Splintered Page 18

Alison’s handwriting fills the margins, notes and comments in different colors of ink. I touch them all, saddened we never sat down together—book in hand—so she could explain what everything means.

Most of her additions have blurred, as if the pages got wet. I stop at the illustrations of the Queen and King of Hearts, where she wrote: Queen and King Red—here’s where it started. And here it will end . . .

Lightning flashes under the drapes.

After the last page of the story, there’s an additional twenty or more pages, hand-glued into place. On each, someone scribbled sketches similar to the mutated Wonderland characters on the moth website: the skeletal white rabbit, vicious flowers with bloodied teeth, even a different rendition of Queen Red—a fine-boned beauty with bright red hair, black designs inked around her eyes, and gauzy wings.

The sketches trigger another vision of the children, more powerful than the one I experienced earlier, because my eyes don’t even close. My living room fades and I’m in a meadow somewhere, breathing in the scent of spring. Dappled sunlight blinks around me, keeping time with tree branches rocking in the breeze. The landscape is weirdly fluorescent.

The girl—who looks to be five—wears a frilly red pajama top with long, puffy sleeves and matching pants that cover her ankles. She sits on a grassy knoll beside the boy, who can’t be more than eight. They both have their backs to me.

Black wings drape behind the boy like a cloak, matching his velvet pants and silky shirt. He tilts sideways, so I catch his profile, but his face stays hidden beneath a curtain of glowing blue hair as he uses a needle to thread dead moths along a string—making the gruesome equivalent of a popcorn garland.

His feet—snug inside black hiking boots—are propped on a set of sketches, the same ones glued inside Alison’s Wonderland book.

“There.” His young, soft voice rustles like feathers on the wind. Without looking up, he points to the picture of Queen Red with his needle. The line of dead moths trails it, flapping with the movement. “Tell me her secrets.”

The girl wriggles her bare feet, pink toenails glistening in the soft light. “I’m tired of being in Wonderland,” she mumbles in a milky voice of innocence. “I want to go home. I’m sleepy.”

“So am I. Perhaps if you didn’t fight me in the air during flying lessons,” he says, a cockney accent becoming apparent, “we’d both feel the better for it.”

“It makes my tummy kick when we get so high.” She yawns. “Isn’t it bedtime yet? I’m getting cold.”

Shaking his head, the boy prods the picture once more. “First, their secrets. Then, I’ll take you back to your warm bed.”

The girl sighs and captures one of his wings, winding herself up in it. Warmth and comfort surge through me, mirroring what she must feel. She burrows into the satiny tunnel, wrapped up in the scent of him—licorice and honey.

“Wake me when it’s time to leave,” she says, her voice muffled.

Eyes still hidden behind his wild hair, he laughs. His lips are well shaped and dark against his pale skin, his straight teeth shiny and white. “Sneakie-deakie, trixie-luv.” He tugs his wing free, leaving her cold and pouting.

He drops to his belly on the ground. His wings spread on either side like puddles of glimmering black oil as he leans over the pile of moth corpses. After stabbing one through the abdomen, he slides it into place behind the others on the string.

The girl watches, fascinated. “I want to stab one.”

He lifts a hand and five fingers splay out—white, graceful, and long. “Give me five secrets, and I’ll let you string a moth for each one you get right.”

Clapping, the girl grabs the Queen Red sketch and lays it in her lap. “She likes ash in her tea, still glowing with embers.”

The boy nods. “And why is that?”

Her head tilts as she’s thinking. “Um.”

I can’t explain how, but I know the answer. I bite my tongue, waiting to see if the girl guesses, rooting for her.

Lifting his line of corpses, the boy teases, “Looks like I shall finish this alone.”

She hops up, feet stomping the lime green grass. “Oh! The ash is for her mommy. Something about her mommy.”

“Not good enough,” he says, and stabs another moth onto his needle, the pile beginning to dwindle. He smiles wickedly.

Her frustration is tangible. He chides her like this often. Pushing her until she pushes back; but there’s another side to him, one that’s encouraging and patient, because I can sense her affection and respect.

He threads another moth, clucking his tongue. “Shame you’ll not get to help. I think you’re too much of a baby to hold a needle anyways.”

She growls. “Am not.”

Tired of his arrogance, I shout out the answer. “The hiss of steam when the embers snuff out in the tea! It comforts the queen. Reminds her of her mother’s shushes when she would cry as a baby.”

Both children snap their heads in my direction, as if they heard me. The girl’s face is exposed—a vivid reality. She’s me . . . a dead ringer for my prekindergarten school picture, missing front tooth and all. But it’s his face—the boy’s familiar black eyes leaking ink— that lands me back in my living room on my knees, the meadow vanishing from around me.

I’m numb. Is it possible? These aren’t memories of some movie I watched; they’re memories I made. If I had that memory trapped inside me, what else happened to me that I can no longer remember?

Have I actually been to Wonderland, spending time with some netherling creature . . .

I inhale a ragged breath. No. I’ve never been there.

My finger traces the lines of Queen Red’s flaming hair on the sketch. If I’ve never been there, how did I know about the queen and her mother? How do I know she was lonely as a young princess after her mother died, because the king couldn’t bear to spend time with her for her resemblance to his dead wife, and her sadness when her father remarried because he had to, since queens rule Wonderland?

I know these things because he taught them to me. The winged boy.

British . . . I’m reminded of the voice I heard in my head at work, along with the poster and the guy’s bottomless, bleeding black eyes. His challenge resurfaces in my mind: “I’m waiting inside the rabbit hole, luv. Find me.”

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