Hypnotized by this strange world, they show me back to the Pillar’s new plane. I get on. Fabiola makes me a cup of warm milk. The Pillar jokes that it reminds him of the man we met in Mushroomland who thought he was a bottle of milk.
His joke doesn’t resonate with me. I just let a monster go. The world is so dark right now I’d really like to sleep.
Some time later, we land in the Vatican. Fabiola brushes a kiss on my forehead. “At least you now know you’re the Real Alice.”
Then she disappears out of the plane. It occurs to me that the world sounds too quiet outside, but I’m too tired.
I fall asleep again.
The next time I wake up I’m in my cell back in the asylum. They’ve bought me a new bed. It’s clean. Comfy. I am thinking it’s too late for such luxury. The world will end in a few hours.
Next time I wake, the Pillar hands me that bottle of milk again.
“I’m not the Cheshire, don’t worry.” He jokes. “Drink it. You’ll be good tomorrow.”
“Wait. I thought there was no tomorrow?”
“I guess you didn’t hear it while you were asleep.” He stops on his way out. “The March remembered what happened exactly. It turns out Carolus instructed him to design a plague that would wear off in three days.”
“It’s true. Of course the world is left a bit damaged. A few million divorces, coworkers who never want to see each other again, and a few thousand dead. The same you read in everyday news. But we’re still alive.”
I try to smile, but my lips feel as rigid and fragile as china. I’m afraid if I laugh I’ll break in two.
“And nothing is impossible by the way,” the Pillar says before leaving. “Only losing hope is possible.”
The Pillar’s Cell, Radcliffe Asylum, Oxford
A few days later
I am slowly tiptoeing my way up to the Pillar’s cell. There is hardly anyone blocking my way. I’m suspicious.
When I arrive, there are many Mushroomers lined up next to the Pillar’s cell. They’re craning their heads up, watching the news on the Pillar’s private TV.
Closer, I see Tom Truckle, and two teenagers beside him, sharing the Mushroomers’ stare at whatever is being broadcasted.
“Alice!” the Pillar chirps from his couch, a hookah hose tucked between his lips. “Come watch this.”
I walk among the Mushroomers. They all look happy I am better now. Even Tom makes way for me to step up into the Pillar’s cell.
“We’re wanted criminals, me and you, isn’t this amazing?” The Pillar points at the TV.
I read the headlines: A serial killer and his daughter invaded the UN’s headquarters yesterday, along with a strange-looking old man, trying to invoke chaos. It’s unclear whether they wanted to kill the American president or the Queen of England.
“It’s strange no one’s talking about the plague,” I remark.
“The plague is one day old. That’s too old for news channels.” The Pillar drags on his hose, wiggling his feet. “But us trying to kill the president, that’s news. They’re discussing if they should send us to Guantanamo.”
“We’re that dangerous?”
“I had no idea,” the Pillar says.
“I’m glad they didn’t drag Fabiola into this.”
“They can’t.” He waves his pipe. “Politics. It’s like saying Jesus Christ came down and peed into the Queen’s pot of nuts. Conflict of interest is what it’s called. Keep looking. It gets better.”
“Why are you so stoked about this?”
“Because I just saw it ten minutes ago. Just keep looking.”
I watch the host receive a bulk of papers, read and make a face about it. She says, “Apparently, only two of the criminals will be sent to Guantanamo. The elder man, Professor Carter Pillar, must have been there by mistake.”
“What?” I turn to him.
“Just keep watching. It’s so frabjous I’m going to vomit butterflies.”
The host continues. “Professor Pillar turned out to be a national hero, having ended the reign of drug cartels in Columbia on his own.”
“You’re a national hero?” I point accusingly at him.
“For only five minutes. Just keep looking.”
“Okay.” I look around. “Did you see Jack by the way?”
“He escaped. We don’t know where he is. Don’t worry. He always comes back. Now, look!”
This time the host has decided to change her mind again. “Sorry for this confusion, but the newest thing we know is that the three of them, Carter Pillar, Alice Wonder, and Jittery Jinks all escaped lunatic asylums during the plague which explains their mischievous behaviors, including the horrible matter of killing hundreds of innocent Columbian men.”
“Told ya. Hero for five minutes,” the Pillar says.
“This will only make my problems worse.” Tom Truckle grunted. “I should have never let you two out of here.”
I am speechless. It’s a mad world indeed. But aside from needing some time to reflect on what happened with Carolus, I need to find Jack. Did he escape, looking for me?
“Where are you going?” The Pillar pulls me back. “You haven’t seen the best part.”
This time, when he points at the TV, a broad laugh from the heart escapes my lungs.
They’re airing a still image of when the Pillar and I were injecting the Queen and the American president. From this angle, this picture looks so misleading. The Pillar looks as if he has his hands up the president’s butt, mine in the Queen’s.
And it’s not just that. The grins of victory on our face proves without a doubt we’re the looniest loons in the world.
The Pillar tries to suppress the laugh for a second but then explodes. He throws the hookah and pulls my hand and starts dancing with me.
Then the Mushroomers start laughing.
A few wardens snap out of the shock of what they’re looking at and join us laughing hysterically.
Even Tom’s teenagers laugh with us.
Everyone laughs but Tom, who pulls out a load of pills and swallows them without water. He then stiffens, unable to control the laughs. Trying to shout at us doesn’t work. The veins on his neck stick out with anger, and I’m afraid he is going to have a heart attack.
Then a miracle happens.
Tom Truckle begins laughing like a madman. I don’t think he knows what he is laughing about, but it’s progress from him.
Buckingham Palace, London
“Get your hands off me!” The Queen roared at Margaret, trying to mend her wounds. “I have an itch as big as an apple on my butt.”
“Royal butt heals faster than all” A young man enters her chamber all of a sudden.
The Queen and Margaret look perplexed.
“Don’t worry, I’m not Jack,” the Cheshire said. “I just borrowed him for a while. Very useful, fella. Good looking, too.”
“What do you want?” the Queen says.
“I want you to meet my friend.” The Cheshire welcomes Carolus inside.
“What is he doing here? We made a deal. I thought he was going to kill Alice while I ruled the world.”
“Funny how none of this happened.” The Cheshire enjoys a slump into a sofa and stretches his leg, his boot in the Queens face.
“You look like you want your head cut off,” she said.
“You know you’ve never succeeded in doing that, not even in Wonderland.”
“What do you want?” Margaret said.
“I want the four of us to be friends.”
“And why would we accept that?” Margaret said.
“Because it seems to me like this Alice is really the Alice.”
“I’m not going to listen to this nonsense again.” The Queen stood up.
“Think about it. She had Carroll’s key. And if that isn’t proof enough, how about that she just bought the Inklings bar and is looking for the Six Members?”
The Queen’s face tightened. “Who told her about the Inklings?”
“Doesn’t matter.” The Cheshire stood, too. “What matters is that, even if this girl is delusional, she isn’t stopping. She has a heart made of breathing fire.”