“The Hookah of Hearts plague makes people tell the truth.”

Chapter 62

Queen’s garden, Buckingham Palace, London

Margaret watched the Queen of Hearts lay on her stomach on the floor, kicking her hands and feet. The Queen couldn’t stop laughing so hard Margaret and the guards felt embarrassed for her. They also didn’t quite understand what Carolus said that was so laughable.

“You infected the world with telling the truth no matter what?” Tears of joy sprang out of her eyes. “Brilliant. Bloody Brilliant!”

The only one who shared her point of view was Carolus. Tied in a special execution chair, and still aching with migraines, he let out a few chuckles. He looked satisfied someone appreciated the idea, but he certainly didn’t get a kick out of it like the Queen.

Hiccupping, the Queen walked up, her face red like a pumped tomato. She adjusted her dress, trying to suck the laughs in around her guards. But it was only seconds before she started again.

“May I ask why this is supposed to be so funny, My Queen?” Margaret asked.

“Don’t you get it?” the Queen said. “Imagine a father returns home to his wife and children. He shouts ‘Honey, I’m home,’ And his wife goes like, ‘Why did you come back? I prayed to the Lord that you’d get hit by a train on the way.’ And the husband goes like, ‘Like I haven’t prayed the same thing for you all of those years.’ Then their child walks into the room and says, ‘Papa, you’re fat. And bald. My friends laugh at you. And mama, your cooking sucks.’ And from then on imagine the trail of honesty escalating until someone physically hurts the other.”

Margaret didn’t know whether to laugh or not, but she certainly hadn’t grasped the wickedness of the plague at first. Come to think of it, most of us passed the days by lying to each other.

“Now imagine this happening at work,” the Queen said. “Imagine what kind of atrocities the employees would tell their boss. And so on and so on.”

Then why haven’t I felt the need to swear at you, obnoxious queen, all day? Margaret fidgeted at the thought.

“Imagine you had to tell the truth, Margaret, huh? You’d be spitting in my face now and telling how much you despise me.” The Queen stepped forward to face her assistant. “And what would that lead to? I’d order your head chopped off. But then you’d call the Cheshire before you died and order him to assassinate me. And then I’d give Carolus his Lullaby pill and order him to eat the Cheshire for lunch. Do you now grasp the magnitude of the plague?”

“I guess I do.” Margaret fiddled with the blood-diamond ring on her finger. “Carolus managed to plague the world with the one thing people claim they demand the most. Transparency, honesty, and truth.”

“The only things they are truly—pun intended—not capable of. It’s brilliant!”

Chapter 63


It takes me a while to digest the truth about the truth about the truth.

And as the drink’s effect starts to wear off and I start to return to my normal size again, it’s hard to imagine how Carolus came up with the idea. It’s even hard to imagine what a plague of truth would do to this world.

In my mind, I try to think of the asylum as my small rat lab for a truth experiment. What would happen if I told Waltraud and Ogier how I felt about them? I’d end up in perpetual shock therapy until I fried like grilled chicken.

And then what if Waltraud told Dr. Tom Truckle how she thought he was the maddest of all and that he belonged in a cell like every other mushroomer?

And what if Tom told himself he was addicted to his pills? He’d probably admit himself to the asylum.

But what if every Mushroomer in the asylum told the truth? That wouldn’t work, right? Because in truth every Mushroomer believes he is sane.

I haven’t been out in the world much, as far as I can remember at least. So I can’t really judge. But it seems like Carolus’s idea was sinister and effective. Apparently, people aren’t meant to tell the truth to each other.

My eyes start to see things clearer now, but the Scientist’s image is still blurry. I guess it’ll only be minutes until I see who he is. Am I supposed to think he is someone I know?

“And the truth shall set you free,” the Pillar muses. “Free enough to kill one another.”

“Stop looking at the world from that angle,” I tell him.

“Soon there’ll be no angle to see the world from, dear Alice.” The Pillar sighs. “So tell me, Mr. Scientist, shouldn’t lying be a cure for the truth?”

“It should,” the Scientist says. “But even if I knew how to cook that kind of cure, how long would it take to reach everyone? The Hookah of Hearts have been sold for more than a year. I designed it to take effect about a year in. Let’s say, hypothetically, I cook a cure of lying now. How will you give it to the people? How long will it take to work?”

“So all this adventure was for nothing?” I tell myself. “At least I saved the kids.”

“And what world will they live in?” the Pillar muses. “Mr. Scientist, there must be a cure.”

I know this tone from the Pillar. He is planning on threatening this man once he retrieves his full vision like me.

And here we go. I can almost see everything in its normal size. Including the Scientist.

But this isn’t quite right, because the Scientist is one of the Reds. I can’t see his face wearing the cloak.

The Pillar, back to normal too, steps forward to pull the cloak, but is immediately stopped by the many other Reds squeezed into this room.

“I wouldn’t come near me again if I were you,” the Scientist says from under his cloak. “Let’s keep it that way.”

My first impression is not to struggle with those Reds. Because let’s think about it. Something here isn’t right.

“Then I assume you have nothing against us leaving.” The Pillar flips his cane and pretends he’s walking away.

“Not so fast, Senor Pillardo.”

The words send a surge of fear through me. Is that the Executioner?

Chapter 64

Queen’s garden, Buckingham Palace, London

“And the beauty of this plague is that it doesn’t affect Wonderlanders,” the Queen continued telling Margaret, “along with most of the South American cities where it was cooked. Fantastic-ballastic!” The Queen hailed.

“Does that mean that ordinary people can’t handle the truth?” one of the guards asked curiously.

“Yes. Of course. Those two-faced hypocrite humans.” The Queen grinned, then her face dimmed all of a sudden, sneering at the guard. “Who gave you permission to speak in the first place? Off with his head!”

Margaret watched the guards take him to execution, not really caring for him. “But truth or no truth, My Queen. We need to find a cure.”

“No, we don’t. I changed my mind,” the Queen exclaimed. “The Jub Jub with the cure. I have a better idea.”

“But you said—”

“Don’t interrupt me, Margaret.” Like a monkey, the Queen jumped on her chair again, pointing a finger straight into Margaret’s eyes. “Forget everything I told you about sending someone after the Pillar.”

“Forget about the Pillar?” Margaret thought the Queen had lost her mind—not that she possessed a healthy one in the first place.

“Yes, Margaret. I have a genius plan. One that, if it succeeds, will have me ruling the world.”

Chapter 65


The horror I see on the Pillar’s face is scaring me.

And this time, there is no doubt about it. The Executioner is the Pillar’s bogeyman, not matter how he tries to hide it.

“He doesn’t die,” one of the Reds answers in return. “The Scientist never dies.”

“The Scientist is the Executioner?” I am thinking out loud.

The Reds laugh at me, enjoying it a lot. I want to shut them up and tell them they’re nothing more than playing cards.