the side of its head. “Do they really? I only got a glimpse from the side, you know.” He shrugged. “It’s all the same to me. This is only for show anyway.” He gestured to indicate his whole body.

Vincent wondered again what the rabbit’s true form could possibly be but decided it would be useless to ask.

How can you be anything if you don’t have a body?

Vincent lapsed into a long silence, drinking in the very essence of the place, comparing it to his own world. Its light was stronger, yet not harsher. Its air lighter, yet more substantial. Its earth wilder, yet more gentle. Vincent remained entranced by the vines wafting deftly in the breeze as if they weighed nothing at all. He felt lighter, too, as if he might be able to jump into the air and fly.

The sun shone magnificently bright, catching in the translucent red and orange leaves and giving the impression of thousands of candles flickering overhead. Compared to this one, forests in his own world seemed thick and dark and heavy. He watched raptly as the light paled, casting a rosy hue over everything, passing into twilight and, finally, into the full dark of night. He’d been absorbing the newness around him, not wanting to sully it with talk, but as the darkness took over, a thou­ sand questions formed in his mind.

By the time he spoke again, he followed the rabbit more by sound than sight. “What is your name, Rabbit?”


“And where do we walk, Atralius?”

“On the terra of Sian.”

Vincent laughed. “You’re very literal, aren’t you? I meant, where are we going? What are our ends?”

“That is an entirely different question.”

The rabbit fell silent for several minutes before mut­ tering, “Our ends… our ends… everyone bothering with the ends. Beginnings, too! Get far too much attention if you ask me. The middles are really the thing, you know. That’s where everything happens, after all. What’s the matter with them? Now, tell me, young Vincent: do you see the path before us?”

“Umm, no, actually. I can’t really see anything at all. It’s dark.”

“Oh? Can you not? Well, my point exactly. There is no path. There often isn’t. Not so as most people could tell, at any rate. We just keep on and eventually we come to the end, but if we can’t enjoy the way until we get there, it’s hardly worth going on. Now, let’s find our friend.”

“What friend?” Vincent said, a hint of fear creeping into his voice. The idea of meeting someone in the dark in a strange world sent a shiver down his back.

Atralius ignored this question altogether. “Mind you, she thinks she’s finding us.”

Footsteps approached in the dark.


What would life be if we had no courage to at­ tempt anything?

-Vincent vanGogh

“Hello, my dear,” the rabbit called out.

“Oh!” A cry came from behind them. “Who’s there?” “Why, don’t you know, Mary Ann? You followed me nearly half the day.”

“You’re the rabbit, then?” she asked.

“That’s what I’ve been told,” Atralius said.

Vincent tried to think of a way to introduce himself so as not to frighten her, but the darkness made it terribly awkward.

The rabbit spoke again. “We’ve only just begun to look for you.”

“Look for me?” she said. “But I was looking for you!”

“Yes, and you’ve found us! How delightful!”

“Did you say ‘we’ and ‘us’?” A tiny quiver trembled in her voice. “Who else is here?”

“I am,” Vincent said. “I’m Vincent. I suppose you’re Mary Ann?”

“No, actually, I’m not. I’m Alice.” She paused. “Were you expecting someone else?”

“I wasn’t expecting anyone at all,” Vincent said.


“Oh,” Alice said, “who’s Atralius? Is someone else here, too?”

“No, that’s the rabbit’s name,” Vincent answered.

“That’s good, anyway.” She sounded relieved. “I was beginning to feel a bit outnumbered.”

Atralius spoke up. “I expected no one but you, Mary Ann. You’re certain that’s not your name?”


“Interesting,” the rabbit remarked.

A flutter filled the air, as of someone thumbing through a pile of pages.

“What are you doing, Atralius?” Vincent asked.

“Just checking my notes.”

“But it’s dark. You can’t possibly see…… “

“No,” Atralius interrupted. “You can’t possibly see, or so you say. I can see just fine. How about you, Mary Ann?”

“I can’t see a thing, I’m sure!”

“Hmph.” Atralius grunted, the sound of shuffling papers continuing all the while. “So limiting, your bod­ies. Glad I don’t have one.”

“What?” Alice said.

Vincent heard another little quaver in her voice. “Don’t mind him. He’s a rabbit as far as we’re concerned.”

“Oh, good. It is bothersome not being able to see you.” She drew in a breath. “If he’s a rabbit, Vincent, then what are you?” She had mastered the tremor in her voice

but still didn’t sound quite at ease.

“Oh, I’m a human,” he said, a flutter of fear surfac­ing in his own mind. He managed to stutter a question. “And… uh… umm … you?”

”I’m a human, too,” she said with a nervous chuckle. “I’m so glad you are.”

“Aha!” Atralius cried out. “Someone’s revised the notes! No one told me to expect a new version. Mary Ann is, apparently, averse to getting dirty, and that has overcome her curiosity.”

“What has that got to do with anything?” Vincent asked.

“This one’s come in her place, obviously.” He crin­ kled some more papers. “You won’t mind if I call you Mary Ann, dear? I memorized my notes millennia ago, and I’m not sure I can adjust.”

“I…” she started.

“Good,” Atralius said. “That’s settled then. Now, I have a letter for you as well.” He began reading. “Alice Pleasance Liddell. .. “

Vincent stopped him. “Is this going to be just like my letter?”

“Exactly so,” the rabbit said. “Then I think I can speed this up.”

“By all means.”

“OK, Alice,” Vincent said, “this is a new world–it’s called Sian, by the way–and it’s in some kind of danger, and you and I have some skill required to prevent the disaster, but we’re likely to die along the way. I asked a few questions that got me not much further than that, though I did establish we’d be protecting a future people who don’t exist yet.”

“Oh, I see,” Alice said somberly. “Protecting yourself would be difficult if you don’t exist yet. So, you’ve decided to continue on, Vincent?”

“Yes, but I’m sure you don’t have to if you don’t feel it’s the right thing. I’ve always hoped I would be brave if given the responsibility.” He paused. “And honestly, our world seems awfully dull after seeing just a bit of the beauty in this one. Atralius said we’d have another chance to change our minds, and no matter what, I don’t like the idea of going back just yet.”

“Yes,” she said. “I quite agree.”

“Wonderful!” Atralius said. “Now, let us march on.” The sound of his hops told them he’d already raced ahead, and they followed him as well as they could in the dark.

Suddenly, Vincent’s foot caught on something, and he toppled forward, banging his knee when he landed.

“OW!” he cried, rolling over to regain his footing almost immediately.

“Are you OK?” Alice asked, concern spilling into her voice.

“Yes, just a bruise, I think,” Vincent said, glad the darkness hid his face, which was surely reddening.

They’d fallen behind, and the rabbit’s tiny footfalls pattered lightly as he backtracked. “Are you coming?”

“Yes, we’re right behind you.” Vincent brushed off his trousers and didn’t mention the fall.

Several slight thumps told him Atralius had already bounded ahead.

“Vincent,” Alice said, “I hope you won’t think me forward, but would you hold my hand? I’m a bit afraid of falling, too, and it would be comforting to know where something-someone-is in this dark.”

“Of course.” His face grew even hotter. ‘Tm sorry I didn’t offer.” Alice’s hand in his own calmed him some­ how. “The dark doesn’t seem quite as complete now. It’s almost as if someone turned on a light.”

“Is it?” Alice said. ‘Tm glad. I feel the same-as if I could never get lost now that you’re holding my hand, and I don’t even know where we’re going!”

Vincent grew certain his face flushed brighter than his hair and remained infinitely grateful for the darkness.

“So, where are you from?” Alice asked.

“Zundert. What about you?”

“Zundert… ” She sounded puzzled. “Is that on the coast beyond Bristol?”

“Bristol! No, it’s in the Netherlands.”

“The Netherlands?” Alice cried. “But your English is incredible. You haven’t even an accent!”

“English?” he said. “I’m not speaking English, and neither are you.”

“But I am. I only can speak English… well, and a very little French.”

Atralius called back from ahead. “You’ll not soon re­solve this discussion. We’re none of us speaking English.”

“But, of course, we are.” Alice said. “If English is the only language I know, then it logically follows that’s what we’re speaking.”

“Logic has its faults, my dear, and when you fol­lowed a talking rabbit through your garden, you set it aside quite willingly.”

“If we’re not speaking English, then what are we speaking?” she asked.

“We’re speaking human.”

“And just what does that mean?” Alice sounded indignant.

“It’s a master language, like a master key. Every race has one, you know. If you could merge all the dialects from your world, you would come out with the human language.”

“Why, that’s absurd!” Alice said. “I’ve never heard of such a thing.”

“You wouldn’t have, would you? The master lan­guage is locked in your own world now. Only works if you’re outside of it.”

“Nonsense,” Alice said. “That’s like saying the mas­ter key only works if you’re in someone else’s house.”

“That’s about the size of it.”

“A very impractical language then, if you… ” she began.

But the rabbit interrupted again. “Finding it useful right now, aren’t you, Mary Ann?”

“Oh!” Alice said, the little jerk of her hand telling Vincent she’d stamped her foot.

He grinned. “I think some conversations are point­ less with our rabbit friend.”

“Indeed,” Alice said, “I think he’s a bit mad.”

Vincent laughed. “I’m not sure there’s anything wrong with that. I like him better than many of the san­est people I know.”

Alice giggled. “They are often boring, aren’t they? Still, if he’s going to call me Mary Ann, I’ll just call him ‘rabbit’ as I have been doing in my head all day. It’s not good manners, you know, to go on calling people by the wrong name once you know better.”

“I quite agree.” He grinned, despite Alice’s annoy­ ance. “So, how did you get here, anyway?” he asked, partly to change the subject and partly because he really wanted to know.

“My sister was reading a history book aloud, and it was frightfully boring. That silly white rabbit hopped across my lawn, and I didn’t think a thing of it at first, but then he spoke! I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t even attempt to investigate a talking rabbit, so I followed him through a hole and then somehow lost him before I came out the other side. I got awfully dirty, too; I quite under­ stand Mary Ann’s decision if she was to come the same way I did. It rained yesterday, and the tunnel was almost nothing but mud. I’m afraid my frock is in a shameful state.”

Vincent laughed. “I’m probably no better. My sto­ry is nearly the same… only I was run–” He stopped, suddenly embarrassed to mention running from the town boys. “I climbed in a barrow mound on the moor and suddenly found the back was gone. There was a tunnel I’d never seen before, and a white blur vanished down it. I know now it was the rabbit, but I couldn’t have said so at the time.”

“A barrow mound?” Alice said, and Vincent felt her shudder. “Weren’t you afraid?”

“No, I searched it ages ago and never found bones. That’s how I knew the tunnel wasn’t there before. I’d have never guessed it was a rabbit hole, though. Too big.”

“But he’s not really a rabbit, though, is he?” she said. “No matter what you said to make me feel better about it.”

“No,” Vincent said. “I don’t think he’s a rabbit at all.”

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