“This is when I usually disappear,” Nobody says and starts to frantically pedal away.

“You’re going to let him leave with the key?” the Pillar says.

It’s times like these when I don’t know what to do with him exactly. The kids shouting my name in the air distracts me from staring back at the Pillar. I turn and walk in their direction, smiling like a kid myself.

Again, it’s funny how little things, like a child’s smile, make all the sense in this world of continuous nonsense. Even the Keys to Wonderland don’t matter much all of a sudden.

“Hey, Nobody!” the Pillar yells. “You still have my key.”

“Who’re you talking to?” Nobody twists his head back, mocking the Pillar. “There is nobody on this bicycle.”

I actually admire this comeback as the chopper lands before me. The spiraling wind feels refreshing all of a sudden.

“Then I assume nobody is going to fall off the bicycle now.” I hear the Pillar suck on his cigar behind me, calling out for the man on a bicycle.

I hear Nobody’s bicycle swerve and fall to the ground.

“Ouch!” Nobody wails on the desert floor.

I turn to look.

“I think I heard nobody say ouch.” The Pillar strolls casually toward Nobody—which is a boggling sentence, in and of itself.

I suddenly realize the absurdness of a bicycle in the desert. But I am not going to stir my head around that. I’ve seen madder things in my short life.

The Pillar stands over Nobody and demands the key under the threat of the gun he is pointing at him.

I sense something bad is going to happen. I turn back to the kids and distract them so they don’t look.

When Nobody argues he won’t give it back, the Pillar shoots his leg. This search for the cure is getting bloodier by the minute.

But it works, and the Pillar gets the key back—my key!

“Don’t kill me, please,” Nobody begs.

“Only if you tell me the last missing piece of the puzzle,” the Pillar says. “Now that we know the plague was cooked by this Scientist, it’s time to tell us who ordered it in the first place.”

“I thought you were sure it was Lewis Carroll,” I interfere from the distance. “Isn’t he the Wonderland Monster who’s behind this?” Of course, I still have my doubts about Lewis being a monster, but I haven’t been sure of anything for a while.

“Who is it?” The Pillar lowers his gun toward Nobody, neglecting me.

“Carolus Ludovicus!” Nobody finally speaks.

This is the moment a whirlwind sweeps through the desert, almost knocking me off the earth.

When it slows down, I see the Pillar is still pointing his gun. Even from this far, I can see the worried look on his face.

Carolus Ludovicus?

The name sounds villainous. Another drug lord from around here? Then what about this Lewis Carroll walking the streets of London?

“You understand now when I told you the plague is incurable?” Nobody tells the Pillar.

The Pillar says nothing, turns around, shoots the man dead without looking, and walks toward me.

The look on his face is tense.

“You didn’t have to shoot him.” I talk to him as he gets on the chopper. “I know he was a bad man, but I’m fed up with all this killing.”

“Did I shoot someone?” The Pillar fakes an innocent face. The children laugh.

“Yes.” I get in. “You shot Nobody.”

The children laugh again, and now I get the joke.

“Exactly.” The Pillar signals for his chauffeur to take off. “I shot nobody.”

Chapter 49

Radcliffe Asylum, Oxford

Tom Truckle, protected by the asylum’s guards, welcomed his twin son and daughter and pulled them inside immediately.

“Issue Plan-X now,” he ordered his guards, hugging his teenagers.

But Todd and Tania weren’t fond of their father. They never had been. Tom knew they’d only accepted his call to shelter themselves from the apocalypse outside.

Tom showed them to the underground ward and tucked them safely in the best cell possible.

“It’s not clean,” Tania protested.

“Horrible,” Todd followed. “Just like you, Dad.”

“How about a little patience?” Tom argued. “Once all is set, I’ll get Waltraud or Ogier to clean it for you.”

“Waltraud?” Tania raised her thick eyebrows.

“Ogier?” That was Tom.

Both of them laughed hysterically. Although boy and girl, sometimes when they laughed like this, he couldn’t tell who was who for a moment. All Tom knew was that his kids tended to be a little evil from time to time.

“Enough with that,” he said. “Look, why don’t you two play with that lovely Flamingo in there?”

Todd and Tania marched toward it, not lovingly but more like they were disgusted by it.

“Okay.” Tom pulled them back, realizing he cared for the Flamingo more than anything. “Just wait here. I know who can show you discipline around here. Waltraud!”

But Waltraud didn’t reply.

Tom called for her again.

And again.

Finally, one of the guards told him Waltraud had left the asylum.

“Why?” Tom questioned. “She loves it in here. She adores the Mush Room.”

“But she loves the world outside better now,” the guard said. “She took her baseball bat with her and told us she wouldn’t miss all those fights outside.”

Before Tom could comment, his twins, Todd and Tania, summoned him again, complaining about something else in the cell. No matter how hard he tried to please them he couldn’t, but he had to go grant them one more wish.

“Yes, Tweedles,” he said. “I’m coming over.”

Their mother used to call them Tweedledum and Tweedledee when they were younger.

Chapter 50

Hookah Festival, Brazil

The festival isn’t going to start until the sun goes down. We have no choice but to wait until then. Which is a big risk. Our journey has taken about two days, and I remember Carolus saying it would only be three days before the plague took its course to end the world.

But even so, I spend the time with the kids, showing them around and buying them clothes and candy. The Pillar provides the money for the clothes, but that doesn’t mean I want to talk to him.

Every time I remind myself that he was the real Mad Hatter, playing me around to get the key, I can’t bring myself to look him in his face. I truly regret going back for him in Columbia. I should have left him to get eaten by the Executioner’s men.

I am aware I still need him for this mission, so I won’t push it. But after this ends, the Pillar and I will part ways. I don’t care what his story is. It’s a sensitive issue when someone betrays me.

I will even talk again to Fabiola about the Inklings. We should find a way to pay the Pillar back—although I don’t see how it’s possible. Maybe that’s why he bought it for me; to use it to manipulate me, make me feel in debt, so I would never stand up to him.

Deep inside, I admit I feel he is a much better man than he seems to be. I mean he saved me from the Executioner. But every time I tell myself that, he turns the table on me in a blink of an eye.

My predicament is truly weakening me. I mean, even Lewis Carroll is some kind of a monster now. How am I going to live with that? Am I really supposed to not trust anyone but myself? Are these the rules of the game?

The kids try their clothes on. They seem to be fond of brightly colored dresses. I don’t blame them. They lived in a dim mushroom world for so long.

I make sure everyone gets what he wants, not knowing what I am going to do with them. I can’t take them back to the asylum. That would be like transporting them from one hell to another.

But I’ll figure it out.

Right now I have to send them back to the chopper, so the Pillar and I can get ready for the hookah festival that night.

Chapter 51

Haha Street, Department of Insanity, London