Extract from Chapter 7 – The Eighteenth of November
The first thing Alice noticed was the mice. They were everywhere, lying across the rails and between the rails. Some were stretched out on the platforms, some huddled under the benches. They lay singly and in piles, perfect little corpses. Someone had once told her why the mice in the underground were so small but she couldn’t remember now. It didn’t matter anyway. They were dead. Alice knelt down and took one of the tiny creatures between her thumb and forefinger, straightened up again and sat on the bench with the frail body in her lap.
She stroked its soft black fur rhythmically with one finger. She lifted up a tiny paw and studied the perfect nails, glowing like seashells hidden in its pelt. She turned it over and tickled the loose underbelly, scratching under its chin as if it had been alive and begging silently for more. The way cats do. Alice slipped the mouse in her pocket, keeping her hand on its furry body. She wondered if it had babies. She’d had a baby once. She wondered what had happened to it.
Alice set off down the deserted platform towards the tunnel. The strange silence reminded her of her favourite book, a book she’d loved when she was six and which she’d never quite forgotten. It had a rectangular yellow cloth cover and shiny coloured pictures and she’d never been able to find it again, even though she’d searched bookshops. She couldn’t even remember the title. It was all about some children who’d woken up from sleep one day to find their village deserted, all the parents gone. The children had set out to find them. Alice didn’t remember if the parents had been found or even why they’d been spirited away, but in her head she could still see the pictures of the underground tunnel where the elves lived, dimly lit with orange lanterns shaped like seed heads.
There were no lanterns here, no elves. There was a strong smell of smoke and oil as if there’d been a fire, but no signs of fire or even an explosion or any other clue as to what had happened. Maybe it had been gas. They couldn’t all have died from natural causes. Not all these mice. Alice had to keep her eyes down as she walked, to avoid treading on them, and considered for a moment trying to sweep them all up into neat piles so they wouldn’t be crushed as well as suffocated. There was no broom, though, and nothing else that would do, like a stiff piece of cardboard or stick or something. She shoved the mice gently to the side with her foot as she made her slow way along the platform, so that as she progressed a wavy line of little bodies formed a wake behind her. She stopped when she got to the tunnel. She wanted to go in, to walk along the rails, to see what it was like. Maybe she’d find the elves.
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