Splintered Page 58

With one eye on me and one on the bag of pepper, Jeb packs the mouse’s nostrils. The tiny creature inhales sharply. A sneeze gathers, then erupts on a hiccup. His icy shell shatters with the force of it. Clumps of frost slide from his brown fur and red jacket as he sits up to rub his nose.

The instant he sees us, he scrambles behind his teacup. Braving a peek, he blinks black dewdrop eyes our way. They look like chocolate chips. That fierce hunger rolls through me again.

Drooling, I scramble on top of the table.

“Eep!” The mouse’s voice is a high-pitched squeak as he scuttles out from his hiding place.

“Al, stop. We need his help.” Jeb tries to grab my ankles, but I’m too fast.

Shoving platters and plates aside, I crawl after the mouse as he skitters toward his friends, fuzzy tail jouncing behind him. He skids to a stop when he sees their condition. Whiskers drooping, he twists to look at me.

“Miss Alice, you must wake them!” he squeaks. Hesitant, his tiny feet patter backward. “You’re not Miss Alice.” He pats the edges of his eyes while staring at mine. “You’re much more—”

“Hungry.” Now I understand the octobenus’s preoccupation with his stomach—intimately. I smack my lips and veer to the left to escape Jeb’s attempt to snag my waist. My palm lands in a pastry, and I fling off the squished crust. I’ve got my sights set on live bait.

The mouse backs up, squeaking nervously. Tiny clawed hands reach for his whiskers, drawing them down under his chin. He’s close to tripping into the broken crust that I landed in earlier, and I’m rooting for that to happen. I could really go for a slice of mouse pie right about now.

Jeb steps onto a chair and climbs from one to the next to follow me. “Listen, little guy.” He talks softly to the mouse. “I’ll keep her from eating you if you’ll help us wake the others. Do you remember how Alice put you to sleep?”

The mouse wraps his tail around himself, hugging it. “She dropped the watch into the teacup.” He studies me warily from the middle of the table, stepping closer to the purple pie.

Sitting up on my knees, I gouge my fingernails into my kneecaps to distract myself from my stomach. Eyes shut, I concentrate on the book. The story’s details are hazy, but I remember an argument over the inner workings of the Hatter’s pocket watch. Something about the hare buttering—mmm . . . butter. Butterscotch candy, buttercream icing, butter cookies.

I growl and pound my fist on the table, rattling silverware and plates and sending a jolt of pain up my arm, which gets my brain back into gear. Gear! That’s it—the hare buttered the gears with a bread knife and mucked up the insides with crumbs. In the Wonderland book’s version, that’s why the March Hare dropped the watch into his tea—to rinse it off. But maybe he wasn’t the one who dunked the watch at all. He must’ve been trying to get it out. By submerging it, Alice suspended the mechanism and froze the guests in time. That’s what I have to fix. The gears. I just need to dry them off and start them up again.

I open my eyes, and Jeb’s way ahead of me, book in hand. He’s already next to March Hairless’s place setting. Jeb tilts the teacup, careful not to break off the rabbit’s frozen paw. I crawl over as tea sloshes across the pastries on the plate. The pocket watch glides out, dragging its chain behind it. Jeb flips the lid open. “It stopped on six o’clock.”

“Teatime!” the Door Mouse chirps excitedly, clapping. His enthusiasm knocks him backward into the broken pie.

My focus lasts only long enough for me to take the watch from Jeb, blot the gears dry, move the hands to one minute after six, and rewind the clock. I lose all train of thought after that, because the mouse clambers onto the edge of the pie pan, eating berries and dripping with purple syrup.

Luscious purple syrup.

Saliva trickles from the edges of my lips. The insatiable hunger I’ve been fighting explodes. My surroundings disappear. In my mind, the Door Mouse is that roasted duck from the banquet, which makes him fair game.

I chuck the watch, barely even hearing the clank of metal. Jumping to my feet, I give chase. My prey dives behind pastries and tunnels through breads, managing to elude me each time I almost have him. I skate past dishes, slip over platters, and skid through cakes. I don’t even realize Jeb’s on the table until he catches me and slams me down, his solid weight flush across my back. “Al, stop! Have you lost your mind?”

Like an animal, I growl and claw at the tablecloth until it snags on my fingernails.

“Al.” Jeb’s breath is hot on my neck. “Come back to me. Be my skater girl again.”

My skater girl. The tender entreaty almost brings me back.

Only almost.

Maybe it’s the adrenaline, or maybe it’s whatever demon possessed me when I fell into that pie and tasted that purple junk . . . but something gives me enough strength to thrust Jeb aside like he’s a twig. He rolls off the table with a grunt and I snag the screaming, sticky, mousey delicacy. Purple syrup oozes through my fingertips and down my gloves. I’m just about to bite his head off when I’m tackled from behind, and he escapes.

“Let me up!” I snarl, my momentary burst of superhuman strength all but gone.

Someone flips me onto my back and pins me in place. My vision blurs, and I can barely make out the two forms bent over me.

“She’s sampled berry juice from the Tumtum Tree,” the silhouette wearing the hat-cage says in a voice that bounces between tenor and alto. “She must eat the berries whole, else she’ll go mad.” The speaker then bursts into giggles so loud and absurd, he sounds like a hyena on a pogo stick.

“Oh, now . . . being mad’s not all bad,” the shadow with two long ears intones, adding his giggles to the mix. “We could let her eat us. Hold her mouth open, and I’ll climb in. I’ve always wanted to see the inside of a stomach.”

A paw stuffs itself into my mouth and gags me, nearly cutting off my breath. I chomp down. The intruder jerks free and I spit out the taste of scorched flesh.

“She bites!”

Laughter and howls explode all around.

“Get away from her!” Jeb’s outburst shuts them up. He strokes my hair to soothe me. It has the opposite effect. Being close to him makes the hunger pierce my gut—like a thornbush taking root deep inside.

There’s nothing funny about the way I feel now. “Jeb, please! I’m so hungry! Feed me or I’ll die!”

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies