Ensnared Page 11

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I rip my snaps apart and shed the shirtdress, leaving only the open-back leotard. The scarf around my neck shields the diary’s key hanging beneath.

My discarded dress trails toward Dad. It slaps the back of his head and he looks over his shoulder. “What are you doing?” he yells.

“Saving our one chance to save everyone else.” My wings pop free. I groan at the agony shooting through my right shoulder as the wounded one unfurls.

Without risking a look at Dad, I leap off the butterfly. Its antenna slaps my boot’s sole as I descend, spread-eagle, caught up on a current of wind.

The hat pops off my head, but the scarf stays secure, its ends flapping in time with my braids.

“Allie!” Dad’s desperate scream is snatched away by thunder.

I descend through the rain-streaked sky, terror giving way to awe. My wings provide drag and slow me down, but they’re too weak to offer lift. The wind adds another hurdle, buffeting me. I’m invigorated. One thing being crowned a queen in Wonderland has taught me: Power is impotent unless it’s cultivated with risks.

This is living . . . a free fall into the unknown.

Rain swirls and pelts me. I force my eyes open and tilt my wings to veer in the direction the bag fell. The pouch comes into blurry view as I gain momentum. An instant before I pass it, I snatch the bag and tuck it into the bodice of my leotard, glad I had the foresight to tie the drawstrings before we left. Everything is still inside.

Lightning slashes my surroundings. Giant trees zoom closer and closer, their leaves appearing deceptively soft. But what waits between the spaces—branches jagged and monstrous—will tear me to shreds. At my size, I may as well be a bug hitting a cracked windshield. There’ll be nothing left but blood and tattered wings.

An instant before I collide with the nearest tree, I imagine its branches meshing together, the soft, thick moss rising to coat the domed shape, forming a giant pincushion.

On impact, the breath puffs from my lungs. I slide into the cushioned surface, like a straight pin burrowing through a sawdust filling. The force bends the moss and foliage around me until the top of my head bursts out and slams into the slippery trunk. A sharp pain slices through my skull and spine, and everything goes black.

When I come to, my muscles and flesh hum with the sensation of being stretched. Something purrs at my ear, then a buzz of wings and a brush of soft fur, all too familiar.

Chessie?

It can’t be. I never saw him after the incident in the art studio a month ago. I assumed he’d already returned to Wonderland and was trapped there like Mom. He would’ve visited me in the asylum otherwise.

My eyes don’t want to open. I wriggle my arms and legs beneath the cozy weight of blankets, expecting my head to pound. I heard my skull crack when it hit that tree. Instead, I’m comfortable, serene . . . euphoric, even. A tingling sensation lingers at my ankle. Someone melded their birthmark to mine.

Maybe it was Chessie.

I groan.

“She’s coming to.” It’s Dad’s voice.

My eyelids refuse to budge. A bitter flavor sits on the back of my tongue and I smack my lips.

“I wasn’t sure I got enough down her.” Dad strokes my hair soothingly.

“Drinking mushroom tea is five times more potent than eating them.” It’s a stranger’s voice—gruff, as if he’s been gargling sand. “She’s going to need food soon, to counteract the effects. Perhaps I should bring her something so she can stay hidden. Not all of the castaways are as understanding as this little fellow. In fact, he’s the one responsible for keeping them here all these weeks. Most of them wanted to find her so she’d fix the portals. They miss their world and their kin.”

So Chessie didn’t visit me in the asylum because he didn’t want to lead any angry netherlings my way. He’s really here!

I force my eyes open.

The scent of melted candle wax warms my nostrils, and the soft glow of firelight blinks against a windowless wall upholstered with royal blue and forest green fabric.

It’s a private chamber. I’m on a round, backless couch piled with colorful tasseled throw pillows. The decor reminds me of a circus—wild yet weirdly graceful. Zebra-skin rugs drape the domed ceiling. Other than the candelabras, everything is cushioned, even the floor. The surroundings are a mixture between the padded cell at the asylum and Sister One’s cottage in Wonderland.

Two silhouettes take shape, standing over me.

The stranger looms as tall as my dad. There’s something very familiar about him, although I’ve never seen him before in my life.

A brown-leather cloak swallows his muscular form and suede khaki pants are tucked into his boots. His oversized hood cascades down his shoulders and back. All he needs is a quiver of arrows, and he could be Robin Hood.

Dark hair, flecked with gray, complements his goatee and bushy eyebrows. Eyes the color of root beer study me. “Why, hello at last,” he says kindly.

An itch starts at the tip of my nose. I drag a hand from under my blankets to cover my resulting sneeze. I squawk as my nose shrinks to the size of a pea.

“Ah, having a slight reaction to the tea, are you?” the stranger says.

“Slight?” My voice sounds more like a squeak because of my miniscule nose. I throw off the blankets and scramble to sit up.

Dad eases down beside me on the edge of the cushion.

“It’s okay, Allie. Just give it a second.” Even his calm expression can’t settle my nerves. Another sneeze bursts, and my nose returns to normal size, but my right hand inflates and doesn’t stop until it’s the size of a basketball.

I yelp.

“She has your chin,” the stranger says, as if oblivious to my spontaneous deformity. “But the wings and eyes . . .”

“Those are her mother’s,” Dad says proudly, as if he, too, is blind to what’s happening.

Maybe the reaction is that I’m hallucinating. I try to lift my swollen hand, but it sits next to me like a boulder. I squeeze it to a fist and give it a hard jerk. It pummels Dad’s stomach and sends him rocketing off the couch. He lands in a pile of throw pillows.

Nope. Not hallucinating.

Another sneezing fit overtakes. Once it stops, I sigh, relieved to find my hand is normal and all of my other body parts to scale.

The stranger helps Dad up. Dad brushes off his flannel pants, and they both look down at me with wide brown eyes—as if I were a science experiment.

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