Unhinged Page 95

Mom was harvesting mushrooms from Wonderland while she was a prisoner here. When she told me netherlings always have an escape plan, she meant it.

I sat on the bed for some time after, mushrooms in hand, wondering how often she used them to get out when she needed an escape. It eased my mind to know she’d had that chance, and even more, that she'd passed it on to me.

“Hey, Allie.” Dad’s arrival shakes me back to today. I inhale the outdoor air, feeling a resurgence of energy. The half of my face in the sun is hot, so I scoot further into the umbrella’s shade.

“Hi.” I offer him that much, then return to my conversation with the two monarch butterflies fluttering around the flowers on the table. They tell me to hurry, because London’s a long way for them to fly and daylight is preferable.

Dad watches me with the bugs, tired and defeated. “Allie, sweetie, try to stay focused, okay? It’s important. We need to find your mother and Jeb. They’re in danger.”

Yes, they are, Dad. More than you know.

“If you’ll send away the nurse,” I offer in a demented, singsong voice, “I’ll tell you everything I remember.” I scoop Salisbury steak from my teacup and spoon the salty, meaty bite into my mouth, letting the gravy drip down my chin. It’s the only way I’ll eat now, with teacups and saucers. And I dress like Alice every day. I know how to emulate crazy. I learned from the master.

It hurts my heart to see Dad’s expression as he directs the nurse to leave. He’s afraid to be alone with me. I don’t blame him. But I shove my human empathy aside. He’s going to have to be strong for the journey ahead. If he wants to rescue Mom, his own sanity will be put to the test.

It’s okay, because I have faith in his strength.

He’s the key to all of this, and to make him fit the lock, I will be cutthroat and cunning enough for the both of us.

Left eyelid twitching, Dad looks at me. “Okay, Allie. We’re alone.”

I turn my lips into a savagely sweet smile. “Before we talk about prom night, take a bite of your food. It’s tasty.”

Narrowing his eyes, he draws a fork out of his teacup, dripping with meat, mushroom, and sauce, then shoves it in his mouth.

I prop an elbow on the table and my chin on my hand. “While you’re busy eating, may I ask you a question?” My voice sounds stilted and deranged, even to my own ears. All the better to unbalance him.

He shakes his head, swallowing. “Allie, stop playing games. We’re losing time here.”

I pout. “If you won’t play with me, I’m sure my other guests will.” I lean forward and whisper to the flowers on the table, watching him from the corner of my eye.

He makes a choking sound, almost turning green. “Fine. What do you want to know?”

“I was just curious.” I grip the glowing mushrooms wrapped in Kleenex in my apron pocket. He doesn’t realize I laced both of our Salisbury steaks with the smoothest half of one, that within moments we’ll be the size of beetles, riding upon the backs of butterflies. “How do you feel about trains?”