Unhinged Page 22

More freakish mutations surrounded me.

The white crockery jars spewed up thousands of beetles with snapping pincers, nothing like the smiling ladybugs painted on their fronts. The doorknob had been transformed into an old man’s hand and pulled itself closer with bent and gnarled fingers, while the vinyl doll heads on the candy keepers snapped their teeth—tiny and sharp like straight pins.

I took several cautious steps backward, keeping them in my sight as I made my way to the front of the store. “Morpheus!” I screeched again, but now I couldn’t even see him overhead.

The mutated items parted to form a path. My rag doll and the clown appeared—their middles stitched together with bloody thread, like a gruesome surgery gone wrong. Instead of four eyes, they had three between them. One eye had been caught in the seam. “Help me find my other eye,” the rag doll pleaded. “Please, please. My eye.” Her little-girl voice and the clown’s distorted laughter chilled the air, and I sobbed.

Blinded by my tears, I stumbled away. Mr. Lamb stood on the counter scooping mutants up in a mass of nets. “Hide, you fool child!” he shouted.

“Do something, Alyssa!” Morpheus reappeared and yelled from above as the creepy mutants encroached on me. “You’re the best of both worlds,” he prodded. “Use what you have. What we don’t. Make something that can save us all!”

I dove beneath Mr. Lamb’s pile of butterfly wings for sanctuary. The knitting needles were scattered on the floor, and I chanced sticking out an arm to grab some. Inside my frail refuge, I ignored the growls and snaps closing in. I took two wings and held them against a needle, imagining them joining as one, forming a whole new breed of butterfly with a body of metal, lethal and sharp.

The knitting-needle butterfly came alive in my hand, wings fluttering. Gasping, I let it go, and it flew out toward my attackers. For a moment, I was too shocked to move.

The clerk’s screeches spurred me again to action, and I made more butterflies, sending them to help the first.

My bug invasion dive-bombed the attacking beetles, herding them back into their jars; they swooped into the vinyl doll heads and tangled in their hair, ripping it out at the roots.

Soon all the mutants retreated with hisses and snarls.

Inside my hiding place, I imagined that the remaining wings could lift me, attach to every inch of my pajamas. In a matter of seconds, I was floating beside Morpheus. I covered my face, unable to look down.

“You did it,” he said and put an arm around me. I couldn’t see the pride in his eyes, but I heard it in his voice.

Just before Morpheus dropped the veil of sleep over us again, the clerk started cheering for my metal bugs.

I’d saved him. I’d saved us all.

My aquarium’s air pump gurgles, and it shocks me back to the present.

I brace myself against the dresser with my palms, legs weak.

So that’s why Morpheus sent the clown, almost an exact replica of the one from the shop. It was a trigger to the memory.

I stumble backward and sit hard on my bed, rattled. Since I was so young when he first started visiting me, and most of his visits took place in dreams, our adventures are stored deep inside my subconscious. He’s the master at helping me recall them.

I’m aching to talk to Mom. To find out if she knows anything about the tulgey wood. Maybe she could make sense of why Morpheus wants me to remember it now.

Morpheus and she have a past, too, before his persistence landed her in the asylum. But I don’t know if he visited her dreams or if he just contacted her through the insects and flowers. I’ve often wondered what sorts of memories bind them.

She’s never been to Wonderland. The mere thought of going through the rabbit hole terrifies her—the fear of the unknown. That’s why I’ve never pressured her to tell me her experience. She always seems so fragile. And that’s also why it will be up to me to figure out Morpheus’s motivations today.

“Use what you have,” he said in the memory. “What we don’t.” Once again, he’s contradicting himself. If netherlings are as great as he says they are, what could humans have that they’re lacking?

I get up and dig through a drawer for Mom’s old Lewis Carroll novels, opening the copy of Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. Unlike Mom’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, where she made notes and comments in the margins—the ink now too blurry to be legible—these pages are clean, old, and yellowed.

I skim over the Jabberwocky poem in search of the tulgey forest, but there’s nothing about volatile, gaping mouths in trees that spit things out in nightmarish forms. Flipping to chapter three and the “looking-glass insects,” I search for a reference to the looking-glass world or AnyElsewhere, the alternate dimension Morpheus mentioned. Again, nothing.

Finally, I stop at chapter five: “Wool and Water.” In it, Alice visits a store. As the scene unravels, I see similarities to the place I visited in my memory, but differences, too. Of course it’s not the same as Carroll’s version. Things never are. I learned last year that his books are softer, more palatable versions of the real madness of Wonderland.

In the Carroll rendition, a sheep who likes to knit is the store’s clerk. In my memory, there’s a shopkeeper named Lamb who’s fascinated with knitting. The set of bookshelves likes to play tricks just like in the original book, although the tricks I experienced were much more gruesome than the fairy-tale version.

The doorbell rings, and I slam the book shut. I invited Jeb to come by after dinner. Stashing the books in the drawer, I rush into the entryway.

I’m too slow on my still-shaky legs, and Mom gets there first.

Jeb waits under the porch light. We make eye contact; it’s obvious he wants to rush in and hold me close, just as I want to run to him. It seems like forever since I’ve seen him, and the harsh reality is, it could be forever until I see him again.

Mom places herself between us. “I’m sorry, Jebediah. Allie’s had enough excitement for one day. You can talk to her on the phone.”

I gesture behind her shoulder to get his attention. Holding up five fingers, I mouth the word Sanctuary.

He nods my way, politely says good night to my mom, then steps off the porch into the twilight. Mom closes the door and follows me into the living room, where I drag my chemistry book out of my backpack.

“Way to be nice, Mom,” I grumble. I don’t want to hurt her, but if I don’t pretend I’m angry, she might get suspicious.

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