Unhinged Page 75

He stares at me, expression doubtful. We need to start heading for the bridge before he fully wakes up, but I wait one minute longer, hoping Morpheus will come through the portal. Sister Two can’t find us. He was careful not to reveal where we were headed.

When he doesn’t show up, I stifle the twinge in my chest and swing the wooden gate shut again to camouflage the mirror.

I grab Jeb’s hand and weave his fingers with mine. “Let’s go.”

“Just a second.” He catches my elbow with his free hand. “My stomach’s growling. That’s weird for a dream, isn’t it?” There’s a new inquisitiveness behind his eyes. “What’s really going on?”

He’s coming out of his daze, and when he’s conscious, he’ll be too savvy to fall for any more lame excuses. We don’t have much time before all the pain of unremembered and unreachable memories comes crashing in on him. I decide to take the train ride before searching for the mosaic.

Morpheus said the abandoned station is somewhere beneath the ground. I’m not sure where the secret entrance might be. I had hoped Chessie would be here to lead the way.

“Everything will make sense soon,” I answer Jeb. “I’ll find us something to eat once we get where we’re going. Trust me. Okay?”

He nods, but a shadow falls over his expression. I have to hurry before he curls up into a ball again. The bridge is so far. I’m not sure he’ll keep it together for the trek. If only I could fly him there without being seen by the people on the other side of the river. But even if it was nighttime instead of early evening, he’d be too heavy for me. I know that much from past experience.

Before I can do anything, I need to figure out how to find the underground train station.

“Help me look through your pockets,” I press Jeb. “There should be tickets in here somewhere.” They might have directions or maybe a map on the back.

Jeb frowns, as if just noticing the jacket he’s wearing isn’t his, but digs through his side pockets without asking whose it is. He drags out a handful of mushrooms with caps the size of dimes.

“Are these glow-in-the-dark gummies?” he asks. There’s a hint of apprehension behind the question.

I don’t answer, afraid to tell him that they’re real and from Wonderland. They’re fluorescent and small, which makes them look like candy. Some are neon orange and others are lime green, but all are solid and smooth on one side and speckled with tiny pink dots on the other—miniature versions of the mushrooms in Morpheus’s lair.

I search the inner pocket of Jeb’s lapel for the tickets. Something crinkles beneath my fingertips, and I draw it out. I unfold the piece of paper. It’s a sketch similar to the ones Mom had tucked in her Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland book. This one has a caterpillar sitting atop a mushroom, smoking a hookah.

The puffs of smoke form legible words:

One side makes you taller, the other side shorter.

It’s from the scene in Lewis Carroll’s tale when Alice complains to the caterpillar that she wishes to be taller and he suggests she eat the mushroom to grow but leaves her without telling which side does what.

I crumple the piece of paper, frustrated that everything always has to be so difficult.

“Where are the tickets?” I vent to no one in particular. “He said everything we need is here.”

A large monarch butterfly flitters over on a breeze and lands on my shoulder. One flapping wing tickles my neck as she whispers: The ticket is your size, silly. You could never fit on the train as you are.

I stare at the bulbous-eyed insect.

“Don’t try the candy,” Jeb says, making me turn back to him. “It’s stale.” He’s chewing something.

“Jeb!” I grab the mushroom pinched between his finger and thumb. Half of its cap has been bitten off, leaving only the speckled side. “Spit it out!” In my haste to get closer to him, I knock all of the mushrooms out of his palm. They scatter on the ground.

He swallows and meets my gaze. Before I can react, he starts to shrink and doesn’t stop until he’s the size of a small beetle—the similarity enhanced by the tiny backpack on his shoulders.

That’s all it takes to bust his dream trance. He rolls into a fetal position and screams. Even as tiny as he is, the sound scrapes through me like claws. I crouch to scoop him up, but the butterfly swoops in and snatches him with her legs. She hovers just out of my reach, at eye level.

“Hey, give him back!” I jump to my feet but refrain from swatting her. The backpack tumbles off him and hits the ground. If Jeb falls from that height, it could kill him.

The monarch gracefully dances in midair and whispers: Your boy makes a far better flower than you.

“Huh?” I ask.

Any wise flower knows: Stretch for the sunlight and shrink from the shadows.

And then she’s off toward the bridge with my groaning boyfriend in tow.

In full panic mode, I’m about take to the sky and risk being seen by the entire village, when everything starts to make sense: The ticket is our size; to get on the train, we have to be small. That’s what the mushrooms are for. According to the butterfly’s riddle and Jeb’s transformation, the side that faces the sun and becomes freckled will make you grow, and the side that faces the shadows and is smooth will shrink you.

I shove all the remaining mushrooms in my jeans pocket except one. I’ve done this before, but with a bottle that said Drink Me. My clothes and everything touching me shrank, just like Jeb’s did.

I nibble off half of the mushroom’s cap, taking care not to ingest any of the speckled side. My first taste is sweet, like paper soaked in sugar water; then a fizzy sensation leaves my tongue numb.

My muscles contract, my bones narrow, and my skin and cartilage tighten to hold everything together. The surroundings shoot up around me, flowers becoming the size of trees, and the trees the size of skyscrapers. Tall fronds of grass bend across me. It’s like I’m in a jungle.

As soon as my metamorphosis is complete, I shake off the nausea, swing the backpack over one shoulder, and use my wings like I’ve been itching to for months. I clench my shoulders and arch my spine, my muscles falling into a rhythm with almost no effort. Just like skateboarding, it feels natural.

My hair slaps around my face. Up, up, up, through the strands of grass and looming flowers until my boots skim the tops of the giant trees. The height is exhilarating, and I’m little enough that no one can see me from the village.

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