The next seven days felt like the longest of Binny’s life. Getting everyone geared up for using the lectern a few days earlier, only to have their hopes dashed had taught Binny a hard lesson about setting expectations. She wanted to make no mistakes this time.
Each day, teams of characters who had been gathering at Misselthwaite took turns monitoring the bottommost floor of the Library. Most of them weren’t even aware of its existence. Binny knew though.
She often thought of the fire room – One had described it as ‘where forgotten creativity comes to return to the source’. Binny thought of it as the room where characters went to their fiery death.
No matter how Binny thought of it she was sure of two things. The first was that the key in her pocket would open that door. The second was that under no circumstances did Binny want to run into One or any of the Keepers down there. It was simply too close to the fire. Binny didn’t completely understand what the protocols were for someone ending up there, but she didn’t want to take any chances.
After seven days of monitoring, the whole group sat down in the great room at Misselthwaite and reviewed the pattern they’d witnessed.
“It’s once a day. Right after work, and before dinner. One goes in. Talks for ten or fifteen minutes. She then makes her exit, locks the door, and doesn’t return until the exact same time the next day.” James said.
“Did you see the key?” Binny asked hopefully. She was certain that she had the right key, but a little extra confirmation would be nice.
Her majesty’s secret service agent responded. “Afraid not. None of us got a good look”
“And she talks in there? Can you hear what she’s saying?”
“I listened at the door.” Elphaba said. “I couldn’t make anything out.”
“What if she’s talking to someone in there. We could show up only to find some prisoner she’s been keeping locked away for who knows how long.” Victor said.
“I’ll handle whoever’s in there.” Arya said with a glint on her eye, and her hand on the hilt of her sword.
“Honestly, it didn’t sound like a conversation. It sounded like she was reading aloud.” Elphaba said.
Binny thought for a second. “I think we’re ready. We’ll start tomorrow night. Everyone should get some sleep. We’re not gonna get much for awhile.”
Binny and the others had shown up at dinner so as not to raise suspicion. But as soon as it was over, not too soon of course, but ‘normal’ soon, they headed back to the library in small groups.
After dinner, Binny and the others made their way to the Library. It didn’t take long to find a copy of Alice in Wonderland. As usual, when it came to books, the Library was incomparable at giving you what you were looking for.
After a set of pre-arranged signals, teams of two and three adopted their standard formations and circled, keeping a lookout as Binny, Katniss, and Arya, descended into the bowels of the Library. Worried that people might be suspicious, Binny held Alice close as she moved.
Binny walked quickly but quietly on the stone steps that led to the door. She tried hard not to think about the huge fire burning just twenty feet away. Lancelot had confirmed that One was long gone from the room. Binny approached the door and fished for the key out of her pocket.
Binny wasn’t sure what to say exactly, a prayer perhaps? Who would she be praying to? Binny decided just thinking positive thoughts was best.
Binny produced the bronze key with the ivory handle from her pocket. It looked like no key she’d ever seen. She was lucky that she’d even recognized what it was. Suddenly Binny wondered if she’d made a mistake even thinking of it as a key. Her failure to find the lectern on her first try loomed large on her mind.
Binny inserted the key into the hole in the door. It fit well enough. That was positive. Binny tried to turn the key, it didn’t budge. Binny’s heart sank. Binny tried again. Nothing.
“Can I try?” Katniss asked.
Binny took a deep breath. “Give me a second.”
Binny tried one more time, and then it occurred to her, this ancient key, who knew what the right way to turn a key was whenever this key was made. Binny tried turning the key in the other direction. This time it moved. Slowly. The door groaned as a bull groans but after a satisfying click of the tumblers, and a turn of the handle, the door swung open.
The room was made entirely of stone. There were shelves, almost entirely empty. Glowing lamps lined the walls giving off light and a bit of warmth in the otherwise cold space. Some dusty chairs and tables were scattered about. And in the center of the room, a lectern.
Binny had to stop herself from yelling triumphantly. What came out instead was a muffled “Yes!”
Katniss and Arya smiled.
Binny approached the lectern, but it wasn’t empty. It contained a scroll. All rolled up. Binny opened the scroll to see its contents and read.
It was more of a short story than a full book. Binny read the title, “The Tale of the Ojo and the Ojisama.” Binny read as quickly as she could, but in her distracted state it was hard to digest the formal writing.
“Can we get on with this?” Arya said.
“Yes. Sorry.” Binny put the scroll to the side and placed Alice in Wonderland on the lectern. Binny thumbed her way through the pages and found the section she was looking for.
Binny looked at Katniss and Arya for confirmation of their readiness. Lancelot was now standing by the door as the final in a long series of lookouts planted along the path to the room. He gave the thumbs up. Binny, Katniss and Arya started reading from the point of Binny’s index finger on the page.
“There was a table set out under a tree in front of the house…”
There was a table set out under a tree in front of the house, and the March Hare and the Hatter were having tea at it: a Dormouse was sitting between them, fast asleep, and the other two were using it as a cushion, resting their elbows on it, and talking over its head. Very uncomfortable for the Dormouse, thought Binny; only, as it’s asleep, I suppose it doesn’t mind.
Binny shook her head to clear her mind. This was going to take some getting used to. Normally when Binny entered a setting from a book, like the Secret Garden, or the Skrumshus candy factory, the setting was just as described in the book. But this time Binny wasn’t visiting a setting copied from a book, or meeting a character plucked from a story, Binny was actually in Alice in Wonderland – right in the middle of the story. This was going to be more complicated than she thought. Binny started to understand how Alice herself must have felt.
“No room! No room!” the Hatter and the March Hare cried out when they saw Binny, Katniss, and Arya.
Binny instinctively reached out to steady Arya’s hand and keep it from moving to her sword. “Have no fear. We’ve not come for tea.” Binny wondered why she’d started talking like Alice. Was it something about being in the book, or some weird affectation like picking up the accent of someone you’re speaking to. She hoped she wasn’t being rude.
“Where do you think you are?” The Hatter said.
Binny wasn’t sure how to respond. She hadn’t quite counted on having to negotiate with the owner of the house.
As Binny hesitate to answer, the Hatter continued, “No, really. Where are you? I’d quite like to know where I am. And since we’re both in the same place, if you knew, then I would know as well.” The Hatter sipped his tea.
“You’re right here, and I’d like to go back to drinking my tea.” The March Hare said.
Katniss and Arya were tickled at the argument, but Binny was feeling a sense of urgency, imagining Lancelot by the door to the stone room.
“I wondered if we could use your home.” Binny said as politely as she could.
“I’ll repeat myself. Where do you think you are? But this time I’ll add a clue. It begins with a drought and finishes at the end of a stream. You can drink as much as you like, but you’ll always be thirsty.”
“Another riddle?” Arya was exasperated.
“If I answer the riddle, may I use your house?” Binny said, determined to get what she needed.
“You seem to have invited yourself already.” The Hatter said.
The Dormouse snored loudly.
Binny thought the snoring sounded fake.
The March Hare stuffed a crumpet into his face.
Binny thought hard about the riddle. Nothing was coming.
“She’s killing time until she can come up with the answer.” The March Hare declared.
“Oh I wouldn’t do that, the Queen almost took my head for the very same crime.” The Hatter said nervously.
“We already ran into her.” Arya offered. “Our heads are still attached to our bodies quite securely, thank you.”
Binny tried a different tack. The conversation was so weird, she thought she may as well explore all the possibilities. “May we use the house without answering the riddle?”
“Do as you wish. But eventually, I’ll need an answer. I can’t sit nowhere indefinitely, can I? Nowhere isn’t a where at all, despite its name.”
Binny’s head was hurting.
“Would you like a crumpet?” The March Hare offered.
“Why yes please.” Arya said, earning looks from Binny and Katniss.
“There aren’t any more.” The Hare said as he stuffed another one into his face.
“Of course there are. There’s a tray full.” Arya complained.
“We have what we need, let’s not get stuck on crumpets pleased.” Katniss said under her breath.
“Thank you.” Binny said graciously to the Hatter and the Hare. She wasn’t sure if the Dormouse heard her as he still seemed to be asleep.
Binny, Katniss, and Arya walked past the table, leaving the tea partiers to bicker amongst themselves, and approached the house.
“Do you think it’ll work?” Katniss asked.
“I hope so.” Binny said.
They approached the house, more of a cottage really, Binny thought to herself, and opened the door. The large room wasn’t messy exactly as much as it was ‘lived-in’. Binny had always thought the Hatter had only the one hat, but the house was filled with them. Every size and shape. Each on an individual awkwardly mounted shelf on the wall. No space remained empty.
Binny turned to Katniss, “Just think of it this way. If we don’t succeed, we can open a hat store.” Binny smiled.
“Well, what are you waiting for?” Arya asked. “Let’s get started. What do we do next?”
Katniss answered. “Binny has to start writing.”
A small desk sat by a window overlooking a back garden. There was a stack of blank paper as if it had been expressly designed for the task Binny was facing. Binny sat down at the desk, getting comfortable, and preparing to dive in when she realized, she had nothing to write with.
Binny searched everywhere for a pen or pencil but there was nothing. She imagined the Hatter didn’t do much writing as he spent most of his time having tea parties and managing his extravagant hat collection.
“What’s wrong?” Arya asked.
“I have nothing to write with.” Binny’s cheeks reddened in embarrassment at the oversight.
“Sure you do.” Arya pointed at an object in the corner of the desk.
“It’s a quill, and that’s the inkwell. You dip the feather in the ink and start writing.” Arya explained. “It’s quite simple. I can show you.”
“Yeah, well, that’s not gonna work for me.” Binny didn’t think writing with a quill was the most efficient way to complete her task. “But I know something that will. You guys stay here. I’ll be right back.”
Binny raced passed Lancelot at the door. She only needed to go up a couple of levels of the Library before she found the Madrona Heroes Register on a bookshelf. Binny gave silent thanks for Deus Ex Machina.
Binny opened the book to Chapter 9 and started reading. Like she’d done dozens of times for work, Binny entered her own book. Seconds later Binny emerged from her book holding an old-time teal portable manual typewriter. She had to time it just right as in the book, her soon-to-be-best-friend Penny was about to shatter the very same typewriter. But Binny grabbed it in its pre-shattered state.
Binny bounded as inconspicuously as she could back down the stairs, passing several of her lookouts as she went. None of them made eye contact. Binny felt like a secret agent.
Binny made it all the way back to the lectern and re-entered Wonderland. She walked past the tea party. The Hare, the Hatter, and even the Dormouse offered some borderline rude comments and questions on her appearance, but she ignored them and kept walking toward the house. They were so self-absorbed, they didn’t follow.
Binny entered the large room presenting the typewriter to Katniss and Arya. “This is how we do it in my book.” Binny grinned.
Katniss and Arya grinned back.
“You just run around grabbing what you need from one book and bringing it to another. You are like a god you know.” Katniss said.
Binny sat down at the table, still beaming from Katniss’ compliment, inserted the first sheet of paper into the typewriter and began to type.
‘She doesn’t look like much…’