But never had they seen it hinged on balloons like today.
Against normal laws of physics, the car descended to the ground, and people stared at it as if it was an alien spaceship.
After landing, the man in the priest’s outfit stepped out of the automobile, flashing a broad smile at the world. His hair was swept by a swirling breeze, and his lanky stature was considerably attractive. He looked familiar to the children attending this celebration. His image had been carved in the back of their heads since they first started reading.
There was no mistaking it. The man looked like an uncanny modern day incarnation of Lewis Carroll.
Not just that. The man had arrived with what every child in the world had been craving for a while—and it wasn’t candy.
“Where are the hookahs?” a child said. “You said you’d bring the Hookah of Hearts!”
Amidst the flashing cameras and the nosey reporters, the man flapped his hands sideways like a living scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz. He was about to show them his latest trick.
Behind him, the sky drizzled, not rain but gift-wrapped packages.
“It’s raining hookahs, hallelujah,” The man said in a soft voice.
The hookahs inside the packages, like his car, dangled from hundreds of brightly colored helium balloons.
The children hoorayed and ran toward them, tiptoeing, reaching, and competing for one of their own.
More flashes. TV Cameras. People with microphones broadcasting the frabjous event.
The Hookah of Hearts had been in the market for more than a year. Manufactured by Dodo, a mysterious toy company obsessed with everything Alice in Wonderland—the caterpillar and his hookah in particular.
The children began collecting their presents, ripping apart the wrappers and pulling out their hookahs.
They began smoking them.
Of course they weren’t puffing real smoke like adults. Those were mini hookahs. The children sucked on some unique scent -- the flavor of Tiger Lilies -- which was harmless, and puffed out bubbles instead of smoke.
Pink bubbles. Blue bubbles. Green bubbles.
Occasionally there was this one bubble that wrote words like who are you? in the air.
The crowd applauded again. Enthusiastic. Feeling fantastic. Some of them even felt... frantastic.
More and more flashes.
The broadcasting cameras rotated back toward the Lewis Carroll look-a-like priest.
He looked incredibly uncomfortable with the cameras, shielding his eyes with his hand. But the cameramen didn’t care. This was even better than paparazzi’s photos.
The reporters wondered how much such an extensive marketing campaign cost the Dodo Corporation.
“Come on. The car and flying hookahs must have cost a fortune. They can’t be real, or…?”
The man wore his smile thinner, and said nothing. He looked like he had a toothache, his jaw twitching a little.
Another reporter asked him if it was true that over six million hookahs had been sold worldwide.
Still irritated by the flashes, he continued saying nothing.
However, he responded to the children who had questions about certain functions in the hookahs.
“May I compliment your outfit and make up, sir.” A young female reporter stuck her microphone—and nose—out of the squeezing crowd. “I mean, you really look like the legendary Lewis Carroll. How is that even possible?”
This time, the priest looked amused. It was the question he’d been waiting for. “Y-y-young la-lady,” he stuttered like Lewis Carroll did in real life. “What makes you think I’m not him?”
Prologue Part Two
Some of TV crew rolled their eyes at the man’s reply. Others laughed at the unmatched confidence and acting.
But something about him was so original. The way he said the words.
An uncomfortable silence swept over the university. A silence that spread to every TV set in every home all over the world.
Who was this man, really?
“M-my name is Lewis Ca-car-roll.” The man bowed in front of the camera. “A-and I’ve come to bestow my b-b-beautiful madness u-u-upon this world.”
The silence stretched for a few more seconds.
It was like staring at a clown. No one was really sure what to expect. Should they have panicked and ran away, or just laughed and said, ‘Haha, of course you are!’
Too many so-called Wonderland Monsters had been to London lately: the creepy Cheshire, the Muffin Man, and the Mad Hatter with his rabbit bomb last week. It had become impossible to dismiss someone claiming he was one of them.
A few kids managed to break the silence, coughing bubbles and flowers from sucking on the hookahs.
Those bubbles weren’t pink. They weren’t blue. They weren’t green.
“Why are the children coughing... red bubbles?” the young reporter asked.
“Silly me. I forgot,” the priest said, stepping back into his flying car and pulling a lever that pumped air into more balloons. “Our Hookah of Hearts, which has already sold more than six million pieces all over the world, well, it’s not just a hookah.” The balloons began to take off again. “This hookah holds a deadly disease like nothing you’ve ever seen.”
Faces began to redden, confused by the man’s continued speech of madness.
Was he joking? Why would the Dodo Corporation send a loon like him to represent them?
“And I repeat”—his smile broadened, too wide to be benevolent—“a deadly virus like nothing you’ve seen before. It should start working in a few hours. Within three days”—the automobile hovered above the ground—“this world as you know it will end.”
What once was silence escalated to ascending grunts of panic. More children kept coughing. Parents worried, watching him escape into the sky. More people in the world couldn’t believe what they were watching on the news.
“Who are you?” a reporter screamed at the floating priest.
“I told you. My name is Lewis Carroll,” he said from high above, looking like someone sweet and colorful in the middle of a never-ending nightmare. “And I am a Wonderland Monster.”
St Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican
I am waiting in line to enter the confession room so I can talk to Fabiola.
Tens of men and women entered the booth before me, most of them slouched by the weight of whatever truth, or sins, they were about to confess.
But knowing Fabiola—from the few times we’ve met—I’m aware of her positive influence on people.
Until it’s my turn, I fiddle with the key Lewis Carroll gave me three weeks ago when I first met him through the Tom Tower.
I pulled it out of my cell’s wall this morning, fearing it wasn’t safe in there anymore. Not after I stupidly lost another key to the Mad Hatter last week. I messed up. Who knows what this Hatter would do with it.
But this golden key in my hand—Lewis instructed me not to lose it under any circumstances. I plan not to disappoint him.
I’m looking forward to knowing why it’s so important, along with the date scribbled on the walls of my cell in the asylum: January the 14th.
I wonder what happened on that day. If I could only remember why I wrote it on the wall—and if it was me who did it.
An old lady pats me on my shoulder, informing me that it’s my turn.
I stand up, take a deep breath and enter the booth, waiting for Fabiola to slide open the window in between.
In the dark and silence of the booth, I’m reminded of Jack. Silly Jack who would never give up on me.
Silly Jack who may be only a figment of my imagination. A figment so nice I can’t risk finding out he’s not real.
“Are you here for a confession, Alice?” Fabiola asks behind the closed window. I wonder if the White Queen can see through walls.
“No,” I say. “How can I confess what I don’t remember?”