“I think that’s it.” Binny handed the final page to Arya, who started reading aloud to the room of typists so they could transcribe.
Katniss patted Binny on the back. “It’s really good you know.”
“Was I really such a jerk when you first got here?” Katniss asked.
“I think you were as angry as I am now, but you had no one to share it with.”
“That’s an incredibly sweet way of saying ‘yes’.” Katniss laughed.
“We’re good now. That’s all that matters.”
“It’s not quite done though right?” Katniss said hopefully.
“Aren’t thirty-six chapters enough?” Binny joked.
“Of course. Of course. It’s just, there needs to be more of an ending, no?”
“Yeah, I’m just teasing you. But we have to go make that happen tomorrow. I just hope I’m still around after tomorrow to do the writing.”
Arya had found an enormous ball of twine in one of the Hatter’s drawers and was now guiding everyone to bind the typed pages into neat bundles. Arya handed the first one, the one Binny had typed herself, back too Binny. “Here you go. The very first edition.”
Binny took it hesitatingly, and felt its weight in her hands.
“I forgot we did all that stuff. The way you tell the story, it sounds pretty exciting actually.” Arya said.
“Thanks. I really appreciate that. I’ve never done this before.”
“You seem like a natural.” Katniss said.
Binny stared at the cover and kept tracing her finger back and forth over the title printed in all capitals on the front page. Back and forth. Back and forth. It read: “THE EXPERIENCE OF BEING ALIVE”
The next day passed slowly and quickly at the same time. Binny barely remembered getting up and getting to work, but at the time it seemed to go extra slowly. The butterflies were flapping around like crazy in her stomach.
On the way to work in the morning, she’d seen Michel briefly. He’d filled her in on his research. What he told her was yet another weight on her already heavy mind, but it also made sense.
They’d been over the plan several times the night before and that morning. Binny knew in most books she read that plans never quite went the way the protagonist imagined, but she couldn’t figure out what would go wrong with her plan. It seemed sound, but one never knew.
The moment Binny, Katniss, and Arya had all whooshed out of their books they launched into action. Everyone had a spot somewhere in the bottom floors of the library to wait until One was done with her regular evening visit to the room with the lectern.
It took exactly twenty-two minutes until they got the signal that the coast was clear. Twenty-two of the longest minutes Binny had ever experienced. Binny moved purposefully towards the ground floor of the library with Katniss and Arya in tow.
The Hatter, the Hare, and the Dormouse were in their usual spot. Binny had ignored them so often she barely even noticed their comments. Binny, Katniss, Arya, and roughly a dozen of their supporters entered the Hatter’s home for hopefully the last time. Everyone gathered up a stack of books. Binny just took the one. The first edition that she’d typed herself.
Binny turned to those assembled, “Is everyone ready? Once we leave Wonderland, the clock will be ticking. You each have to find your group, and then everyone branches out to distribute all hundred copies. Let’s see the Keepers try and eliminate a hundred copies all at once!” Binny said triumphantly. “Soon, everyone will know the truth.”
The group broke out into spontaneous applause.
“Okay everyone. Time is of the essence. Let’s go.”
The door to the house opened, and standing in the doorway was the Hatter himself. He spoke, “Time may be of the essence, but what is the essence of time?”
Binny had been waiting for the other shoe to drop. This must be it. The wrinkle she hadn’t anticipated. She tried her best not to reveal her stress in her voice. “Oh hello. How can we help you?”
“I think you should stop talking about time behind his back. It’s quite rude you know.”
“Quite rude.” The March Hare was standing in back of the Hatter, also blocking their exit.
Binny gritted her teeth. “Please accept our apologies. But we really must be on our way.”
“Of course. There’s just the small matter of my answer. I’ve waited quite patiently you know.”
“I’m sorry?” Binny had no idea what he was talking about.
“Can I deal with this?” Arya said.
“The question was, ‘Where do you think you are?’ Now what is the answer?”
“Oh yes. The riddle. Of course. Completely my oversight. And I promise to come back tomorrow and answer it for you.” Binny started heading to the door.
“I’m afraid that just won’t do. As you said, time is of the essence.”
Binny took a deep breath. “OK. Fine. Just please can you repeat the entire question?”
“It would be my pleasure.” The Hatter repeated, “Where do you think you are? 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.”
A book? A man? Binny thought back to their experience with the Sphinx. Neither of those answers would do. In a riddle, the direct answer was never the right answer, so what was the direct answer? “Well, I’m in Wonderland, in your lovely home. But that’s too obvious and makes no sense given the clues.”
The Hatter just smiled. He seemed in no hurry.
But Binny was. She could feel dinner slipping away as they dickered over the riddle. She was tempted to let Arya take care of the obstacle, but that felt wrong.
The whole thing was so frustrating. The only reason Binny picked this place is that it seemed the easiest dream sequence to use as a home base. When Binny had written her poem for Michel, it had been inside her own dream. And the authors imprisoned in Diyu were writing up a storm without any interference from the Keepers. Michel had explained that the structure was from a dream sequence in a Chaucer poem. That’s when Binny put it together, the only place to write the book undetected was in a dream. In Alice’s dream in fact. But now she was stuck here arguing with a lunatic and a rabbit.
If only she had been better read, maybe there would have been a literary dream that would have been freer of distractions. And now Binny was late. Everyone was late. Her entire plan was going awry. Binny shouted at the Hatter in frustration, “No offense, but honestly, this is the single worst dream I could have chosen.”
“Exactly!” The Hatter shouted excitedly.
Binny was puzzled at first, but then it started to click in her mind. The beginning of ‘drought’ and the end of ‘stream’ make ‘dream’. And one can drink all they want in a dream, but it will never quench their thirst, because none of it is real.
“Thank you for coming.” The Hatter and the Hare opened the door and parted allowing everyone to file out.
“You’re not welcome.” Arya yelled right before she exited Wonderland. She never heard what the Hatter said in response. But she was certain it was unpleasant.
Once they were all through to the room with the lectern, Binny reminded everyone to move quickly to their spots, but not so quickly as to arouse suspicion. No reason to give the Keepers an advantage. Though the alarm bells must be going off now in whatever amounted to Keeper ‘headquarters’.
Katniss and Arya waited at the door for Binny to reset the room.
“You guys go, I got it. We’ve all got to split up now to make it impossible for them to get us all. I’ll right the room, and then I’ll go straight to dinner. I promise.” Binny said.
“You sure?” Katniss asked.
“Yes. I’m sure.”
Katniss and Arya left, and then Binny was alone.
Binny removed the copy of Alice in Wonderland from the lectern and placed it under her own volume. If she never read the Tea Party chapter of Alice in Wonderland again she’d be quite content.
Binny was about to leave when she remembered the final piece of their exit ritual, putting the scroll back on the lectern. Binny knew she had to go, but she took one extra moment to scan the scroll.
It was called, “The Tale of the Ojo and the Ojisama”. It was a sweet story about a princess raising her young prince and watching him grow up in a kingdom. The Prince was kind and fair. He was handy, and helpful, and always knew right from wrong. It was quite saccharine as stories go. But something about the story resonated with Binny. There was a familiarity that she couldn’t quite place her finger on.
And then, suddenly, she could.
Binny rolled up the scroll, put it in her pocket, and ran out of the room. She didn’t even bother to lock it on the way out. Once she was done, the Keepers would know everything anyway.
Binny ran towards the circular staircase and started making her way through the library and on to dinner.