Margaret nodded and scribbled something down in her notebook:

Once this is all over and I get the keys, I will kill you, you stupid short and stuffed thing!

“Did you write it down?”

“Of course, My Queen.”

“But you can’t overdo it.” The Queen confused Margaret again. “The idea is to create enough chaos without turning the world into a chaotic place.”

“I am not sure I follow you, My Queen.”

“That’s because you’re stupid, Margaret. Ugly and stupid.”

I am going to rip you apart when this is over. Chop off your head and roll it all over every soccer field in the world.

“People have to see the world tumble all around them, but stay safe at the same time. Why? Because if we kill everyone, who’s going to pay the taxes, buy our products, and ask us to protect them? The key is to scare the citizens, enough to make them need us. And that’s when I will rule the world the same way I ruled Wonderland.”

Margaret squinted, listening to the Queen. It actually made sense. What was the point of everyone in the world living in pain? They needed a few wars and hassles here and there, so the others, believing the need for them, would simply do as they said.

It had been very much the Queen’s philosophy since the Wonderland days, until Alice arrived.

“Understood, My Queen. Anything else?”

“Yes, I just saw a documentary about that short man with the short mustache and short fuse of a temper.” She clicked her fingers together. “What was his name again? Charlie Chaplin?”

“Ah, very funny man. What about him?”

“Funny? No, then it’s not him. The man I’m talking about was going to kill everyone in the world.”

“Uh-huh,” Margaret said. “You mean Hitler.”

“Yes, that obnoxious little troll. I love him! Can we wake him up? I think he will fit into my plans.”

“Hitler is dead, My Queen.”

“Unfortunate,” the Queen said. “I’d have sworn he was a Wonderland Monster.”

“Speaking of Wonderland Monsters,” Margaret had to interrupt. “I have been trying to tell you about the new monster for a while, and you just don’t want to listen.”

“Not again, Margaret. Find me a flamingo that can sing instead. I am in the mood for music.”

“I think you should watch this.” Margaret turned on the TV.

All of a sudden the Queen shrieked when she saw the Lewis Carroll man on the news. “What?” she neared the screen. “This isn’t happening.”

“Like I said, I’ve been trying to tell you all day.”

“Is he real?” The Queen’s face flushed with fear.

“It’s him.”

“But he should be dead.”

“He isn’t.”

“Oh, my.” The Queen clamped her hands over her mouth. “This can’t be happening.”

Chapter 13

Mushroomland, Columbia

Okay. So I am dying.

Why am I falling deep through the mud into a pool of marshmallows underground?

And how come fish are swimming inside the mud?

Those mushrooms have really messed me up. I have no idea what’s going on.

Sinking deep into a marshmallow abyss, I see the Pillar far beyond the translucent mud, arguing with the machine gun man. When they talk, bubbles foam out of their mouths.

This is so trippy.

I’m Alice underground in the marshmallow water world. I’m Alice who may not be Alice. Hello, nice to meet you. Where have you been? How long am I going to keep sinking?

“Alice!” The Pillar’s voice shakes me from the inside.

“Yes?” I manage to say—or have I? It could be all in my mind.

“You must know the answer to this puzzle,” the Pillar says.

“The Wonderland mathematics puzzle?” I think I said that. How am I talking beneath the sea of marshmallows?

“Yes. What do you get when you divide a loaf with a knife?”

Suddenly, there is this aching pop in my ears.

“I know the answer!” I raise a hand like a student in a class.

The pop in my ears blew off the pressure in my head. The effect of the mushrooms all around me, I guess. I am back in the real world.

Running my palm all over my chest, I realize I wasn’t shot. Not with marshmallows or real bullets.

Sneaky mushrooms.

“That’s some wickedly mad daughter you have here,” the machine gun man tells the Pillar. “So what’s the answer? I don’t have all day.”

“In Carrollian terms, if you divide a loaf by a knife you get,” I say, “bread and butter.”

“Right answer!” the machine gun man cheers.

The Pillar raises an eyebrow at me.

“What?” I shake my shoulders. “It’s lame, but it’s Lewis Carroll. And don’t ask me how I know. I just remembered it. I think the real question is how those lowlife gangsters use Lewis Carroll’s puzzles as passwords.”

“Shut your mouth, girl.” The machine gun man is provoked. “You and your father are good to go.”

“About time,” the Pillar sighs, grabbing my hand.

“You’ll meet other gangs on the Mushroom Trail. Good luck with that.” The machine gun man says behind us.

I am trying my best to stay focused as the mushrooms grow bigger all around me. “You’re sure of this Executioner we’re risking our lives for?”

“I’m sure. He definitely knows who cooked the plague.” The Pillar clears the way through the thick mushrooms. “Can’t you see what the mushrooms are doing to you already?”

“Why aren’t you as affected, then?”

“The substance I’ve been smoking in my hookah for years. It gives me immunity.”

“You sound like you’ve been preparing to come here for a long time.”

“Sort of.” The Pillar chugged through the darkness. “I’d stop asking questions if I were you. The mushrooms’ effects aren’t just in your brain. It’s like a sleeping poison. If you don’t drink from the Executioner’s special coconuts in less than an hour, you’ll...”

“I will what?” I fold my drugged arms before me.

“You will die, Alice. Why do you think no one outlives the Mushroom Trail unless they meet the Executioner?”

Chapter 14

An abandoned church in London

The Lewis Carroll man entered the abandoned church among his few silent followers, sitting and waiting in silence.

Outside the church the world was getting worse by the minute. What had started with red bubbles had now escalated to furious anger on the verge of violence. So many people were getting in fights that there wasn’t enough room in jail for anyone. Some individuals were burning cars and houses, and others were blocking all traffic intersections in London.

Lewis closed the church’s door behind him, a smirk stretching from cheek to cheek.

He turned around, walking to the podium while his followers clapped their hands.

“We love you!”

Lewis got to the podium and turned to face his followers. He looked terrible. He hadn’t slept for days, and that headache was killing him.

“I-I kn-know you all have it in your heart. A good thing, that is,” he began. His voice was soothing and relatable. He’d used to lure tens of children with it in the past. Sometimes he imagined his voice seeping through the paper of his Alice in Wonderland books. “It’s not an easy task to believe in the end of the world like you do.”

“The world has to end!” an old woman with a cane spat out.

“It’s about time!” another middle-aged man cheered.

“I know. I know,” Lewis said. “Those people outside have no idea what’s happening to them. First they didn’t believe me when I told them about the plague. Then they couldn’t deny it when they saw its effect on everyone who had bought the Hookah of Hearts last year. And trust me, this is only the beginning.”

“We’re curious, Lewis,” the old woman said. “You say you’ve been alive all these years. That you were imprisoned in Wonderland. We get that. But what does this plague do to people? Why do they hate each other so much now?”

Lewis smiled inwardly. As if I am going to tell you.