Victor was the smartest, and strongest of all of us… I was young then, but even at those ages I remembered him like any kid today knew superman; and I wasn’t the ONLY one who looked up to him; even Hunter, who didn’t let anything bigger than a bull netch scare him admired our older brother…it was only sad Piper never got to know him like we did, but even after he left mum told us ‘youngsters’ Heroic stories about him that were always our favorite. Victor was a tall, slender young man with dark brown hair that fell over his dusty forehead, sticky with sweat from hunting with pa or hauling mum’s harvest in…he made plenty of gold and silver for the better of us, hunted like a pro; skinned without a heart and loved like it was everyone else’s. I still recall times Pa was having trouble with an old cross bow and Victor had fixed it with a few loose rods and some old leather. When mum or Pa had to run out he’d take us down river, build up a fire with his bare hands and tell us stories about the Oyster world like mum did at night. He’d tell us about the holidays and what days they were there, he’d tell us mum’s recipes and how he used to sneak in the kitchen at night to steal a few, then slip them back before dawn so she never found out.
He’d stick his hand in an open fire without getting burned or skin a fox with his teeth; leave nothing but empty marrow-ed bones on his plate and loved the outdoors. He was a great house worker and sometimes Hunter could tell Pa was jealous of his boy’s skills but if you asked any of us, we’d all vote for Victor as the better hand… if Piper was around when he was still alive he’d take her out to the orchards and haul her in his arms to pluck the ripest of apples for mum’s apple cobbler, but instead it was me doing the picking since I was about her age. Once Hunter had been stupid and had gone to bother a few snakaids that lived down by the lake; one bit ahold of his leg and when I tried to pull him out I sunk neck-deep in mulch and swamp mud, Victor had to fish us both out with an old branch then break it over ol’ snake’s head, then bound Hunter up without pa noticing or mum worrying over her missing bandages. He taught us every trick and tease but what broke mum’s heart was to see her son preparing for war… There were nights he’d let me use his shoulders as a stool to sneak crumpets from the jar and learn to hide them in the house and save them for later. Or show hunter how to throw a spear and snag a good bander-pup with a rat-trap.
He definitely had all of the hightopp charm and wits to go to war, he wanted to show the rest of wonderland his good; that he’d be home when the war was over. Sometimes Victor would take us down to the train tracks, most of us weren’t even aware there WAS a train in wonderland, but when he threw his arms up and explained this train was HUGE with wicked designs of Helel and blazed fire, giving an undead holler when it tutted it’s horn… He made up stories of how undead cards and soldier’s haunted it, running it off wire ever so often, and he took us to the old station just to prove it was there…it was a short trip from hightopp village honestly, and not long after he was gone me and Hunter used to play on those tracks without a train in sight. Victor said it was a ghost train, even though it did pass through on rare occasions, we tried to avoid it- or get in its way as much as we could. He showed us how to lay on the tracks without getting beheaded, he explained if we were bad, the evil Red queen would switch gears, and decapitate you anyways;
so me and Hunter never worried, Victor was great all of the time. One night when we were headed back through the northern lights to the village I asked him, “Where does it go?” “Some say Hell…other’s say the war; they call it Queensland.” I hadn’t known it then, but Queensland was ruled by The Red Queen, on the other side of the checkerboard battle field and Jabberwock mountains was Mirana’s castle; the White Queen; Victor always told us she was wonderful, almost as great as mum but gorgeous, young and strong, he said he’d marry her too one day. It made us all wonder.
When he described her sister however, he explained it with rude gestures and Helel horns using his fingers, making us all laugh a bit until we got home through the barefooted cold. We never had to worry much about Red there though, this part of the land was ruled by another queen, she was just as ruthless and made oyster teas much pa sometimes helped out with, Just to keep the royals off our back…but every so often a carriage would stroll through the village to raid us of tax and our men over eight. It was early that fall, when the leaves were dying but still had those rainbow hues, reflecting off the blue purple sky and the mushrooms still had there spunk to them were when times roughened. Victor was turning eighteen and was ready to head off for war…mum wouldn’t stop crying and I remembered that day the hardest, we did our best to keep her happy, especially since Piper was born only a few months earlier; she cradled that baby and sobbed over her dream as if it were the last…then sobbed and cradled her first.
“Don’t cry mum, I’ll be home before the leaves are purple again,” He smiled; it was familiar because she used to say something of the sort to him when he was younger as I. We all stood in the door way in awe when the carriage of white pulled up like Cinderella’s pumpkin to the ball, tugged by white horses with golden streaked manes that matched the wooden carriage they came in. As the chess guards announced where they were from and who they were with, mum backed inside to sob on pa’s shoulder again and we recoiled under his arm, I was hoping Victor had changed his mind…but he comforted us all with the same goodbye that he would return for them, to stay safe, kissed mum’s cheek and I could’ve swore pa even shredded a tear when Victor pulled away from there hug.
He patted Hunter’s back then told me to keep my chin up, he tried to tell me I was his favorite to cheer me up, but I couldn’t stop the tears. He knew I made hats and told me not to give that up, but one of these days I would even then, if I didn’t know I would and I wish I hadn’t because of him. He told Hunter he had to take care of me and my little sister, then he backed from the household and rode off to war without a single look back…Then Hunter became the new man-of-the-house….mum lost feeling in her chest, numbed by Piper,
Pa went back to the bottle…and I was alone, again.