Running down the stairs, he entered the underground ward and walked among the Mushroomers on both sides. They were panicking, afraid of the world outside. Tom couldn’t help but remember all of the Pillar’s warnings about the world outside the asylum, how they were the real mad ones, not the Mushroomers.
“You’re going to be okay,” Tom tried to calm them down, looking for Waltraud.
“We want Alice!” the Mushroomers said.
Tom had no idea what to tell them. Alice and the Pillar had left on one of their crazy missions. As much as he loathed them both, he also felt sorry for them, having to deal with the mad world outside.
“Waltraud,” Tom called upon seeing her, mushing the brains out of a patient. “Stop whatever you’re doing.”
“Why?” she said in her German accent.
“Why?” he roared at her, his hands reaching for his pills already. “Apocalypse is why! The world is ending outside. I am issuing Plan-X. We’re closing all doors and will self-contain ourselves inside.”
“Stop interrupting me! I’m only waiting for my children to arrive, and then the doors will seal shut. I want you to order our people in the kitchen to open up all the reserve refrigerators and start pulling out all food and supply.”
Plan-X had been the asylum’s contingency strategy since long ago. Actually, it had been Tom’s father’s idea. The old man, now in his grave, had predicted the end of the world long ago. Thus, the asylum was pre-prepared with food and living supplies for one year on.
And the time has come father, Tom thought.
But Waltraud Wagner stiffened in her place. She couldn’t pull her eyes off the TV. Something about what was happening outside seemed to appeal to her.
Tom had no time to argue with her. He should have shoved her in a cell long ago. After all, he’d only hired her because she had killed her own patients back in the day, when she was a nurse in Vienna.
Tom turned to the bald Ogier and ordered him to speak to the people in the kitchen.
Ogier nodded obediently and issued the process.
“Don’t worry,” Tom addressed the panicking Mushroomers. “You will be safe in here.” He couldn’t believe he’d just said those words. Never had he loved the Mushroomers, but with the world going down in flames outside, he saw how weak they were. He suddenly began to relate to them.
Then Tom remembered something he’d forgotten upstairs. Two stairs at a time, he dashed into the VIP ward, finally standing before the flamingo’s cell.
“I couldn’t leave you alone,” Tom said, wondering why his heart began softening toward the animal. Maybe it was the end of the world’s effect on him.
He pulled the cell’s door open and let the flamingo out.
“You have two options,” he told it. “Go back to your Queen in the mad world outside or stay with us...well, in the mad world inside.”
It was clear the flamingo wanted to stay, but it also looked puzzled, as if awaiting an answer from Tom.
“Okay,” Tom waved a hand. “I will tell you one of my biggest secrets, and I will only tell you.”
The flamingo’s eyes bulged out with curiosity.
“I’m not who you think I am, but I will not tell you about it, at least not now.” Tom swallowed another pill. “What I can tell you is that I was told about this by my father long ago. He called it the last days before the War. And by this, I mean he told me about the end of times, the appearance of the Wonderland Monsters, the end of the world, and how to build a safe house, a bunker to survive it. Only I was asked to disguise it as an asylum and gather as many mad people as I could, because those are the ones who’re going to save the world.”
“You’re a drug lord?” I can’t believe it.
“Semantics. I prefer the term Professor Feelgood.” The Pillar hands over the coconut drink. “Sip it slowly. It will take an hour or two before the mushrooms’ effect wears off.”
I hesitate taking it from him.
“Come on. It’s not poisoned. I won’t hurt you.”
I’m not really sure of that, but I have no choice. If I don’t drink it, I’ll die.
It’s actually not just that. Since I heard about the Pillar being a drug lord, I’ve had the unexplained urge to shoot him dead. I don’t know why I feel so aggressive. It could be the hallucinations.
Maybe all this world really needs is to get rid of the Pillar.
“So Senor Pillardo”—the Executioner guides us into his missile-proof Humvee—“let’s go back to my castle. We have a lot to talk about.”
“Actually, I’m running out of time...”
“Trust me, we have a lot of time—and drugs and mushrooms. And hookahs. And girls. All you need, like in the old days,” the Executioner says. “I understand that you didn’t just come here to see me. We know that is definitely not the case.”.
For the first time ever, I see the Pillar lower his gaze, just a little. What is going on between those two?
“I promise I will look into whatever you need to talk about, but first we have to enjoy some time in my castle. Just like the old days, Senior. Remember those? Man, you were some psycho maniac back then, but you sure made the deals of the century selling drugs, and a lot of money.”
My hands slide down and reach for my umbrella. What if I just shoot both of them? Wouldn’t the world be a better place?
Entering the Humvee, we watch the world burn in flames behind us as we’re driving to the Executioner’s castle.
“So what’s this war all about?” I ask. “Aren’t you all friends here, selling mushrooms?”
“I think Senor Pillardo can tell you himself.” The Executioner laughs.
The Pillar takes a moment then returns to his sarcasm. “It’s nothing. The Executioner’s boys are having fun. Killing for sport.”
The Executioner eyes the Pillar. “Ah, so you don’t want to tell her?” He turns to me. “Let me tell you why my men are killing each other, little girl. But right after we have some drinks in my castle.”
“We don’t have time for your damn castle!” Is it the drugs? Is it me? “We came for...”
The Executioner pulls out another machine gun, a bigger one this time, and points it at me. I’m starting to get bored of this. If you’re going to point a gun, better use it. “I really don’t like shooting.” His sinister intentions show through now. “We’re going to have a welcome meal, then I will listen to what both of you want with me, and then I will decide whether I will kill you or not.”
The Executioner’s castle looks as if it was cut from the pages of a fairy tale, except the part with the guards and their machine guns. It’s hard to believe this man lives in such an expensive mansion while enjoying the world burning all around him. I’m still not over this dark world I have been thrown into. But I can’t do anything about it before the mushrooms’ effect wears off completely.
I don’t want to end up spreading violence to an already violent reality, and then figure out later I had a chance to bring some peace into the world with a little patience instead.
Crossing the lush landscape full of hedges shaped after Wonderland characters, the Executioner informs me he had the March Hare design it for him. “I had to put my business on halt for two months and inject him with a hallucinogen so he wouldn’t know who I was,” he explained. “The March with his naive child-like attitude wouldn’t have designed it if he knew who I was.”
“And who are you, really?” I pretend I have given in to his reality.
“I’m the Executioner, like in the Alice books. I used to work for the Queen to chop off heads, but now I’ve gone solo, and trust me, she fears me more that anything else.”
“So you’re just another Wonderland Monster.”
The Executioner laughs again, entering the vast entrance of his castle. The architecture looks like something from a thousand and one nights.