“It’s not,” the Pillar says. “Which is why it’s intriguingly puzzling.” The Pillar fetches something else from behind the couch. “But we’re minutes...I mean seconds away from finding out.” He pulls out two parachutes and throws one at me, as if I’m expected to be an expert with it. “I hope you know how to use a parachute because this plane is going to explode...”
“Dress up, and prepare to fly, Alice. It’s not that different from falling into a rabbit hole.” He straps on his parachute and checks his pocket watch. “All we have is about...let’s say thirty seconds before this plane explodes?”
“Why will the plane explode?”
The Pillar doesn’t answer me, tightening the straps of his parachute and putting on his goggles. “Do I look good?”
Even if I was planning to keep cool, I can’t. Kneeling down, I pick up the parachute and try to put it on. I have never worn one before.
“Excellent.” He is already strapped into his, looking ready. The White Rabbit song in the background is driving me crazy.
I am not sure I am doing this right. I keep strapping whatever I find around me. Is this supposed to be like this, or is it supposed to be upside down?
“Here.” He throws my umbrella toward me. I hardly catch it as I am still strapping my parachute. “You’ll need this fantabulous weapon of yours down there.”
“Where are we going?” The words sputter out of my lips. I’m almost done with strapping. Who in their right mind ties themselves up in a parachute not knowing how to land it?
“You,” the Pillar addresses his chauffeur flying the plane. “You’re good with dying for the cause, right?”
The back of my head hurts when I hear this. The chauffeur is going to stay in the plane when it explodes?
“The men down below have to think we have no one to pick us up, you understand?” the Pillar tells his chauffeur.
True, I understand nothing, but I’ve finally managed to put my parachute on.
“Ten seconds.” The Pillar raises his voice as the plane’s rear door opens, a swirl of wind kickboxing against my body. “So here is the thing,” he shouts. “Lewis Carroll’s plague is like nothing I’ve ever seen. I had a few science labs check it. They didn’t find anything wrong with the hookahs. My guess is that it’s a hallucinogenic. Some substance that drives you mad when you smell it.”
I am not sure if I can hear the rest. It’s not that the air plastering my face but that my heart is racing when I see how far below the earth is.
“Five seconds,” the Pillar continues. “The only ones I know who have the power to create this are ex-Wondelranders who live among us. Those Wonderlanders are the lowest scum of the world. They’d kill you only to take a selfie of your blood on their faces and send it to your mom so they could laugh at the horrified expression on her face. Understand?”
“Shouldn’t we jump already?” I shout, hardly interested in what he says.
“Trust me, jumping is the least of your worries. Those men below could eat us for dessert. So you have to think about it. If you can’t do it, you can simply stay here and explode with my chauffeur.”
“Fabulous choices.” I am so ready to jump, although I don’t know how. What the heck is wrong with me? “If you keep babbling, I’m jumping before you.”
The Pillar smiles. “Wait, don’t jump without this.” He hands over a pair of cool black goggles. “Here is a tip.” He struggles shouting against the wind. “Always look cool on your way down the rabbit hole. Never do it Elvis style.”
“You mean because he was found dead with his head in the toilet?”
“Nah.” The Pillar adjusts his goggles. “Because he died with his ass out at the world.”
Have you ever jumped out of a plane in a parachute, down to meet up with people who’d take selfies of your blood on their faces for breakfast?
I am doing it right now. And guess what, it’s nighttime, so not only am I free-falling, but I am also doing it in the dark. That’s what I call a bonus.
Throwing away the Pillar’s goggles, I hear the plane explode in midair above me.
Oh my god, this is for real!
“I’ve always wanted to blow up my employees,” the Pillar shouts all the way down. I am not sure how I can hear him. “But you’ll be fine. Just pull the red lever when I tell you to.”
In spite of all the madness, I feel unexpectedly fine up here in the air. Fine is an understatement. I feel euphoric. I want to feel like this every day. It’s ridiculous how much I am enjoying this, although I may get face-palmed by the earth in a few seconds.
Mary Ann, also known as Alice Wonder, 19 years old, dead and gone. I imagine the scripture on my grave says. But who cares? She was mad anyways.
Suddenly I realize that the madness hasn’t started yet. Not at all.
Down below, I can see something glittering. The vast land where we’re landing is nothing but an endless field of ridiculously over-sized mushrooms.
Big mushrooms growing everywhere, whitening up the black of the night.
“Now!” the Pillar yells. “Pull the lever.”
It’s not easy to see it, so I pull whatever lever my hands come across. What? You think I might push the lever that expedites the fall?
I feel a sudden impact in my shoulders. So powerful I think I am close to dislocating both of them.
Off with their shoulders!
But it’s only moments before it gets even better—or worse. The Pillar and I are floating in the air as we slowly begin our descent.
I try not to laugh myself silly as he pulls out a fishing pole and pretends to be fishing. “A man has to kill the boredom while landing. I can’t tell you how excited I am now.”
“For what exactly?” I say.
“Columbia, of course!”
Buckingham Palace, London
The Queen of England—discreetly known as the Queen of Hearts—spat on the flowers in her garden.
She jumped in place, angry with the terribly red flowers. Unfortunately, no matter how high she jumped, she was still shorter than the average queen anywhere in the world.
But she was used to that. Ever since Wonderland her height had been her worst nightmare. She remembered having built a tall throne for herself she had to climb up with a ladder, so she could rule and be feared, only to realize how small she looked atop it.
Her own people had made fun of her that day.
However, the Queen always had a solution to shut them up—forever. She’d cut several thousand heads off, silencing the rest of the Wonderlanders.
Off with their heads!
That phrase never ceased to amaze her. It had the power to instantly put things in their place.
Thanks to King Henry VIII, the Queen thought, the Tudor madman whom she had learned the trick from. King Henry had chopped off more heads than anyone else in history—most of them were his wives’. Most people didn’t know he was a Wonderlander, and that his ghost still roamed the darker corridors of Oxford University.
Lewis Carroll had based the phrase on the king. But that was another Wonderland memory for another time.
Right now, the Queen’s problem was with her flowers.
“Why are my flowers red?” she yelled in a loudspeaker she could barely grip with her small fatty hands.
“I thought you liked your flowers red, My Queen,” Margaret Kent, the Duchess, replied.
“I like my flowers white!”
Margaret looked confused. Everyone who’d ever read Alice in Wonderland knew the Queen liked to paint her flowers red as she chopped off some heads. “But you’ve always liked them red,” she argued. “Ever since Wonderland you prompted us to paint them red.”
“See?” the Queen sighed. “That’s the problem with you stupid people. What’s your IQ, Margaret? Five and a half marshmallows? Do you even have a brain behind your surgically-enhanced face? Why didn’t you opt for a better brain instead of a prettier face to address the nation?”