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I crouch beside him and reach in, making sure he doesn’t open the pencil box; then I push aside Alison’s Wonderland book to grab the white gloves I found in the chair. I take off my fingerless ones and pull the others on in their place. They’re a perfect fit. Next, I secure the hairpin just above my left ear. In a vague, misty memory, I used to play dress-up in these items with my netherling companion. Now it’s an impulse I can’t resist.
Jeb fishes out Dad’s Swiss Army knife. Eyebrows raised, he holds it up.
“I borrowed it from a Boy Scout?” I blink.
He slides it into the pocket of his tuxedo pants. “No dice. I pounded my share of the locals in seventh grade and kept tokens from the battles. Boy Scouts don’t carry knives this sweet.”
My shakiness eases as he flashes a small smile. I’m not sure if he believes any of this or still thinks he’s dreaming, but at least he’s trying to keep a sense of humor.
He zips the backpack. The slide of the metal teeth echoes in the room. The bee buzzes around my head again. It registers that these are the only two sounds I hear. No white noise. Not a whisper, not a murmur, not a hint of a word.
For the first time in six years, I know silence.
I close my eyes and let it seep into me, soft and numbing.
Silence. Is. Bliss.
Inspired by that thought, I stand up to explore.
“Stay close, skater girl.” Jeb retrieves the flashlight, which ended up on the round table in the middle of the room. I shouldn’t be thinking it, after bringing him here, but it’s amazing how good it feels to hear my nickname.
I stop next to the purple-striped walls, hung with upside-down candelabras. Black-and-white tiles cover the circular floor. A pile of creamy, fragrant wax the size of an anthill rests beneath each dripping candle. How the wicks stay lit is a mystery. Even though the wax melts, the candles don’t seem to shrink.
“I don’t believe it,” Jeb says. He holds up a dark brown bottle with a label tied around its long neck like a price tag. “‘Drink me,’” he reads aloud.
“No way.” I’m at his side in an instant.
“Shrinks you or something, right?” he asks.
“According to the guidebook. Is there a petit four in that glass box under the table?”
As I stick the bottle into my backpack, he crouches. “Cake on a satin pillow. Looks like raisins on top. They spell the words ‘Eat Me.’”
“Yeah. The cake that makes you big again.”
He whips the bandana off his tux sleeve and wraps up the box with the small white pastry. “I’m assuming you want it, too, for evidence?”
I nod. But it’s not evidence we’re gathering. Something tells me I might need to use this stuff later, once I’ve sent Jeb home and can continue on alone.
Back at the walls, I search for a way out. Red velvet curtains hang in intervals with golden cords of rope draped over knoblike finials. The coverings are long enough to hide a door. I flap open the first one, hoping to find some antique, ornate door that might have a lock to fit the key around my neck. There’s nothing but wall behind it. I try another curtain with the same result.
“Check this out.” Jeb pulls a sheet off a wooden contraption propped against the opposite wall. Strings, pulleys, and a giant clock’s face form the convoluted frame. A sign reads: jabberlocky’s mousetrap.I think back on the Jabberwocky poem associated with Carroll’s books. The misspelling of the word is yet another inconsistency with a story I thought I knew by heart.
Wonderland characters cover the front in vivid shades of paint. A long platform juts out at the bottom, connected to some pulleys.
“It looks like a Rube Goldberg,” Jeb says, cocking his head sideways to scope it out.
“Rube Goldberg—the cartoonist and inventor. He drew complex devices that performed simple tasks in convoluted ways. This one is a mousetrap.”
I stare at him.
“What?” he asks.
Laughing, I shake my head. “Your geek undies are showing. I thought you outgrew them in seventh grade.” He used to be obsessed with constructing things—building mazes and marble ramps with his dad out in their garage. It was the only time I ever saw them get along.
A sad smile flits across his face, and I know he’s remembering, too.
“What’s that thing on the platform?” I ask to change the subject, kicking myself for bringing it up.
He taps what looks like a chunk of cheese. “A sponge. Wonder if the trap actually works.”
“One way to find out.” I reach for a lever with the words Push Me written in red.
“Wait.” Jeb drops the sheet and pulls me away. “Why would a mousetrap be down here? What if it’s set up for bigger prey—like intruders?”
The bee returns, buzzing around me again. I swat it away. Lazily, it hovers in midair, then lands on the same lever I was about to try. With a whirring sound, the machine initiates a chain reaction. First, the big hand of the clock clicks into place, pointing to the Roman numeral IV. This activates a pulley’s wheel that in turn twists a corkscrew through a nest to a drilled hole. The corkscrew’s pointed end pushes through and unbalances a seesaw slab on the next level.
Jeb and I back up several steps, hand in hand.
I’ve seen this process before. I dig in my shirt pocket and pull out the Wonderland notes from that website, looking over the “’Twas brillig” definitions again.
Jeb eases behind me to read over my shoulder. “Where did you find those?”
“Shh . . .” It’s all there: the four o’clock, the nest, the corkscrew. After emitting a piercing whistle, the machine launches the yellowish orange sponge into the air. It flies to the other side of the room.
I chase it, skidding to a stop as it drops to the floor next to one of the curtains I looked behind earlier.
“Pick it up.” That British voice fills my mind, a reminder of the reason I’ve come. Not to gather proof of Wonderland but to cure my family’s curse. I have to find the guy from my memories. He’ll tell me how to fix my great-great-great-grandmother’s mistakes. I pick up the sponge and tuck it into my skirt pocket.
The whirring starts again. Over where Jeb stands, the pulleys and wheels reverse to their original position. As if connected to the machine by invisible strings, the curtain next to me lifts, revealing a trap door that wasn’t there two minutes ago.