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“Where are we now?” she spoke in a hushed voice.

“No need to speak quietly here. This is the Hall of Surprises. Nice isn’t it?”

Alice looked around, but the room had nothing in it, except for a row of doors all identical in style, but each a different colour of mud. Compared to the previous place it was exceedingly dull.

“What are the surprises?” As soon as the question left her mouth could guess what the answer was going to be.

“It wouldn’t be a surprise if you knew!” It chortled. “You have to wait and see what happens, sometimes it’s a happy event, sometimes, er, less so.” And even as they looked, an extremely large cake rose slowly from the floor. The sides were covered in chocolate, styled as flowers, interwoven with red and blue coloured berries and green leaves made of marzipan. Around the base there were miniature sculptures of butterflies in every possible shade of pink.

Suddenly the top burst open and out leapt a kangaroo dressed in a purple check waistcoat and with a matching bow tie, on it’s tail was a bow almost the size of a melon, coloured green and pink.

“SURPRISE!!!!” Shouted the animal.

It certainly was. Alice nearly fainted from the shock. There were candles in its pouch. Fortunately, none were lit for surely it would have been burnt. With just two enormous jumps it exited the cake and landed with a thump.

“Nice to meet you, I am Rupert Roo, who are yoooooo and how old are yooooooo?” the creature demanded, scratching its head with one hand and its tummy with the other. One eye was grey the other bright yellow, giving the creature a lopsided look.

“I am Alice Jones and I am eight and a half,” wishing she was older, quietly replied.

“A half is no good, it is not one thing or the other, I shall say you are twenty, that is a nice round number and I just happen to have twenty candles.” With that the Kangaroo started reaching into its pouch and pulled out more and more. Then lined them up on the floor, each, about the width of her outstretched arms apart .

“Can you jump over them?”

“Of course.” This was a girl who never backed away from a challenge, unless of course it involved slimy things or reading to her younger brother, so she immediately skipped over the line, and triumphantly glared at the animal.

“Very good, but I meant the length, not the width, I shall show you” and with those words in one leap it bounded over all twenty and somehow by the time it landed all the wicks were alight, and once again it shouted. “SURPRISE”. And it certainly was.

“Well, can you do it?” The Roo was scratching again, not as if it actually had a tickle, the gesture was more absent minded than that.

“Of course not, and you have set fire to them too.” Alice replied a little huffily.

“If I just jumped over them you wouldn’t be surprised, would you? any Roo can do that, even a Wallaby could, I think, but flames, I’m the only one that has the skill. And I believe you accept that it is impressive.”

There was no other answer than to agree.

 “So if you can’t jump how are you going to get out of here?”

 “Do I need to jump over something to leave then?”

 “Yes, the candles of course. It is a challenge, you must complete it to move on. If you are too weak to undertake that, I can give one more chance.”

Alice knew computer games were like that and indeed had tried some, but had quickly given up. Some sort of test always needed to be endured and completed successfully in order to progress to the next level. Hopefully, it would not be necessary to shoot anything as was the case in the games her other older brother played.

Without a destination in mind, it was hard to raise any interest, imagining that to get home she would just need to retrace the route they had just taken. However, something made her enquire what was required.

“Just count all the butterflies on the cake.”

“All of them?”

 “Yes, and hurry up, I might be needed for more surprises.”

It did seem to Alice that everything was done at a rush down here and that meant there was hardly time to think.

 “There are an awful lot! Are you sure I have to count each one?”

 “Yes, all 103,” came the short tempered response. The kangaroo was tapping its feet in frustration and scratching harder than ever.

Well, that would easy thought Alice, especially as I have been told the answer already. But even as this idea was forming, the butterflies, almost as one, took off from the base of the cake and swirled around her, like a colourful mist. Some landed on her hair, others flitted away into the dark, while others just did a slow circuit and returned to their original resting place. Peering around and trying to look interested she heard the Roo say.

“You don’t look as if you are counting.” It sounded like complaining, although as it had not been watching was hardly in a position to know.

So, to begin the process again Alice pretended to take the job seriously by pointing at them as they flitted past and mouthing a number.

“I can’t hear you. Count louder, you will have to start again.”

This was becoming really tedious and the temptation to stamp a. foot and refuse was very strong, but swallowing her frustration started again, calling aloud and pointing at each tiny scrap of colour. Alice had never actually counted so high before, everyone knew how to, it was just that nothing in her life before had required that of her. One thing was for sure though, getting confused would mean having to restart and that was certainly something to avoid.  

Eventually a moment came to announce that there were 103 butterflies, there was no way that anyone could actually have seen that many, but saying it satisfied the demand.

“Very impressive! I suppose that you think you are now able to go on your way, just because you were right?”

Alice certainly hoped so but it sounded as if there was another problem to overcome. She was getting very fed up with all this nonsense.

“Mmmmmm...well.” The kangaroo was scratching again, then adjusted the bowtie, tugged on it’s waistcoat and in one huge leap was back in the cake, and before disappearing from view announced “SURPRISE, SURPRISE, there are no more tests. Choose a door, any door but make sure it is the middle one,” and with that, the Roo was gone.

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