Ensnared Page 8

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“Just a headache,” I answer as the sensation subsides. I’ll have to make a concerted effort not to think of my great-great-great-grandmother until I can figure out a way to suppress these episodes. “You were telling me about the inn.”

“Yeah. It’s somewhere in Oxford.”

“Seriously? That’s where Alice Liddell grew up. Where she met Lewis Carroll.”

Dad rubs the stubble on his chin. “Somehow, way down the line, the Skeffingtons were related to the Dodgsons, which was Carroll’s surname before he took on a pseudonym. I hope to get more details once we find the inn.”

I don’t press any further. I can’t imagine the information overload he’s experiencing.

Off in the distance, the monarchs that provided our rides are hanging on the tunnel walls, wings flapping slow and relaxed. The firefly chandeliers reflect off their orange and black markings. It reminds me of tigers gliding through the silhouettes of jungle trees during a nature show.

The butterflies whisper: We know the way to Humphrey’s Inn. Would you like an escort, little flower queen?

Goose bumps coat my arms when I think of jostling through another bout of wind and rain. It’s not fear. It’s electrified anticipation—like standing in line for a favorite roller coaster. My wing buds nudge. The right one isn’t fully healed yet. Maybe I can let it out while riding, exercise my wings without the danger of falling.

Yes, please take us. I send the silent answer back to the butterflies.

“Are they talking to you now?” Dad asks when he catches me staring at them.

I swallow. It’s hard to get used to not pretending with someone I’ve been fooling my whole life. “Uh-huh.”

He studies me, his complexion almost green in the dim light. I wonder if it’s hit him yet, that we allowed Mom to be locked in an asylum for something that was really happening and not a delusion.

“The butterflies know where the inn is,” I say.

Dad makes a disgruntled sound. “After we get there, can we please return to our normal size?”

“Sure. I’ve got just what we’ll need.” I pat my pocket where the mushrooms wait, surprised to feel the conductor’s pen alongside them. I’d forgotten I still have it.

Dad slips out his wallet and sifts through receipts, money, and pictures. He pauses at the family portrait we had made a few months ago and traces Mom’s outline with a shaky fingertip. “I can’t believe what she did for me,” he murmurs, and I wonder if I was supposed to hear, or if it’s a private moment. I’ve never doubted how strong Dad’s love is for her, but only recently did I learn how strong hers is for him.

I’m curious how much he’s remembered, if he understands that she was going to be queen before she found him.

Dad’s jaw clenches as he slides the picture back into its sleeve. “We don’t have the right currency. We’ll have to use my credit cards. It should be around dinnertime when we arrive. While we eat, we’ll discuss things.” He looks tired, yet more alert than I’ve seen him in years. “We’ll plan our next move. But it’s important we lay low and try not to draw attention to ourselves. Considering my family’s profession, they could’ve made some very dangerous enemies.”

An uneasy knot forms in my throat. “What profession?”

He tucks his wallet into his pocket. “Gatekeepers. They’re the guardians of AnyElsewhere.”

My knees wobble. “What?”

“That’s enough discussion for now. I’m still processing.”

His curtness stings. But what right do I have to feel wounded? I made him wait seventeen years to learn the truth about me.

“Okay.” I stifle an apology and study my ragged gown. “It won’t be easy to stay under the radar while wearing asylum clothes. You’ll need to change, too.”

“Any ideas?” Dad asks, then holds up a hand. “And before you say it, we’re not stealing something off a clothesline.”

It’s like he read my mind. “Why not? Motivation always justifies the crime.” I clamp down on my tongue. That’s Morpheus’s reasoning, not mine. It’s both frightening and liberating that his illogic is starting to make perfect sense.

Dad narrows his eyes. “Tell me you did not just say that.”

I push away the desire to argue my point. Justifying crimes may be the law of the land in the nether-realm, but that doesn’t make it lawful to my dad at this moment. “I just meant it would be borrowing, if we bought new clothes later and returned the others.”

“Too many steps. We need a quick fix. Makeshift clothes.”

Makeshift clothes. If only Jenara were here with her designer talents. I miss her more than ever. Over the past month in the asylum, I wasn’t allowed any visitors other than Dad. But Jen sent notes, and Dad always saw that I got them. Jen didn’t blame me for her missing brother, in spite of the rumors that I was in a cult that victimized him and Mom. She refused to believe I’d be involved in anything that would hurt either of them.

If only I deserved her faith.

I wish she was here. She’d know what to do about the clothes. Jenara can make outfits out of anything. One time, for a mythology project, she transformed a Barbie into Medusa by spray-painting the doll silver and crafting a “stone” gown out of a strip of aluminum foil and white chalk.

Dolls . . .

“Hey!” I shout up at the closest Ferris-wheel-firefly chandelier. “Could you guys give us some light, please?”

They roll across the ceiling and stop overhead, illuminating our surroundings. This place was once an elevator passageway where train passengers would wait for rides up to the village after arriving on the train. Distracted parents and careless children left behind toys which are comparable to our size: wooden blocks that could double as garden sheds, a pinwheel that could pass for a windmill, and a few rubber jacks bigger than the tumbleweeds I’ve seen bounce alongside the roads in Pleasance, Texas.

A sign hangs over the toys. The words LOST AND FOUND have been marked out and replaced by TRAIN OF THOUGHT.

Past a pile of mildewed picture books, there’s a child’s round suitcase propped up so the front is visible. The style is retro—pink, cushiony vinyl with a ponytailed girl standing in front of an airplane. Her faded dress was blue at one time. Under the zipper, scribbled in black marker, is a child’s handwriting: Emily’s Dress Shoppe. Sprawled on the ground beside the case is a half-naked vintage Barbie.

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