“Duck, Alice.” The Pillar pulls me down as a missile churns through the air, right into a Jeep.
“What are they fighting for?” I ask.
“They’re fighting over the throne of the mushroom empire all around the world. They grow it here, sell it for millions. But the question is who rules this jungle?”
“The Executioner, I suppose?”
“I thought so, too,” the Pillar says. “He was the main drug supplier in Wonderland, but it seems he can hardly get a grip on this real world.”
“So how do we find him?”
“I have a feeling I’m going to steal that Jeep with the dead men in it. It looks functional,” he says. “You don’t mind riding alongside the dead. Do you?”
We duck and run like scurrying rats along the fields, pushing our luck and hoping not to get shot by a wandering bullet or a missile.
I see a man on top of a missile, riding it like a banana boat, saying hooray!
Happens all the time, I tell myself.
“How come everyone enjoys murdering each other?” I ask the Pillar.
“Humankind, dear Alice, have enjoyed that sport since Cain and Abel.” He jumps into the Jeep, and I follow. “Luckily, killing is prohibited these days, unless you do it en masse. They call it conquering.”
“So I’m supposed to accept living in such a bloody world?” I shout against the maddening sound of war, then pull a dead body out of the passenger’s seat.
“No Alice, you’re supposed to outlive it,” The Pillar ignites the ramshackle Jeep and chugs through the mist of smoke and bullets.
“Stop that,” I protest, as the Jeep bumps over a few dead bodies. “Always trying to pose the human race as a bunch of lunatic apes who’ll never learn to love and live with one another.”
“In spite of this not being the time or place to have this conversation, I’d like to point out that advertisers pay tenfold for TV ads when the news is covering major war disasters around the world. Now duck before that bullet hits you and you make the news.”
I feel so dizzy. I can’t even pull out my umbrella and shoot at anyone.
Wait. Why do I suddenly feel so aggressive, wanting to shoot people? The mushrooms must be doing this to me.
“Hey!” The Pillar points at a dying soldier reaching out at us. He’s holding a letter in one hand.
Amidst the impossible killing fields, the Pillar detours closer to the soldier and pulls the letter from his hands.
“Send it to my family,” the soldier pleads. “Tell them I love them, and that I’ve buried over a hundred thousand dollars of drug money in the back yard.”
“Nah, I’m not taking that letter,” the Pillar says. “ You should have sent them an SMS. Twitter post? You know you can schedule those, right? Maybe schedule the to the day of your death?” The Pillar tucks the letter in his pocket. “Besides, who writes letters anymore? Die, you old-fashioned typewriter!”
I don’t comment because I’m not sure this is really happening.
But then something assures me I’m not hallucinating this war at all. Every bit of this is real. Someone has shot me in my left arm.
“Congratulations,” the Pillar says. “You can brag now that you went to war.”
“Why isn’t it hurting?” I stare at my bleeding arm.
“It’s just a scratch.” He is smiling broadly. “You’re not really hit. Let’s see if there is music in this car. Take the wheel.”
I take the wheel with my right hand because I can’t move my left arm.
Then Pink Floyd plays on the radio. Comfortably Numb is the song.
The Pillar tucks the cigar back into his mouth and continues driving like a tourist on safari watching the wildlife. I’m stunned at his ability to avoid bullets and missiles.
All until a tank bangs into our Jeep from the side.
As the Jeep rolls over, half of it under the tank already, I realize how much I’m drugged now. I need that coconut.
The world upside down doesn’t look much different from the normal world. Or maybe that’s how all fields of war look.
I lie on my back, listening to men jumping out of their Jeeps. They pull me up, grab me by my hands, never mind my achy, screaming left arm, and pull me toward their leader. The Pillar is pulled next to me.
We stop at one point and are ordered to raise our injured heads to stare at their leader.
I see a well-built man with a long scar on his right cheek sitting on top of the tank. He is overly sunburned. And of all things, he has his legs crossed and he is smoking a hookah atop of a mushroom in the middle of this war.
“What is a girl like you doing here in Mushroomland?” he says in a most foreign accent.
“I—” My eyelids droop as I am trying to stay awake. “I’m looking for the Executioner.”
The man stops smoking. “Is that so?” He rubs his chin. “And why would you be looking for him?”
“I need his coconut drink to survive the Mushroom Trail.” I can’t believe we’re talking with all this mess of killing still going on all around us.
“You walked the Mushroom Trail?” He doesn’t laugh or show emotion. I’ve rarely met a man I am so afraid of. He’s exuding a vague sinister personality I haven’t seen before.
“It’s a long story,” I say. “Please lead to me to the Executioner.”
“You know what they say about the Executioner?” He pulls out a Magnum .45, loads it, and then points it at me. “That you can meet him only once. You know why?”
I start to realize I am talking to the Executioner himself.
“Because you only look at me once, and then you have to die.” The Executioner aims his pistol at me with a smirk on his face. This time I think it’s real.
“Wait.” The Pillar wakes up from his fall. “Don’t shoot the girl. It’s me.”
The Executioner slowly turns his head. The Pillar is covered in dust, so it makes sense not to recognize him right away. But why would he recognize the Pillar in the first place? I am confused.
“Carter Chrysalis Cocoon Pillar!” The Executioner squints at the professor. “Is that you?”
“In the flesh.” The Pillar tucks what’s left of his cigar in his mouth.
I am baffled. I’m Alice’s all lost and delirious thoughts mixed in a bag of mushrooms and M&M’s.
The Executioner gets off his mushroom and stares at the Pillar with wonder. It might be my mistake, but the look in his eyes is that of a man fascinated with the Pillar. “Is that really you, Pillardo?”
The Pillar mumbles something in Columbian, and the two men embrace like old friends.
“You know him?” Sorry, but I have to ask. I mean, what the mushy mushrooms is going on?
“Know him?” The Executioner raises an eyebrow. “Who doesn’t know Senor Pillardo, the most legendary drug lord of all time?”
Radcliffe Lunatic Asylum, Oxford
Dr. Tom Truckle could not believe what he saw on national TV. People had come out on every street in London to stir all kinds of chaos.
He saw a man in his underwear with a baseball bat chasing his family out on the streets. Another maniac woman had gone into an unexplained episode of road rage, chasing her co-workers with her damaged car. The owner of Tom’s favorite soup shop had locked everyone inside, confessing to serving them frogs and now forcing them to drink his soup until they puked.
Tom watched the BBC’s TV host, and her crew abandon their camera and run away, leaving it to record all of the mayhem.
This must be the end of days, Tom thought. He hadn’t dared switch on the channel to take a look at what was happening in America or the rest of the world.
What troubled him deeply was everyone in Oxford had gone just as mad, which suggested his asylum was in danger now.
“Lock up the asylum!” Tom shouted at his guards. “And by that, I mean use the Plan-X system.”
“Are you sure you want to do that?” the guard asked on the other side.
“I am sure. The time has come to lock every one of us within these steel walls inside,” Tom said.