“Trust me.” I hear her fingernails on the wooden frame. “It’s a lot easier than trying to confess what you actually remember.”
I lower my gaze and fiddle with the key, assuming Fabiola’s heard humanity’s darkest secrets between these walls.
“The Pillar lent you his plane to come and see me?” she says.
“Yes. But he doesn’t know what I want to see you about.”
“And what do you want to see me about?”
“Did you hear about me entering a delirious version of Wonderland through the Garden of Cosmic Speculation last week?”
“I did,” Fabiola says. “I too had a vision that I met you inside and showed you the Impossible Six.”
“Lewis, you, the March Hare, Jack, me, and a little girl.”
“If you’re here to ask me about the little girl, I have no answer for you... at least not now.”
“I admit I am curious, but it’s not what I’m here for.”
“Why are you here then, Alice?” Fabiola sounds impatient. I get the feeling she is afraid that talking to me for longer periods will force her to confess too much to me.
“I think what I saw was some kind of epiphany, a sign for me to do something,” I say. “I want to gather the Impossible Six and create an opposing force against Black Chess.”
Fabiola slides open the window.
“You want to stand up to the Queen of Hearts and Black Chess?” Fabiola’s eyes show concern.
“I don’t want to wait for the monster of the week anymore,” I say. “I know about the Circus. How it all started. Black Chess has to be stopped.”
“You know nothing at all, believe me. But it’s admirable that, although you’re not sure if you’re the Real Alice, you want to play the hero’s part.”
“I don’t care if I’m her or not. All I know is that I can stop bad things from happening in this world.”
“Did you think about the price you will have to pay?”
“Other than living in a mad world where I can’t tell what’s real from what’s not? Yes, I know I want to do this.”
“It’s not that easy. Black Chess is darkness itself. Stare into it too long and it will stain you with a black veil of unforgettable pain.”
I shrug, tightening my grip on the key. “I believe the world can be a better place, only if the truth, in this case Black Chess, is exposed and defeated.”
“The truth,” Fabiola considers. “I’m not sure we all want to know about it. What do you have in mind?”
“Like I said, gather the good guys. Jack is with me in the asylum. I will find a way to get the March Hare out of the Hole. I’m not sure where Lewis stands in all of this. I mean, is he alive or dead? But I’m not worried about him, not as much as the little girl.”
“The time hasn’t come to talk about her yet,” Fabiola says. “So I’d postpone looking for her, same goes for Lewis. He has a war of his own, so he’ll show up when it’s his time.”
My eyes meet hers. “And you?”
“What about me?”
“Are you in? If so, my impression is that you’d be the leader.”
“Normally I would be. But I am not wearing my white outfit to entice wars. I wear it to wipe off the old days of Wonderland, when I had blood all over my hands.”
I am oblivious to whatever she is talking about.
“My time and strength are devoted to the people who seek peace in this world,” she follows. “I may give advice, be resourceful, but I’m not going to be part of the Wonderland War when it begins. My real war is to avoid war.”
I am disappointed. I was hoping she’d help, instead of me having to deal with the Pillar’s devious ways—he isn’t one of the good guys. I am not sure whose side he is on.
“At least bless us with a name instead of the Impossible Six.” I let out an uncomfortable chuckle.
“It’s already been picked,” she says. “The Inklings.”
“Already been picked?”
“There was a prophecy in Wonderland: that Alice will return and put an end to Black Chess. Of course, we’re not going to argue whether you’re her or not again.”
“A prophecy.” I wonder if that’s why the Pillar found me. “Inklings?”
“It’s named after a meeting place. A bar known as the Bird, previously known as the Eagle and Child. It’s near Oxford University. It’s a special place. Great people who stood in the face of evil before you attended it regularly.”
“Anyone I know?”
“Of course.” She finally smiles. “J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, who wrote the Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia.”
I tilt my head.
Fabiola senses my confusion. “The Inklings was the name of an elite writers group who met at the bar. Lewis Carroll spent most of his time there, almost a century before Tolkien and C. S. Lewis came, when it wasn’t a bar yet. It’s said they found some of his diaries in there. It was why they attended regularly in the first place.”
“Pardon me, but the connection escapes me, Fabiola. Those writers knew about...?”
“The Wonderland Wars,” Fabiola says. “What did you think those epic fantasies, the Lord of the Rings and Narnia, were about?”
No words come out of my mouth. I’m starting to realize how Wonderland is connected to everything.
“They were meant to inspire generations and educate them about the idea of good and evil in this world.” Fabiola stops to make sure I am following. “They were discreetly using literature to prepare generations for the Wonderland Wars.”
The Eagle and Bird Bar, Oxford
The chauffeur watched the Pillar knock his cane on the floor for the hundredth time.
His employer had been sitting alone in this old bar for some time, staring at a golden key in his hand. Rarely had the chauffeur seen the Pillar so gloomy, not the flamboyant and out-of-this-world man he usually was.
The Pillar had just bought this old bar. For over half a million pounds.
The chauffeur wondered if he’d spent that money to tap a cane and stare at a key. Why this bar? There were dozens of old historical bars in Oxford, many of them truly profitable.
The chauffeur wondered if the Pillar had heard of the new Wonderland Monster calling himself Lewis Carroll yet.
Would he be just sitting here if he had?
The Pillar didn’t look like he wanted to talk to anyone.
“So should I employ someone to run this place?” the chauffeur hissed.
“No need,” the Pillar answered, eyes still on the key. “Alice will run the place herself soon. I’m anxious to see if she’d serve good tea like the Hatter back in Wonderland.”
“Well, let’s say she’s about to finally pick up her team and oppose Black Chess.” The Pillar tucked the key next to his watch inside his breast pocket. He tapped his pocket gently with his white-gloved hand. “The first real step into the War.”
“So it’s really happening?”
“Wars are inevitable, my lousy driver.” The Pillar stood up and elegantly flipped his cane. “Victories aren’t.”
“Wars like these?” The chauffeur turned on the TV. The six o’clock news was covering the incident with the creepy Lewis Carroll look-a-like claiming he’d spread an incurable plague to the world.
“That’s just the tip of the iceberg,” the Pillar said. “I hope you didn’t smoke any of those toy hookahs yourself.”
“Not at all, Professor. I’m not into puffing bubbles,” the chauffeur prided himself. “But if I may ask: is the plague real?”
“Looks too real, in fact.”
The chauffeur wasn’t sure what that meant.
“Get my plane ready,” the Pillar said, slowly easing into a better mood.
“That plane is in the Vatican. You just let Alice use it this morning.”
“Not that plane.” The Pillar knocked his cane against the floor.
The chauffeur swallowed hard. “You mean the War Plane?”
The Pillar nodded, momentarily closing his eyes. “In fact, I want all my planes ready and handy. The choppers, too. Don’t forget the guns.”