“And then Lewis had continuous headaches without a cure.”
“The headaches intensified so much he began to draw many of those split images of himself,” the Pillar says. “Sir John Tenniel, Carroll’s painter and good friend, noticed this and warned him of the consequences. But Carroll just loved his art and wouldn’t stop, even with his killer migraines. Tens of times, they found find him lying comatose on the floor in his studio. And when he woke up, he didn’t remember where he was and what he had done.”
“I don’t like where this is going.”
“I know. Sadly, it’s the truth. Carroll was turning into Carolus Ludovicus when he passed out.”
“What? Like a case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde? Lewis had some kind of a split personality? This explains why the man in London is the real Lewis Carroll,” I say. “Poor Lewis. He just needs help. Someone to wake him up from this dark alter ego.”
The Pillar stops to face me. I’ve known him long enough to know this is the moment when he drops a bomb on me.
“It would have been easier if all that happened to him was discovering he just had a monster inside him,” the Pillar says. “One day, Lewis woke up from his episode and saw someone sitting opposite him at the table.”
“Someone who looked like him.”
I don’t say anything. I only tilt my head in disbelief.
“Lewis Carroll was staring at Carolus Ludovicus in the flesh,” the Pillar says as the fireworks light the sky in red above us. “His other and darker self, manifested as a separate and real being. A Wonderland Monster.”
Haha Street, Department of Insanity
Inspector Dormouse looked back and forth between his officers and the Lewis Carroll man. “Well, that’s the first time we’ve ever caught a criminal in this department.” He chuckled. “Unless you count last week’s rabbit a criminal, which I didn’t end up catching anyway.”
The Lewis Carroll man said nothing. It made everyone worry. Those kind of Wonderland Monsters were never really constrained by bars. Something was really wrong.
“My name isn’t Lewis Carroll,” the monster finally spoke, gritting his teeth against the headache. “Carolus Ludovicus.”
“Okay?” Inspector Mouse said.
“Those bars mean nothing to me. I can break through anytime I want,” Carolus said. “But I am giving you the pleasure of catching me, under one condition.”
“And what could that be?” Inspector Dormouse asked.
“Tell the Queen of England I want to meet her. I know how to stop the plague. But I’ll only do it if she gives me the cure for my headaches in exchange.”
Hookah Festival, Brazil
I once heard this song that I liked so much. It’s called: The Show Must Go On by Freddy Mercury.
The reason why it comes to mind while I snake my way through the endless smoke of the hookah festival is that it seems to describe what I am feeling exactly.
Think about it. In less than 48 hours, I’ve realized the Pillar betrayed me, I’ve met with one of the lowest scumbags on earth, the Executioner, and I’ve just realized the pain Lewis Carroll went through.
I mean, who can live with his own split persona manifesting into a real enemy? An enemy who is in many ways you.
The darker you.
The you with all those thoughts you could never share with anyone.
The you with all those ideas you never knew you had buried in a grave in the back of your mind.
The you... who isn’t really you.
Making sure I don’t let the Pillar out of sight, my mind is as foggy as the hookah smoke surrounding us. It seems to me, and I’m not the best candidate to say this, that the Cheshire was right. And he always will be. We’re all mad here.
The one thing I’d add to his famous phrase would be: So there is no need to point fingers. The world is a marshmallow bubble of mess. Enjoy it while you can.
A few minutes ago I asked the Pillar if he knows why Carolus was on the bus. The Pillar said he knew nothing of the bus or what happened in it. He also said that whatever I had imagined was likely hallucinations from the mushrooms. I don’t know what to believe.
“Alice!” The Pillar’s voice pulls me back into the real world. “Have you seen this?” He shows me a hookah with an elephant’s hose. “Nutty-tutty weird, right?”
I fake a smile. “I’m going to ask you again. How will we get to that Scientist?”
“Scientisto, if I may correct you,” the Pillar says. “I asked around, and that’s what they really call him.”
“They don’t know his real name?”
“Nor does he have an address. But they say he looks like the mad uncle from Back to the Future.”
“I don’t know what that is.”
“A fun movie from the eighties. You weren’t born yet. Don’t bother.”
“So that’s all?”
“Not exactly,” The Pillar raises his voice against the fireworks and hailing crowd. Some special event is about to take place. “The Scientisto is like a god here. Common belief is that he will send his men to meet with him if he senses you’re special.”
“And how are we supposed to do that?”
“I was told the next event is a good opportunity.”
“This one?” I point at the crowd in the distance. They’re standing next to a tall wall, and it seems the smoke lessens as I walk closer.
“I believe so.”
“How can we show him we’re special in that event? What is it called?”
“How? I have no idea. What is it called? Oh, I know that, and I love it.”
“It’s something Lewis would have loved a lot,” the Pillar says, snaking through the crowd. “It’s called Phantasmagoria.”
Settling among the others in the Phantasmagoria event, I see a big truck spurting out big chunks of fire in the air. The flames are thick and light up the night, high enough not to hurt anyone. However, the angle makes our shadows visible on the enormous wall we’re looking at.
I am still not sure what this event or game is.
“Phantasmagoria is one of Lewis’s craziest poems,” the Pillar says, sounding festive like everyone else. “No one really knows what it means, but it’s also the name of a form of theatre in France in the 18th century, and late in England in the 19th century. A very interesting and well known one actually.”
“Theatre? The name sounds like something scary.”
“It is, actually. The Phantasmagoria theatre used a modified magic lantern to project frightening images onto the walls.”
“Frightening as in...?”
“Skeletons, ghosts, and so forth. It happens all the time. Haven’t you ever been to the beach and had the camp fire reflect your shadow in scary forms?”
“I haven’t been to the beach,” I say. “But I get the idea.”
“Some artists used semi-transparent screens, frequently using rear projection later,” the Pillar says. “The projector was mobile, allowing the images on the wall to change size on the screen, which, in our current case, will be the wall in front of us.”
Glad to know what the wall is for. Also, I know the fire behind us is meant to cast our shadows on the wall now.
“Of course, there are many variations of the practice,” the Pillar says. “Some were able to cast quick switching images to tell a short story, to show a girl run from a ghost. It was much loved in its time.”
“And we’re going to play it here now, with the fire reflecting our shadows?”
“Not just the fire, the hookahs’ smoke too. You can either use the smoke to manipulate the image or to add another layer. Be creative.”
We start to stand in line next to one another, facing the wall. I’m starting to sweat heavily. The area is getting hotter because of the fire, never mind the Brazilian humidity.”
But I am rather enjoying this. The reflections on the walls are funny. People bend their bodies, stretch their arms, and sometimes use an external element to manipulate the shapes on the wall. There is a man whose reflection is a big duck. Another makes his body look like a boat. It’s brilliant. I think the kids would have enjoyed this.