Authors: Cameron Jace
“It’s driving me crazy.”
“You are crazy.”
“You think so?”
“‘We’re all mad here.’ Your words, not mine.”
“Yeah. I forgot.”
“It’s okay. Just understand that things are starting to get really exciting.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You don’t have to. Just figure out why Jack came back, and if she is the Real Alice.” Margaret hung up then closed her eyes.
The few past weeks she had resisted the idea that the Pillar had found the Real Alice. It was a scary thought to Wonderlanders. But there hadn’t been enough evidence to support it.
Since Margaret needed all she could bargain with to get her thing back from the Queen, it’d be great if she came across proof that the girl in the asylum was the Real Alice. That would be perfect timing.
SYLUM FOR THE
Like the Pillar said, the Mock Turtle isn’t who I expected him to be. All the scenarios I imagined were out of context. Surprises keep on coming.
“Is that really him?” I ask the Pillar, pointing at the so-called Mock Turtle.
“Dr. Tom Truckle himself.” The Pillar is as confused as I am.
“He is the revolution leader?” I scratch my head, as if I am in a big cartoon show called life. “And how come he is the Mock Turtle?”
“He likes mock turtle soup a lot,” the Pillar remarks. “We should’ve noticed.”
I think about it for a moment. The puzzle starts to unfold in my mind. “And there is something else that should have given him away.”
“What’s that?” the Pillar asks.
“Tom Truckle is an anagram for Mock Turtle.”
The Pillar’s eyes glimmer. “Clever. But the question is: did he know he was the Mock Turtle back then when we were in the asylum?”
“And why did I leave the secret to the keys’ whereabouts with this old, annoying man?”
“Let’s see.” We walk toward Truckle. “Honestly, he doesn’t look as tense as in the past. Little too old for leading a revolution, though.”
“You shouldn’t be here,” Tom Truckle says, leaning against a tree in the garden. From what it looks like, this isn’t just a garden. It’s a prison, walled with enormous trees and stinging bushes. There is nowhere to escape. “My wardens will arrive soon. They’ll know who you are.”
“Do you know who I am?” the Pillar says.
“Why should I care?” Tom says. “I was talking to Alice.”
I realize Tom doesn’t know I’m from the past, so I need to play along while I get answers at the same time. “It’s okay, Tom,” I tell him. “Where are the keys?”
Tom fidgets, pulls out a few pills, swallows them dry. He looks at me. “I can’t talk here,” he whispers. “You have to get me out of here. How did you even get in?” He grabs me by the shoulders. “And why have you left the compound?”
“Hey,” the Pillar says. “We’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s start with getting you out of here. But first, we need to make sure the keys aren’t here in the asylum.”
“Who are you?” Tom says.
“It doesn’t matter,” I tell him. “Stick with me. Are the keys inside the asylum?”
“No,” Tom says.
“Then my friend is right. Let’s get you out of here first.”
“Tell me how, and I’m all yours,” Tom says. He cranes his head over my shoulder, his mouth agape. “Oh, no.”
“What’s wrong?” I say.
The Pillar taps me on the shoulder, looking in the same direction behind me. There is a TV hung above the door. It shows the Great Republic of Wonderland news. I’ve been declared a fugitive. Public enemy number one. The Queen has ordered my head chopped off for breaking the treaty and leaving the compound.
“The deal was that strict?” I ask the Pillar.
“Like I said, rich people stay in their compound for immunity, but they’re not allowed to ever leave it.”
“Why would I agree to such terms?”
The Pillar shrugs. I turn to Tom, and he gives me a look that worries me. He knows something I don’t know. “Show me out first,” he demands.
Two wardens arrive at the door, one of them whistling a warning. Suddenly the place is head over heels.
“Alice,” the Pillar says. “I have a great idea how to get out of here.”
“Please tell me.”
The Pillar ra
ises an eyebrow and says, “Run!”
When the Pillar says run, you realize you’re in great danger. This is what Tom Truckle does. Even the Pillar himself disappears in the flash of an eye, probably behind the bushes, because this place is actually a small prison of trees and vicious flowers.
There is nowhere out of here, except climbing over the high walls in the back or through the door we came from.
I find myself stranded, but unafraid of the Reds by the door. It’s not like I haven’t confronted them before. It’s just never happened with my back against the wall.
“What are you doing?” Tom Truckle says from behind the bushes. “They’ll kill you. You’re wanted since you broke the treaty and left the compound.”
What am I doing? Heck, I have no idea. Something inside urges me to fight back. I suppose this is a more experienced version of myself in the future, even with the few pounds I’ve put on.
One of the Reds steps forward and talks to me from the hollow darkness of his mask. “We don’t have to do this, Mrs. Wonder. If you comply and let me send you back to the compound, everything will be fine.”
I am about to scratch my head. Just like that, bring me back to the compound? Didn’t the Queen declare me a fugitive? Is that a trick?
He extends a hand. “Please, will you come with me?”
“And my friends?”
“You have no friends in here, Mrs. Wonder,” the Red says. “You’re only a bit confused. Have you taken your medication today?”
Again? Tiger, my son, asked me if I had taken my pills this morning. What is that all about?
I resort to silence, readying my fist for a fight.
“Mrs. Wonder, please don’t,” the Red says.
“I’m not leaving without my friends. Either you let us go, or else.”
“I can’t let you go. Queen’s orders. But I can spare you from having your head chopped off and send you back to the compound.” Why do I have a feeling he also fears me?
“No, I will not comply,” I say.
The Reds behind him gather and begin to approach me. First the nines, then the eights, the sevens, and so on. There’s about thirty of them in this small garden in Christ Church. I wonder why the Pillar lets me fight alone. I know he can choke them with his hookah.
The first two Reds run toward me. I find myself curving my body and slightly maneuvering to one side. The two slash the air with their swords, but one hurts the other.
Well, that was neat. Where did I learn that?
“Reds!” the leader roars, and four others approach, grunting behind their cloaks. It’s time for a real fight.
This time, and I still don’t know how I am doing this, I run to the nearest tree, and with speed I find myself walk perpendicularly on its surface for a second. Then I somersault back in the air. Just as if I am professional parkour runner, tapping on the edges of walls and trees and walking on thin wires.
Wow. That feels good.
Instead of landing back on the ground, I land on their heads. Amazingly, I tap on each Red’s head quickly, breaking them, but never falling to the ground. Then finally, when they’re nothing but empty cloaks crumbled on the grass, I land on my feet. Like a ballerina.
“Huh.” I rub imaginary dust from my clothes. “Not bad for a thirty-three-year-old mum.”
“You think you can outsmart all of us?” the leader says. “With that silly None Fu of yours?”
Oh, so that’s it. None Fu in the future. Pretty dope.
Now it’s ten of them. They’re carrying swords. I don’t carry one because I am swift, agile, and can almost walk on air.
I raise my hands in the air, as if I were the Karate Kid. Tension fills the air. They can’t predict my next move. I give in to my inner future powers and let my body do what feels right. This time I am running in their direction. I duck the first sword. Pull the cloak from under a Red. When he disappears, and I have the cloak for myself, I use it against the slashing sword of another Red. The cloak is incredibly uncuttable — a bit elastic, though. I wrap it around the Red’s sword until I force him to let go of it. I catch the sword in midair with one hand while I choke him with the cloak.
Too stubborn to use the sword, I throw it up in the air and, like a mad ballerina, kick the Reds left and right while binding their cloaks into one another. I’m basically like a hurricane in a cartoon movie, swirling through them, and there is nothing they can do about it.
I end up with a bunch of Red cloaks that I can make a good, long rope from.
Standing erect, I finally face the leader of the Reds, now standing alone, pretending he isn’t afraid of me.
“You think we will spare you, Mrs. Wonder?” he says. “More Reds are on their way.”
“That’s sad,” I say. “Because you will not have enough time to give them orders.”
The Reds leader seems confused by my confidence. I raise my head and look for the sword I’d thrown up in the sky. Now it comes down, slashing him in two symmetrical halves.
Someone claps behind me, applauding my performance. I swirl back to face my next enemy, but it’s only the Pillar, sitting on a chair, smoking a hookah in the middle of the garden. Now back in real Pillar form. No more possessing doctors.
“You abandoned me,” I say. “I fought them all alone while you smoked your hookah?”
“It’s a good one, trust me.” He takes a drag. “Moroccan tobacco, brewed and chewed and extracted from a forty-year-old virgin plant.”
I turn and look at Tom Truckle hiding behind the trees. “It’s time for you to talk to me.” I pull him out.
“Not before you get me out of here,” Tom says. “More of them are coming.”
He is right about that. “All right, follow me.”
I pull Tom with me toward the door, intending to keep using my skills to leave Oxford Asylum. The Pillar, however, keeps smoking in the garden.
“You’re not coming?” I grimace.
“After you kill ’em all.” He breathes out a curl of smoke in the air. “You’re the one who has a triple black belt in None Fu. Welcome to the future, Alice.”
SYLUM FOR THE
As I continue using my unmatchable None Fu skills, Tom Truckle hides behind me. He also answers some of my questions. It’s a weird way to have a conversation, but I want to know all about him.
“It’s my fault we lost the Wonderland War,” he says, as I strangle a few Reds.
“We?” I punch another. “Since when were you on the Inklings side?”
“There is so much you don’t know about me.”
“Better talk now, or I’ll do to you what I am doing to them.” I smash Reds into each other. “How come you’re the Mock Turtle? You’re a Wonderlander?”
“A neglected one, actually.” He ducks behind me. “No one ever noticed me back then.”
“I guess that’s why Lewis wrote so briefly about you.”
“Even though I inspired the famous mock turtle soup.”
“Don’t flatter yourself.” I somersault and kick two Reds in midair. “Its taste sucks. Who eats turtle soup?”
“That’s why I decided I’d be the director of an insane asylum,” he says. “Among the Mushroomers who fear and respect me.”
“I doubt that. They thought you were the maddest one in the asylum.”
“I don’t care what they thought. I had a plan.”
“Of course. I was supposed to connect with all asylums in the world and make sure they were filled with sane people.”
“What kind of plan was that? Who told you that?”
“Lewis told me to.”
I turn back and glare at him, choking a Red with one hand. With all of my skills, I wonder how we lost the war. “Don’t lie to me, Turtle!”
“I’m not,” he says. “Look behind you.”
I do, pulling Tom up with me while I’m doing another parkour move in the asylum’s corridor.
“Lewis wanted to guarantee the Inklings win the war. He set alternative plans everywhere to help the cause,” he says. “One day, when I was crying myself to death in Wonderland, he offered me a chance to be a hero.”
“You?” I don’t know if I am supposed to believe him. Shouldn’t it be me who becomes the hero?
“It was a long shot. The plan was that I collect the sanest scientists, teachers, and useful men and women into an asylum.”
“Are you saying the Mushroomers were sane?”
“In the beginning, yes. Although spending too much time in the asylum messed with their minds.”
“That’s the most stupid plan I ever heard.”
“It’s not. Lewis knew the Queen would wreak havoc on the sane world, spreading the insane everywhere. Remember how mad the world already was when you were in the asylum? The wars, the poverty, and sickness? The Queen of Hearts has been planning this since long ago, even before she posed as the Queen of England.”