The Pillar borrows a few balloons from others and manipulates his image into a caterpillar sitting atop a mushroom. People go crazy when they see that. They love it.
“Now that’s something special.” The Pillar winks at me.
“I wish the caterpillar was real,” a little girl comments. “I love him.”
“He loves you too, darling.” The Pillar smiles.
“How do you know?” The girl pouts. “You’re not the caterpillar.”
I burst out laughing. The Pillar’s cheeks redden.
We keep on watching others. Three men manipulate the image into three dogs eating peanuts. I tilt my head back to the Pillar for explanation.
“They all know the Queen of England eats their precious nuts here,” he says. “None are left for the masses, so they have to make fun of her.”
“Uh-huh. So I am still lost at that something special idea. I see most people are doing incredible things. What could be more special than that?”
“I have no idea,” the Pillar says. “We have to think of something that would attract a man who just cooked a plague to kill everyone on the other side of the world.”
I have no idea what that could be. It occurs to me that I don’t know anything about that Scientisto. “I wonder if the Scientist is also a Wonderlander.”
“A very plausible assumption.” The Pillar looks impressed. “But I don’t know of a scientist in Wonderland.”
“Let’s just say he is.” I have a dangerous idea in my mind.
“Okay. Let’s just say that. So what? Are you going to manipulate your image into writing Wonderland on the wall?”
“No,” I say. “In fact, I don’t need to manipulate anything.”
The Pillar stops his moves and stares at me. It’s that look again in his eyes when he admires my actions. “You have my undivided attention and heart-pounding anticipation.”
I smile and slip my hands into the Pillar’s pocket, pulling out the key.
“That’s a very smart idea,” the Pillar says.
“I know. I don’t need you to tell me that.” I hold up the key and adjust my angle so it reflects on the wall.
Of course, it doesn’t reflect immediately. The key is too small, and the fire is a bit far from where I stand. I run through the crowd, the Pillar following me, until I find the spot with the fire nearest to the wall.
Not just that. I spend some considerable time finding the right spot where the key’s reflection is big enough to be noticed. It doesn’t really get that big, but it’s enough for the Scientist’s attention—that’s if my assumption is right.
“Seems like it wasn’t a great idea after all.” The Pillar pouts, looking around for the Scientist’s men.
But my stubborn genes tell me it should work. Even if the Scientist isn’t a Wonderlander, the key should attract someone’s attention. This isn’t possible.
“I am afraid to ask, but I need my key back.” The Pillar shrugs.
“You know it’s not your key,” I say, giving it back to him. “But I don’t want it. At least not now. And for the record, I don’t ever want to talk to you again after we save the world this time.”
“Are you so sure you’re going to save the world this time?” He tucks the key in his jacket pocket and rubs off some smoke.
It’s questions like these that make me doubt myself.
Of course I am not sure I’m going to save the world this time. And it scares me to even think about it.
I think about those children again. The world can’t end on their first day of freedom. They still have so much to enjoy and learn in life, or has the Executioner already sentenced them to death in his grip?
I realize I would have preferred to choke him myself instead of listening to the explosion.
And there is something else I realize now. That Fabiola was right. If you stare into the eyes of darkness, you will always get stained.
“I’m thinking of pull off my pants and let out gas into the smoke the Scientist will definitely notice me.” The Pillar rubs his chin. “I know it’s lame, but so were many of Carroll’s jokes.”
That’s the answer to how to get the Scientist’s attention. The Pillar’s key may be valuable to many Wonderlanders, but definitely not like the one I have in my pocket.
Sorry, Lewis, I will break our promise. But I have to give it a shot.
I raise the key in the air and stand in that same spot again. Carroll’s key reflects in a shimmering hue over the wall.
“You have another key?” The Pillar can’t take his eyes of it. “Who’s the liar now?”
I dismiss his comments, still staring at the wall.
Then it happens. Not the way I expected, but close. A loud, deafening horn blares in the festival.
Queen’s garden, Buckingham Palace, London
“Welcome back, Carolus.” The Queen of Hearts stood in the middle of the rain, two of her guards holding her umbrella for her. “It’s time we solve this matter.”
“What matter?” Carolus spat rain in her face.
“Your headaches,” she said. “You know without me stopping the Executioner from giving Lewis his medication, you would have never been created in the first place.”
Carolus grunts, trying to step closer, but he was chained in heavy steel, and guarded carefully. Finally Margaret did her job right, the Queen thought.
“I’m like your god by the way.” The Queen smirked. “I could have given Carroll his medication anytime, and you’d have disappeared. You have any idea how unreal you are? You’re neither Carroll nor Carolus. You’re just a figment of his imagination that manifested somehow.”
“Don’t provoke me,” Carolus growled and broke free from the chains. The Queen’s guards stepped away immediately.
“Don’t threaten me!” The short Queen’s head ached, craning it up to him.
“What are you going to do? Cut my head off?” He laughed, still spitting rain at her.
“I don’t need to.” She grinned.
Instantly, Carolus’s migraine returned. He fell to his knees, gripping his skull.
“See?” the Queen chirped. “My men fooled you into thinking the pills they gave you were Lullaby when they only worsened your headache.”
“Stop it, please!”
“You should have asked for your cure back in Columbia instead of cooking up a plague,” she said. “But because you’re just a figment of someone’s imagination, you couldn’t think straight. All you thought of was ending the world for no apparent reason, just because you were in pain.”
“It’s not just that...”
“Stop it!” She kicked him in the foot. “Stay on your knees when I am talking to you. And listen to what I have to say.”
Carolus said nothing. All he could do was grip his head before it exploded.
“I will have the Executioner supply you with endless amounts of Lullaby.” She pointed her finger at him. “Under one condition.”
“I’ll do anything,” the vicious monster said pleadingly.
“If you tell me how to stop the plague.”
“I can’t,” he stuttered. “The plague is unstoppable. I just told you I knew because I needed my Lullaby pill!”
Hookah Festival, Brazil
The blaring horn puts the festival to a halt.
Not only that, but most of the crowd around us scurry away like rats. The Pillar and I are left alone inside a haze of smoke and fire.
Neither of us say anything for a long time. Anticipation? Fear? I have no idea. But I can hear the footfalls of dozens approaching us from behind the smoke.
“It occurs to me that we’ve not been told if getting the Scientist’s attention could lead to our deaths,” the Pillars says, trying to see through the fog of hookah smoke.
It’s hard for me to utter any words now. I realize what might be in danger is not the Pillar or me but Lewis’s key.
Staring at it, I don’t know where to hide it. Was it stupid of me to use it? Lewis was clear about not losing it. An insane idea hits me. What if I swallow it? I’ve seen them do that in movies.