“I’d like to try,” the Pillar says. “I burned my plane with my pilot in it, after all. I have no means of going back to where I came from, so I have no choice but try or die.”
“What’s the Trail of Mushrooms?” I hiss in his ear.
“It’s a pilgrimage. A road that has to be passed among the mushrooms,” the Pillar whispers, not looking back at me. “We have to take it if we want to meet with the Executioner.”
“And why is he called the Executioner?”
“He’s a Wonderlander who used to work for the Queen. Remember that scene in the Alice books when the queen orders him to cut off the Cheshire’s head and he argues that you can’t cut a head that’s disappearing?”
“Oh, yes, although most people would forget about him,” I say. “But he didn’t look scary to me.”
“Like most of the other monsters, he turned into a beast after the Circus, except that he works on his own, and doesn’t like any of the Wonderlanders much. Now shut up and let me speak with those madmen.”
“Here is something for you,” one of the men says. “We’re sending you a man who’s been trying to pass the Mushroom Trail.”
“I thought most men die from the dangers of the trail. Either die or make it to the Executioner.”
The men laugh again. “Well, this one ate a lot of mushrooms and lost it, so we keep him for entertainment purposes.”
We stare at a half-naked and skinny man barely straightening his back as he walks toward us. He is old, skinny, and disoriented.
“Why is he so unstable?” The Pillar asks.
“He thinks he is walking the rope.” A man muses from afar.
We wait for the man to arrive.
“Nice job,” the Pillar plays along. “I’ve never seen a man walk a rope like that.”
“I’m not walking the rope,” the scruffy man retorts. “I’m being careful while walking. Can’t you see I’m a bottle of milk?”
I am going to burst out laughing.
The Pillar pushes the man to the ground. “I guess I spilled the milk now.” He raises his head at the men afar. “Listen, I have no time for games. Let me walk the trail to meet the Executioner. I will take my chances.”
Silence hovers all over Mushroomland, except for the faint rattling of grass.
One of the men approaches us.
Slowly, he shows up. Scarred, wasted, a muscular giant with a machine gun.
Normally, I would be worried, but I don’t know what’s gotten into me. I want to laugh even more now.
The man flashes his gun toward the Pillar. “I’ll let you pass,” he says in a foreign accent. “If you tell me the password.”
“There is no password.” The Pillar steps up to him.
“Of course there is.” The man nudges the muzzle of his machine gun against the Pillar’s chest. “Can you do division?”
“As in mathematics?”
“Yes, but not the stupid real life mathematics. The Lewis Carroll mathematics.”
This is when the need to laugh ends. How do these men at the other side of the world know about Lewis Carroll? Not just that. The man is about to tell us a Carroll puzzle to solve?
“Only a few people are allowed to see the Executioner. They all are capable of answering this question,” the man says.
“I’m listening.” The Pillar and I await the puzzle.
“In mathematical Wonderland terms, what do you get when you divide a loaf by a knife?”
Another Lewis Carroll puzzle. Ugh.
That’s all that comes to mind, and I have no idea why I am thinking this. Staring at the man with the machine gun I should act more mature and responsible, but I still have this strange feeling; I just want to burst out laughing like him.
“I don’t quite remember this,” the Pillar says. Is that possible, a puzzle he doesn’t know of?
“It’s simple mathematics,” the man says. “Wonderlastic Mathematics, if I may say so.”
“Look,” the Pillar says, “we just want to pass through.”
“No can do.” The machine gun man roars with laughter again, followed by the same mockery from a few others, farther beyond the mushrooms. It’s the kind of pretentious laugh all cartoonish evil villains have in movies. “Or I will shoot you like this man.” He points at the man on the floor who thinks he is a bottle of milk.
Then something horrible happens.
Something that makes living in this world too hard to understand. The machine gun man shoots the man on the ground, blood spilling all over the mushrooms around us.
The Pillar fakes a smile.
I try not to pee my pants. Only for a second. Then I see the men take a selfie with the dead man.
The Pillar’s face tenses, as if telling me to hold it together.
But I can’t. I am scared mindless.
Then something even stranger happens.
I burst into laughter. The kind of laughter that hurts in the stomach and makes it harder to listen to what others are saying.
The Pillar stares at me with fiery eyes. He’s even tenser now. I haven’t seen him this angry at me before. “Hold yourself together.”
“Why?” I barely mouth the words between my hiccupping episodes of laughter. “I feel good. Really good. Tararara!”
“I get it. It’s the mushrooms,” the Pillar leans over and whispers. “They affect your brain, like I told you. But you seem to be too sensitive to the effect.”
“Mushrooms!” I find myself hailing. I grab one and give it a big smoochy kiss. Then hug it. Then snuggle it.
As I do, I see the stars in the sky have turned into diamonds. So awesome!
I’m Alice in the sky of diamonds.
“What’s wrong with your daughter?” the machine gun man grunts.
Did he just shoot bees from between his teeth? I can’t stop myself. I start chasing the bees flying around in Mushroomland.
“She’s not my daughter.” The Pillar purses his lips. He’s pissed at me. I know it. But you know what? I love the mushrooms’ effect. Because I don’t freakin’ care. “Don’t pay attention to her.”
“I’m beginning to lose my patience,” the machine gun man says. “You don’t know the password, and your daughter is a lunatic.”
“I told you she isn’t my daughter,” I hear the Pillar say while I’m trying to catch a diamond from the sky. “And I don’t know the answer to your puzzle. Divide a loaf by a knife? What kind of mathematical question is that?”
“Wrong answer.” The man is about to shoot the Pillar while I’m chasing stars.
This is when I find myself standing before the Pillar to protect him. “You will not shoot my father!” I have no idea what I am saying, or why I am saying it. It’s strange that in the middle of my hallucination I care for the Pillar.
“Tell her to move, or I will shoot you both,” the machine gun man warns.
Then another totally bonkers thing happens. This time it’s too insane to swallow.
“Tell you what? You look like you’re itching to shoot someone today,” the Pillar says, pushing me away toward the man. “Why not shoot her, and let me pass?”
Suddenly, I am two feet away from the machine gun itself, unable to determine if what I just heard was part of my hallucination or for real.
My attempt to turn back and confront the Pillar goes out the window when the machine gun man decides he’s had it with me.
He shoots me straight in the chest.
Buckingham Palace, London
Margaret Kent told the Queen about the mayhem her employees had been ravishing the world with for some time. More Wonderlanders all over the world were secretly planted like sleeper cells among governments, and they were doing a good job.
All in all, the Queen’s men and women were making sure the world was going more and more insane.
“Well, I’m not satisfied,” The Queen pouted. “More. More. More. I want every child to become an orphan. Every mother to become childless. Every father to lose his family. I don’t care if it’s contradictory. Just find a way to do it.” She strolled all over the place. “I want fascism. Oh, I love that. I want every human to hate another human for being different. Not just color or nationality. I want those with crooked noses to hate those with round noses. Those who have mustaches to hate those who don’t. Do you understand?”