They hadn’t used the planes since the Pillar went on a rampage, killing twelve people some time ago. “Where are we going, Professor?”
“We’re going to pay a visit to darkness itself,” the Pillar said, diverting his focus on the broadcasting news. “Welcome home Lewis Carroll. It’s been some time.”
The Eagle and Bird Bar, Oxford
An hour after the Pillar left
I received the Pillar’s call a few hours ago while I was still in the Vatican. He’d given me the address to the Inklings bar with the location of its key in a Tiger Lily pot beside the door.
I picked up the key and entered the place. On the table, there was a contract in my name. The Pillar bought me the headquarters of my Inklings gathering place.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time to look at the historical signatures of the likes of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis on the walls. I was stopped, and shocked, by the news about the Lewis Carroll man on TV
Now I am standing, staring at the TV in awkward awe.
Is this for real?
The man in the news looks just like the Lewis Carroll I saw through the Tom Tower and Einstein’s Blackboard.
Lewis Carroll is a Wonderland Monster?
“This can’t be,” I say to emptiness.
“I thought so, too.” The Pillar’s chauffeur appears out of nowhere. “But whoever he is, you need to look at this.”
He points at the BBC’s world coverage of what looks like people coughing red bubbles all over the world.
The BBC says that doctors haven’t found a medical explanation for it. Nothing in the hookahs shows a hostile infection of any sort. Still, it’s spreading fast, and they’re worried it’ll lead to a disaster in a few hours.
“The Pillar assured me this is the beginning of an unimaginable plague,” the chauffeur says.
“People coughing red bubbles. What kind of plague is that?”
“The Pillar said you’d say that, so he recorded this little video for you.” He shows me a YouTube video on his phone.
“Think about it, Alice. Have you ever seen anyone cough bubbles, let alone red? Do as my chauffeur tells you.” The Pillar drags from his hookah. “Ah, and don’t forget to sign the contract. Congrats, you own a bar now. At least you have a job, in case you lose your career as a magnificent lunatic patient in the asylum.”
The video ends.
I look at the contract, not sure if I should accept a half a million pound gift. I tell myself Fabiola would accept it; the Inklings is part of the prophecy.
I sign both the Pillar’s and my copy, not reading through.
As I hand it back to the chauffeur, I glimpse a condition in the contract written at the bottom of the page:
The two parties who share the Inklings Bar are bound by the agreement in this contract for an unknown time. The contract is automatically cancelled once Alice saves the world from every last Wonderland Monster.
“Would you kindly seal the envelope?” the chauffeur suggests. “The Pillar demanded you seal his copy yourself so I don’t peek into it.”
“Trust issues?” I roll my eyes, both at the request and the lines in the contract, then lick the envelope to seal it.
But it’s a short roll of eyes, and a shorter lick, only half way through. I find myself swirling down to the floor like a dying flower.
The envelope’s tip contains some kind of sedative. The Pillar’s drugged me again.
Somewhere next to a mushroom cloud
I wake up to the suffocating and blurry waves of hookah smoke.
Coughing, I part the drapes of smoking curtains and feel my way through this delirium. At the end of the maze, I come to find the Pillar sitting on his favorite couch, dragging and puffing while fiddling with his hookah’s hose.
“I thought I’d bring the couch with me,” he says. “What’s a man without his favorite couch?”
Instead of screaming and pulling hair, I look around and figure out where I am. I may have been a fool for licking the envelope, but I can still tell I’m inside a plane.
An air bump shakes the flight momentarily. I grab for the nearest seat but end up slumping next to the Pillar on the couch.
He doesn’t lose balance. “Never understood what an air bump is,” he says. “I mean, could we have bumped into a giant mushroom cloud up here?”
“Not funny,” I adjust myself on the couch, and now the flight is normal again.
“Want to see what’s really not funny?” He clicks on the TV. “We have a new Wonderland Monster.”
I am watching the same news I saw in the Inklings, only things are getting worse now. People don’t just cough red bubbles. They’re starting to get edgy after it, looking rather mean, like they’re about to hurt one another.
“Who is this Wonderland Monster, really?” I ask. “The Cheshire?”
“The Cheshire can’t possess any of the main Wonderlanders, in case you didn’t notice.” The Pillar sets the hookah aside and waves off some smoke. “But you’re also right.”
“The man is Lewis Carroll.”
“That can’t be. Lewis isn’t a monster. He is the one who locked the monsters in Wonderland.”
“I guess he forgot to lock himself in, too. Or, how about he just made you believe he isn’t a monster in the Tom Tower?” The Pillar’s face is unreadable. Is he telling the truth? “The man was nuts. Migraines and split personality. He was schizophrenic. Left handed and unable to hear with his right ear. It all happened particularly after the events of the Circus. He lost his grip on reality when he relied on drugs to ease his mind from the trauma.”
“I don’t believe a word you’re saying.”
“I didn’t believe I’d ever grow up and become old when I was a kid, either,” he says.” I mean, why would God do this to me? I was having a great time being small and unnoticed, doing whatever I wanted.”
Like usual, I pass on commenting. “So Lewis was really using drugs?”
“Drugs were still legal until the middle of the 19th century.” He pulls out an 80’s cassette player and squeezes a tape inside.
“Really?” I can’t understand how. Things like this, and the Circus, make me look at humanity from a new and different perspective. How could drugs have been legal only a century and a half ago?
“In the eyes of society, and himself, Lewis wasn’t doing anything wrong at the time.” He pushes the sticky button. Melodies of White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane blast out of the worn-out cassette player. The Pillar begins his Caucus Race dance. “A lot of writers, including Charles Dickens, took those legal drugs at the time. Makes you wonder if he could have produced his masterpieces without them.” He winks. “But all geniuses have a vice, don’t they?” He points at his hookah. “Besides, really, read that Alice in Wonderland book again. It’s full of hallucinations and madness. Maybe the dude was a little tipsy when wrote it.”
I’m not fond of him talking about Lewis like that, but I need to hear more first.
“Lewis had issues, so what?” The Pillar shakes his shoulders. “We just don’t like to talk about them, so we continue living in our la-la world.” He stretches his arms sideways and imitates a bird’s wings while half-circling in place. “My moves are getting better.”
“I want to know all you know about Lewis.” I feel offended, suddenly realizing how much I love Lewis.
“The world is falling apart, Alice.” He points at the TV. “Look at those angry faces walking around. Lewis Carroll told the press it would take three days to end the world, so I assume the symptoms will worsen at rocket speed.” He pulls out an oversized clock from behind his bag and tucks it in my lap. “The clock is ticking. We don’t have time. We need to find a cure for the plague. Listen. Tick. Tock.”
I put the clock away. It’s not even working. “So Lewis Carroll was behind manufacturing the Hookahs of Hearts all over the world, hiding behind that Dodo Company? I thought it was Black Chess.”