“I don’t understand.”
“The March Hare just remembered why Carolus imprisoned him in Brazil.”
“Because he feared the March would remember his plan and expose him.”
“His plan? You mean the plague?”
“No, the real plan behind the plague.”
“You mean Carolus doesn’t want to end the world?”
“No. He wanted the plague to lead him to the real Alice. It was a test so he could find her.”
“Find her?” The Pillar thought for a moment. “Find her and what? Kill her?”
“That’s a possibility, but I don’t think that’s it.” She was trying to frantically find an exit, as the guards had locked them for security.
“Then why did he use the plague to lead him to Alice?”
“Don’t you get it?”
The Pillar’s face drooped as if he’d just aged twenty years. “Lewis Carroll!”
Parking Lot, UN Headquarters, Geneva, Switzerland
“I had to find you so I could finally kill you, Alice Wonder.”
I am about to laugh at him. “That’s not even my real name.”
“You’re right,” he says. “I needed to kill you with my own hands, Mary Ann.”
He begins approaching again, his balloon showing the night all around me. I wonder if they are some kind of weapon. He sounds so confident.
“Back off.” I point my umbrella at him. “Or I’ll shoot.”
“You know the Bandersnatch bullets won’t kill me.”
The worst thing is that I do know. What could possibly kill Carolus?
“I thought Lewis told you how to kill me.” He stopped again. Carolus surely likes to chat a lot.
“Everyone keeps telling me Lewis must have told.” I am going crazy. “But he hasn’t.”
“Maybe he did, and you just missed the message.”
“No! He didn’t.” I take a deep breath after losing control for a moment. “He showed me to his studio. I saw one of the doors to Wonderland. I saw the rabbit in his pocket. I saw the photographs of the girls he took. He talked to me, and he was nice to me.” I realize tears are about to trickle down my cheeks. I can’t help it. “He never even told me about you.”
“That’s because I am the part he likes to forget the most,” Carolus says. “Like everyone else, no one wants to admit their dark half exists.”
“You sure do talk too much.” I hold back the tears. “What do you really want? You would have killed me already if that’s what you planned all this for.”
“I like a fair fight,” His shoulders twitch now. “It th-th-thrills me.”
This is when I realize the full beast is facing me now.
“How fair can this get? I don’t remember how to kill you.”
“So-so let me remind you.” The grin on his face could kill a few people in this life alone.
“Tell me.” I am reluctant, but if he wants to play, let’s play.
“Lewis must have given you something precious and told you not to tell about it.”
“He did,” Sorry, Lewis. A lot of people know about the key. It’s too late to pretend I don’t have it. “A key.”
“Never realized what it’s for?”
“How about you check that small button on your umbrella weapon for a start?”
“Button?” I look and find it instantly. I remember pushing it before. It opens a small groove where a bullet should fit in, except no bullet ever did.
“Now try to load your umbrella with the key.”
My heart races. I pull out the key, about to fit it in.
“Not all keys open doors, Alice,” Carolus says. “Some keys open skulls.”
It’s hard to tell how long it takes to squeeze the key bullet into place.
At first, my shaking hands drop it. Then, as I kneel to pick it up, it suddenly rains, not balloons, but icy waters.
With a blurry vision, on my knees, I feel the earth, looking for my lost key, well aware of Carolus running my direction.
Faster, Alice. Don’t think about him coming at you. Just do what you have to do. A fraction of a second could save lives.
I find the key, not looking in the monster’s direction, tuck it in as I’m standing to my feet. I grip the umbrella with a fist of steel, close one eye to aim better, and...
“Stop!” The Pillar grips my umbrella.
I’m still gripping it too, and I won’t let go. What’s with the Pillar? But what really stops me from shooting Carolus is that he stops once he lays his eyes on the Pillar.
“It’s a trick,” the Pillar says behind me. “Don’t shoot him.”
“What do you mean? Killing him is the only way to save the world.”
“No. It’s also the only way to kill Lewis Carroll for good.”
This throws me off. What did he just say?
“Carolus infected the world to find you, not because only the Real Alice will be brave enough to confront him, but because only the Real Alice will have Lewis Carroll’s most precious key.”
Carolus is slowly getting madder now. “Don’t believe him. The Pillar is a liar. Always has been.”
“I’m not lying, Alice.” The Pillar’s voice is stable, smooth, nothing rocks him away. “Didn’t you ever ask yourself why Lewis didn’t remind you of the whereabouts of the rest of the keys when he gave you this one in the Tom Tower?”
“It crossed my mind, but I never understood.” I’m still aiming at Carolus.
“Because he doesn’t know. Lewis only has one key in his possession. A special key. One that opens skulls, like Carolus said. Lewis gave you the key, the bullet, that kills him.”
“In case he couldn’t defeat his split persona, Carolus Ludovicus, his inner demon,” the Pillar says. “Lewis Carroll trapped all Wonderland Monster, except of one. His darker part which he couldn’t tame or control. Killing this part kills Lewis. True, they are like night and day, darkness and light, but they are one.”
“You were ready to die so you could kill Lewis?” I stare at Carolus.
“I hate him!” Carolus drops to his knees. “All these migraines. All this pain he went through and he still loves those terrible kids. He still writes those stupid books and poems to make people laugh. I hated how he still had passion for life after all that he’d been through – both of us have been through. I wanted him to unleash his anger on the world after the Circus. Why does he still love human children after the Circus? I never understood. Why he lives with his pain, not telling anyone about it. It drives me crazy. Lewis Carroll must die.”
I’m shattering on the inside. It’s not the icy rain. And not even the exhaustion I feel. It’s the darkness I see inside Carolus Ludovicus. How come this kind of hatred exists in the first place? “I still have to kill him,” I tell the Pillar.
“Look at him. I won’t let a monster like him run away. He will run away like the Cheshire. I am not going to let the villains escape every time. And the plague. If I don’t kill him the people in the world will kill each other.”
“Saving the world might not be like in the movies, Alice,” the Pillar says. “It’s not really about killing the villain right away. It’s about saving lives first. We’ll figure out how to face the plague on our own.”
“No.” I cement my feet and make sure I have a clear shot of Carolus. “This kind of darkness in the world has to end.”
“Remember when you told me Fabiola told you about staring darkness in the eyes?” The Pillar’s voice is unusually soft. “Don’t let it stain you, Alice. Don’t let bad people turn you into an equally violent hero.” He hesitates then says, “Don’t be like me.”
Carolus disappears in the rain, behind his floating balloons, just like the darker side in all of us. The Pillar says it’s better this way. That there is nothing wrong with having a dark side. It helps us know, and appreciate, our better side.
It’s hard to take moral advice from a serial killer, but Fabiola tells me the same when she arrives. It takes her a whole minute to pull my finger free of the trigger.