“I applaud you, Executioner.” The Pillar stands up, raising his glass. “I mean, shouldn’t we toast for this before the girl dies? I totally think we should have this on video.”

The Executioner seems puzzled for a moment, shifting his focus from me to the Pillar. Or is it something else that has been going on between them that I am not picking up?

“I didn’t think you’d like my trick, Senor Pillardo,” the Executioner says. “You really have nothing against killing her?”

“I don’t give a Jub Jub about her.” The Pillar sips his own drink and let’s out a big ah. “Frankly, I brought her here as a gift to you. I mean, all your slave boys are, let’s face it, boys. I thought, why not get the Executioner a girl. She’s very feisty and can be of pretty good use to you.”

I’m tired of gritting my teeth. Who invented it anyways? It doesn’t do any good when your anger hurts so much inside.

“But it doesn’t make any sense,” the Executioner says. “Why would you bring her to me? We both know this isn’t true.”

I don’t know what the Executioner means, but I sense the underlined tension between them.

“Of course it’s true.” The Pillar asks the guards for one of their hunting knives. “And here is proof.” He pulls my hand violently toward him and plasters it on the table, then does the one thing that never crossed my mind. The Pillar raises his knife. “I will cut her two fingers myself. Isn’t that how you like your slaves marked? Isn’t that what the war beyond Mushroomland is about? All you drug cartels fighting over the kids, so you get the most labor in your business?”

The realization sends surges of lightning into my body. Even though the Pillar is about to mark me, I can’t seem to fathom the cruel world, the real world, outside my asylum walls.

“Interesting.” The Executioner stands up. “So I suppose you want to know who cooked the plague now in exchange?”

“Now you get it,” the Pillar says, tightly gripping my hand. “You said you wanted us to go back to your house, get a meal, and ask me to entertain you. I know you thought we’d shoot jokes and drink like the old days, but this wasn’t the kind of entertainment I had cooked for you.”

The Executioner laughs, glancing around at his guards. “Senor Pillardo. I don’t know what to say. You certainly have entertained me. I’m surprised I didn’t understand at first.”

“That’s because you’re one dumb animal hiding behind an army of poor little kids you think you’re enslaving!” I shout at him.

It only makes him laugh more and then address the Pillar. “Shouldn’t you cut her fingers first to fulfill the deal?” The Executioner folds his arms and watches.

Again, there is something in the air between those two. Something I’m dying to find out.

“Alice.” The Pillar turns to me, lowering the knife to my fingers. “This is going to hurt.”

Chapter 34

Somewhere in London

Lewis Carroll had left the church, afraid his followers would lose faith in him seeing his weakness to the migraines.

Walking among the insane people who’d lost their minds, he should have been happy with his work.

But he wasn’t.

For two reasons.

The first one was his sudden migraines. Those horrible lightning bolts inside his skull, just like the old days back in Oxford in the 19th century, when he was still a priest and a scholar, long before he wrote the books.

He could remember being part of the Christ Church’s Choir, singing and singing for hours, and loving it. But then the migraines began. And he couldn’t take the sound of organs or choirs anymore.

He’d run like a madman across the Tom Quad, back to his studio on the roof next to the Tom Tower, kicking and screaming in pain until he fainted all alone on the floor.

One day he woke up from his episode, only to realize he couldn’t talk normally anymore. He’d begun to stutter.

And that was when his introverted life began.

Spending hours and hours alone, making up mathematical equations, writing poems, drawing rabbits. The rest was too surreal to remember now.

Still strolling among the mad people of London, he gripped his head as if it was a bomb about to explode. And although he had a plan to follow, he needed to fix his head.

Just like the old days. There was only one substance that could relieve him from the pain. A drug.

But unlike the drug he had someone cook for him for this plague in South America, this drug he needed, or rather cure for his migraine, was only available from the few Wonderlanders left.

He wasn’t sure if he should interrupt his plans by searching for the cure for his migraines.

Which brought him to think of the second reason…

Chapter 35

Mushroomland, Columbia

All this time, I thought I was stronger than the Pillar. But I can’t free myself from his grip. Seeing his knife sink, it weakens me, thinking I have been fooled.

I can even feel the pain in my fingers before the knife touches them. A string of razor-sharp headaches invade my brain. An image of a school bus flashes before me. Everyone inside is laughing. It’s a sunny day, probably spring. I can’t see myself in that vision, but I feel butterflies of happiness in my stomach.

The Pillar’s knife is on its way down to my fingers.

Then the vision continues. I am trying my best to identify the faces, but I only see Jack. I look harder, but the vision prevents me from looking somehow. However, I recognize the sudden fear on their faces. I turn to look at the driver, hoping it won’t be the rabbit, hoping it won’t be me like every other hazy memory I have of the incident.

The Pillar’s knife touches my fingers. It doesn’t cut through yet, but its surface sends shivers to my spine.

The vision continues. My run across the bus seems to take forever. Everyone on it is so scared they don’t utter a word. Then I realize they’re not looking at the driver. In fact, the bus isn’t about to hit anything yet. This part of the vision is way before the accident happened. Everyone is staring at the new passenger getting on the bus. This is who they’re scared of.

The Pillar’s knife might cut through me. I don’t know. Because, for whatever insane reason, I decide to close my eyes. Not against the pain, but to get hold of the memory, trying to recognize the person on the bus everyone is scared of.

The last bit of my vision is even hazier. I look harder at the new passenger, unable to see his face like most of the others. But I am so curious. I squint, press the nerves in my mind somehow. I have to see the passenger who got on the bus a few moments before the accident. And now I see him.

It’s Lewis Carroll.

Chapter 36

Somewhere in London

The second reason Lewis wasn’t satisfied.

The plague hadn’t been fully activated yet. People were only trying to fight each other. That, by far, was nothing to what the plague would make them do in an hour or two.

That... was only the beginning.

And once the plague really kicked in, Lewis had to make his next move.

His last move.

The final touch to his masterpiece.

The reason why he’d planned all of this long ago.

His next move was to find Professor Carter Pillar.

Chapter 37

Mushroomland, Columbia.

“I have an idea.” The Pillar pulls the knife back, facing the Executioner. I let out a wheezing breath. “Why would I deny you the pleasure of cutting her fingers yourself?”

My eyes spring open from my vision about Lewis Carroll in my school bus, and then I watch the Pillar hand the knife over to the Executioner, who welcomes the idea immediately.

“Like old days,” the Pillar says to the Executioner, who nods like a child, holding the knife and staring at my hand. “Remember those?”