“The plague holds the one virus mankind can’t stand,” he began. “Revealing it now would spoil the impact of realizing what an awful world this is. But rest assured. Just right before the world really ends, I will tell you what it does to people.”

“So why are we gathered here?” another man asked. “You said you wanted us to help you with something.”

“Yes, I want you to find me a c...” Suddenly that migraine attacked him again.

Lewis swirled to the floor like a dying hurricane. It’d been so long since the migraine had attacked him this way. Long ago since Wonderland. His head was about to split open. He couldn’t take it.

His tongued curled inward. He was choking.

And as he did, he saw himself sinking into muddy ground. Deep down into a sea of mushrooms.

Chapter 15

Mushroomland, Columbia

My feet drag me through the Mushroom Trail.

Never mind my hallucinations. Never mind that I am going to die if I don’t get that drink from the Executioner’s coconut. I am just a girl trekking her way through a muddy mushroom-infested world, hoping to make sense of it all.

Aren’t we all?

“Tell me if the hallucinations increase to a point you’re going bonkers,” the cigar-smoking Pillar, acting like an older Indiana Jones, tells me.

But what am I supposed to tell him? That I just saw a playing card with legs running next to us in the mud? That when I asked it what it was doing, it told me it was ‘playing’ because apparently it’s a ‘playing card’?

No, I don’t tell him that. I pretend that never happened.

“In case I die, I need to know how come Lewis Carroll is a Wonderland Monster,” I say. “I am sure it’s impossible. I met him. He was the sweetest man in the world. I saw him leading the Inklings—which reminds me, why did you buy it for me?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” He’s pulling a mushroom off its roots to clear a way. “That’s your new headquarters in your war against Black Chess. Not everyone has access to the asylum.”

“Which reminds me again.” I am just babbling whatever comes to mind to forget about the fact that I’m drugged. “Shouldn’t it be Black Chess who manufactured the Hookah of Hearts?”

“Not this time. It’s the Dodo Corporation,” the Pillar says. “And trust me, Black Chess wants to bring chaos to the word, but they don’t want to end the world. Who would they rule and manipulate if they killed everyone?”

Then we stop abruptly.

I take a moment, staring at the next obstacle in the road. Or is it just a hallucination of my mind?

I am looking at a man sitting on a desk in the middle of Mushroomland. He is writing feverishly and seems to suffer from a continuous headache.

I am staring at Lewis Carroll—a very shattered and older version of him now, not the one back in London.

Is that the next obstacle in the Mushroom Trail?

Glancing back and forth at the Pillar, I realize he sees this too. Is it possible both of us are hallucinating?

The man raises his head from the writing and stares at us. He smiles, but it isn’t a good smile. Not a Lewis Carroll smile.

Then he utters a question the modern world has been asking for more than a century. It’s sort of one of the most thought after mysteries of life. “Why do you think a raven is like a writing desk?”

Chapter 16

“Is this real?” I ask the Pillar.

“I’m not sure,” The Pillar bites on his cigar.

“Aren’t you the one immune to the hallucinations?”

“Not entirely. I am rather sure Lewis Carroll is in London and not here.”

“Do you have the answer to his question?”

“Why a raven is like a writing desk?” He lets out some sort of confident pfff. “I’m one of the few who knows the answer.”

“So why don’t you tell him?”

Just before the Pillar answers me, another group of machine gun men slowly appears from behind the bushes. Those aren’t the laughing ones.

“You’re here to see the Executioner?” their leader inquires.

“No, we’re here to walk on mushrooms,” I retort. “Of course we want to see the Executioner, you cuckoo.”

The man grimaces, looking at me, anger about to steam out of his ears.

“Don’t bother.” The Pillar fakes a smile. “She has issues.” He spirals his fingers next to his head, indicating I’m mad.

“Issues?” the man says.

“She’s just been out of the most secure asylum in London,” the Pillar elaborates. “She ate her warden’s left ear. Then the director’s right ear. Then she ate the guard’s right hand, pulled the left off the guard next to him right off the bat. Plucked her fingers into a taxi driver’s nose until he sneezed to death, right before she bit a young man’s tongue off like a stretching pastrami. He looked very much like you, by the way.”

I wish I could deliver all my lines the way the Pillar does it. The machine gun men take an unconscious step back, steering away from me. The Pillar pulls me closer to him and pats my shoulder. I play along and tuck my thumb into my mouth, flickering my hallucinating eyes at them.

It’s funny how each one of us is in his own hallucination world at the moment.

“You will still need to answer a question to pass,” the man said. “Not the writing desk question, though.”

“Another puzzle.” I roll my eyes.

“Shoot,” the Pillar says. “Not the gun, but the question.”

“What do you do when you find a fork in the road?” the machine gun man says.

“Take the madder road immediately,” the Pillar says.

“Wrong answer.” The man is ready to shoot us.

Like a lightning strike I spit out the answer. “Take the fork and go find something to eat with it.”

The Pillar rolls his eyes now. It’s safe to say we’ve had some considerable amount of eye rolling in the past thirty minutes. It hurts.

“Right answer,” the machine gun man says.

The Pillar looks surprised.

I guess my hallucinations are up to par with their melancholic passwords. “What about the man on the writing desk? I thought that was a better puzzle.” I tell the machine gun man.

“What man on a writing desk?”

When I look, Lewis Carroll and his famous desk are gone. I glance back at the Pillar. He seems uninterested. “Let’s just move on.”

“One last thing,” the machine gun man says. “This is the last of the Mushroom Trail. Beyond the next few mushrooms, there is an open field.”

“Is that where meet the Executioner?” I wonder.

“That is where the drug cartels are in continues war,” the man says. “Where everyone dies within a few moments. So sober up.”

Carefully, the Pillar and I step closer beyond the mushrooms. Then we part a few smaller ones blocking the view. We could already hear the sound of war. The screaming. The shooting. The tanks rolling heavily on the ground.

Then we see it all.

“A war.” The Pillar’s cigar dangles from his lips. “So boring. I’ve seen better on CNN.”

But I don’t find it boring. It scares me to death. All the blood, gunfire, and screams. I need to find the Executioner and his damn coconut. How am I supposed to survive this war?

Chapter 17

First, a bomb explodes a few feet away from me.

Then there is this flying Columbian dude air-paddling from the explosion in midair. He looks like he’s just been shot out of a cannon. A nearby helicopter finishes the dramatic masterpiece and chops off his head with its blades. The head flies off in midair again, lands closer to us, and starts rolling toward me.

“Does this head know it’s dead?” the Pillar comments.

Delirious, my feet are cemented in the mud. The Pillar pulls me closer, and we start running. Behind us, the helicopter crashes exactly where we once stood, right over that poor head.

Fire guns, wind, and shotguns are everywhere.

I run, pant, holding the Pillar’s hand. I am very much upset with myself. But I am not myself anymore. The mushrooms are messing with my head, and it’s hard to tell what is going on. All I know is that I need the Executioner’s coconut—as silly and preposterous as it sounds.