But I am not going to swallow it. No way. I tuck it inside my shoe, wishing it to be a good idea.
The footfalls are nearing now. Everyone else in this festival has disappeared.
“Anything you want to say before you die?” the Pillar tells me.
“Not to you,” I counter back. ‘I hate you’ is what my eyes say. Even in this haze. Then I realize I’m curious about something. “Maybe it’s you who wants to tell me something before you die. The Executioner. What was going on between you two?”
Unexpectedly, the Pillar’s face changes. It dims in such an unhealthy way. What happened between you and the Executioner, Professor Pillar?
His dimming face doesn’t last long, though. His eyes widen as our pursuers show up from behind the haze of smoke.
I am surprised I recognize them. But I’m not sure how they fit into all of this.
“If I had a mushroom for every time I run into one of you,” The Pillar pouts, staring at the Reds.
As usual, they are dressed in their numbered, red cloaks, their faces hidden underneath them.
“You want to meet up with the Scientist?” one of them says, his voice deep and hollow, as if from another world.
“Yes.” I stand up straight.
“You will have to drink this before we bring you to him!”
The Pillar looks away from the drink. “I’m not drinking that.”
“What is it?” I ask.
“Hmm.” He hesitates.
“It’s the drink he made you drink in the rabbit hole in the Garden of Cosmic Speculation,” one of the Reds explains.
I sneer at the Pillar. He starts whistling, staring up as if admiring the night stars.
Then I realize I have to ask something, “And how do you, Red, know about that?”
“You don’t seem to realize who we are, Alice,” their leader says, his voice implying mockery. “Just drink this, or you will not see the Scientist.”
I have no choice but to accept. What harm will that do? I am used to seeing things bigger in scale. It’s not that bad actually.
But as I bring myself to drink it, the Red’s sentence rings in my head. You don’t seem to realize who we are, Alice.
Does that mean they’re working for the Pillar? Does that mean I have been fooled again?
Somewhere in Alice’s mind.
The drink, unlike last time, puts me to sleep.
It’s a different kind of sleep because I know I am sleeping. I know I am dreaming. And I don’t like where my dreams have sent me.
I dream I am back in the Radcliffe Lunatic Asylum. I dream I am back on that couch in that dark psychiatry room.
I hate this room.
“So how deep have you gone into the rabbit hole, Alice?” the doctor, hiding behind his smoke and darkness, tells me.
“I want to wake up!”
“You’re not dreaming, Alice. This is your reality, like I’ve told a thousand times.”
“No, you’re a figment of my imagination. Some kind of a sick joke.”
“Alice. Alice. Alice.” The doctor puffs his pipe. “Haven’t we talked about this before? The rabbit hole. Remember when I told you I would let you delve deeper into your madness, until you couldn’t take the nonsense anymore? That’s the moment when you’ll realize you’re mad.”
“I don’t believe you. I’m not mad. I am saving the world.”
The doctor says nothing, trying to suppress a laugh, I think.
“Have you ever considered that you’re the mad one?” I say. “Maybe this is your rabbit hole, and you think you’re some psychiatrist in an asylum.”
“It seems that you haven’t had enough of the rabbit hole yet.” He sighs. “I think we’re done for today.”
“I think so, too,” I retort. “Because I’d really like to wake up to go complete my mission.”
“And where is it this time?”
“And you’re saving the world from what?”
“What kind of plague?”
This is when I hesitate. I don’t even know what kind of plague this is. All I know is that it has driven people so crazy they’re killing each other all around the world.
In my moment of embarrassment and silence, I wonder what this plague really does to people. The Executioner said it’s something unimaginable. That’s why it has no cure. But really, what drives people mad enough to start killing each other all around the world?
“I take it that you don’t know what kind of plague.” There is victory all over the doctor’s voice. “I’ll have the wardens take you back, but I’m afraid you need a higher dose of your medicine this time.”
“Medicine?” I know in this dream I am always given medicine, but I haven’t paid attention to it.
“Your medicine, Alice.” He sounds impatient or disappointed. I can’t really tell. “The pill I’ve been giving you for two years now. It’s called Lullaby, if you remember.”
In spite of all the confusion, the mixed emotions, the drink’s effect is hilarious. I wake up laughing like I haven’t for some time. It’s the kind of laughing that cramps the stomach and makes you wiggle your feet or hands. And the funniest part of it is that I don’t know why.
Could it be because everything around me looks so big?
This room I am in is definitely hot and humid, but its doors are the size of a fortress. The windows are, too, and it takes me a while to realize they are in fact windows. And this desert of velvet I’m walking on is nothing but the sheets of normal-sized bed.
I laugh harder when I see the Pillar the same size as me. He looks really annoyed, and it makes me happy.
“See? This is the same way I felt when you drugged me in the rabbit hole, pretending you were the Mad Hatter,” I say.
The Pillar is too annoyed to even answer me. He keeps shouting the Scientist’s name.
“But wait a minute,” I say. “This means the Reds aren’t working for you?”
“The Reds are hired mercenaries, Alice. I hired them last week, like others hire them all the time,” the Pillar says. “They once worked for the Queen of Hearts, and some of them still do, but those don’t call themselves Reds anymore.”
“Are you saying the Scientist has hired them now?”
“Looks like it. Where are you, Scientisto!” he shouts.
“I’m here,” a deafening sound answers. “I had to use the Alice Syndrome on you so as to keep my identity secret.”
It’s true. All we see is someone huge talking to us. It’s hard to tell who he is. Still, his loud voice, in proportion with his size, is annoying.
“So let’s cut this short,” the Pillar raises his voice, in case the Scientist can’t hear us clearly. “We know Carolus asked you to cook this plague for him. We need you to cook us the cure.”
I am curious about how this Alice Syndrome works. This is not exactly like the one I experienced in the rabbit hole. I mean, here we’re really small. And what boggles my mind is that I know that we’re not small. It’s just the effect of the drink.
It’s tremendously uncomfortable.
“There is no cure to the plague,” the Scientist says.
“Come on,” I shout. “What kind of virus has no cure? There must be one.”
“This plague is like no other. It’s not a virus.”
“Why does everyone tell us that?” the Pillar says. “You make it sound as if it’s not a chemical plague. Is it some kind of magic?”
“Tell us, Scientisto,” I say. “Please.”
“I’ll pay double whatever Carolus paid you,” the Pillar offers.
“All the money in the world can’t cure the truth.”
“The truth?” the Pillar and I ask in unison.
“Yes. Carolus wanted a plague that wasn’t just incurable, but also ironic,” the Scientist says. “Like most Wonderlanders who were in the Circus, he wanted to laugh at the world. He wanted to give them a poison of their own.”
“I’m not quite following.” The Pillar suppresses a thin smile on his lips. Of course he’s amused about the idea. He just wants the Scientist to spell it out for him.