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My fingers quiver as I shove her gutted purse into the bottom of the trash can, piling papers on top. I reach under the counter to grab the air freshener and slide it—along with the money—into Persephone’s tome on mystical crystals. The book has an elastic band sewn into the binding that holds the pages shut.
I turn to the poster again. The darkness behind the guy’s eyes seems to be driving everything I do, and there’s nothing to pull me back from the brink this time.
No mother, no father, and definitely no Jeb. Not even his smile could save me now.
Once Dad and I get home, I add the stolen stash to my savings in a small pencil box secured with a rubber band and hide it behind my cheval mirror.
Plugging my phone in to charge, I text Hitch to meet me outside Underland around midnight and tell him why. He’s the only one I know who can make a fake passport. I still can’t believe I took Taelor’s money and hid her purse. But like Dad said, we’ll do whatever it takes to get Alison home. Thinking about how lit Jeb would be if he knew I was meeting Hitch in the dark alone makes me all the more determined to follow through.
A low rumble shakes the windows and rain pelts the roof as another storm closes in.
Spreading a palm along my aquarium’s cool glass, I search the back and flip on a soft bluish light. Aphrodite and Adonis perform a graceful dance, entwining their long bodies.
On my way to check my bug traps in the garage, I cut through the living room. Dad’s there, sitting in his recliner while staring at those giant daisies Alison appliquéd all over the arms and back. He sobs.
I want to hug him and make up for our fight, but when he sees me watching, he claims to have something in his eye and leaves to pick up burgers for supper.
Dust motes drift in the amber glow of the floor lamp beside his recliner. The weird lighting, coupled with the dark paneled walls, gives the living room a strange aura, like an aged sepia photograph.
Photographs. Why did Alison say that about pictures . . . how people forget to read between the lines?
I stand there, a few feet from the recliner, while everything she babbled skates along my mind like pebbles cast into an endless well. One keeps rising back to the top: “The daisies are hiding treasure. Buried treasure.”
The explanation is staring me in the face. It has been for years. I drop to my knees in front of the recliner, crumpling the layers of netting and lace beneath my miniskirt as I shove my backpack out of the way. Hard to believe it’s only been seven or so hours since I was at school. So much has happened, I’ve lost track of time.
I pluck at one of Alison’s cloth daisies where two appliquéd petals curl down from frayed stitches. On a hunch, I slide my index finger between the appliqué and the upholstery to find a hole burrowed deep into the recliner’s stuffing.
Holding my breath, I tug at the appliqué until it’s hanging by no more than one petal and a few threads. The dime-size hole stares back, too perfectly round to have been accidental. All this time, I thought she’d sewn the patches on to cover threadbare places. All this time, I was wrong.
Digging into the torn upholstery, I pull out stuffing until I hit something tiny, hard, and metallic. I trace the object, following a round shape that stretches to a long, thin leg with grooves and teeth. A key. My forefinger drags it to the hole’s opening and tugs it out. An attached necklace chain coils on the cushion like a snake.
The challenge from the website comes full circle: “If you wish to save your mother, use the key.”
Maybe I should be freaked out, but I’m thrilled to finally have tangible proof that Alison is trying to tell me something . . . that her babbles weren’t babbles at all. They were coherent clues.
Tapping the cold metal with a fingertip, I imagine what the key might unlock. I’ve never seen one like it, so intricate, with strips of burnished brass interwoven like ivy. It looks old—antique, even. As tiny as it is, it might open a diary.
I loop the necklace around my neck and tuck it under my shirt. Alison said daisies, plural. Could there be other things behind the rest of the appliqués?
Inspired, I disregard the fact that Dad could come back at any minute. I don’t even stop to consider the consequences of ripping apart his favorite chair.
He keeps a Swiss Army knife on the side table for opening mail. I flip the scissor attachment out, then snip all the daisies in half and gouge out the holes beneath. Batting snows around me.
Soon, I’m sitting at the foot of the recliner with a small trove of Wonderland-related objects: an antique hair clip—more like a bobby pin, actually—with a ruby teardrop attached to its bent end; a feather quill; and a Victorian fan made of white lace and matching gloves scented with talcum and black pepper. I suppress a sneeze and push aside two snapshots of my great-great-great-grandmother Alice in favor of the small book I also found.
I stroke the tattered paperback’s cover and study the title: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Across the word Alice, Alison’s name is scrawled in red marker.
She wanted me to find these “treasures.” Something here is supposed to discourage me from going to the rabbit hole. Instead, I’m convinced these things can help fix Alison, help me break the Liddell curse for good.
Tucked within the novel’s front cover is a tourism brochure for the Thames sundial trail in London. On it is a statue of a child balancing a sundial on his head. I sit back in disbelief. It’s the one I saw earlier in my mind, the one the children were playing beside. Alison must have looked for the rabbit hole when she was younger; she must have traveled to London on her search. Where else could these keepsakes have come from? More important, what made her stop looking?
The statue is dated 1731—long before Alice Liddell’s birth—so it would’ve been in place when my great-great-great-grandmother was little, which means she could’ve fallen into the hole beneath it.
I now have an address, but according to the brochure, there’s no public access to the grounds. Tourists are only allowed to look at the sundial statue from behind iron railings. Even once I get there, I’ll need a miracle to sneak into the garden and explore the sundial up close.
I slide the brochure back into place in the book, skimming the story I know so well. It’s full of black-and-white sketches. There are a few dog-eared pages and some excerpts underlined: the Walrus and the Carpenter poem, Alice’s tears causing a flood, the Mad Hatter’s tea party.