Alice stood frozen, sick with fright, and nodded as best she could before Paramint—kindly old Paramint—darted away, expecting her to follow. Alice’s skin was clammy with cold sweat and sudden, horrible, slithering fear, and she could feel her throat beginning to close. Why she had ever allowed herself to feel safe in Furthermore she did not know, but now she knew there was only one thing left to do.
Alice flew back into the room as fast as she could, heart beating hard, hoping she could get to Oliver and out the door before Paramint ever came back. She pounded on the toilet door, shouting Oliver’s name several times, but there was no answer. She had no choice but to break a very important rule in Furthermore and open the door without permission.
Thank heavens she did.
Oliver was lying on the floor, half conscious, mostly limp, and extremely heavy. He looked half dead already. Suddenly her talk with Paramint put everything in perspective: This was no matter of overindulgence. Paramint had tried to poison them in preparation for the impending feast. He wanted them weak and pliant; he wanted them drugged. And it took every bit of strength she had to keep from panicking.
Instead, she slapped Oliver in the face.
He blinked his eyes open.
“Oliver,” she said (still trying—and failing—not to panic), “Oliver, please—please wake up, please wake up—”
“I’m sorry, Alice,” he said, breathing hard, “I’m afraid I’m not”—he swallowed—“not feeling very well.”
“Yes, yes, I know, dear friend, but you must get to your feet,” she said. “Please, please try to get to your feet, because we need to go. We must leave right this instant.”
“What?” Oliver blinked at her again. “Why, Alice? What’s the matter?”
Alice hesitated, terrified, then said, “They want to eat us.”
Oliver’s eyes flew open. He knew better than to waste time asking why. Maybe at another time, in a different state of mind, Oliver might’ve been able to persuade them out of this, but he was painfully sick and not himself, and she knew she couldn’t ask him to save their lives.
For the second time, she had to save him.
And somehow, even now, during one of the most terrifying moments of her life, she felt a rush of true affection for Oliver, because she knew he’d decided right then to put his life in her hand(s), and to follow her lead.
“Let’s go,” he said. And in an act of great determination, he pulled himself to his feet.
Alice slung his bag over his shoulder, his heavy arm over her shoulder, and allowed Oliver to lean against her much-smaller frame. And though at any other time this might have seemed impossible, their weights didn’t matter now; they were both adrenaline from head to foot, and moving on instinct.
Still, Alice felt like it took forever to reach the front door. In her mind their every slow movement brought Paramint closer, and every sudden sound meant Paramint was around the corner, waiting to pounce. In fact, Alice was so focused on outrunning Paramint that it hadn’t even occurred to her where they’d go to outrun him; not until they reached the door, and Oliver said,
“Where now, Alice?”
But she didn’t know.
She was in a real panic. She looked left, looked right: They were surrounded on all sides by the busy bodies making up the land of Left, and there was no other place to go, no other person to trust. Eggshell homes had been strung from nearly every branch as far as she could see, and there was no doubt in her mind that if they tried to hide here, they would too easily be found. For a moment Alice even considered turning everything black again—after all, it had worked on the foxes—but they were not on flat land, which made everything more dangerous. Alice and Oliver would be running across a series of treetops—it would be too dangerous to run blindly; one misstep and they’d plummet to their deaths.
Maybe they stayed put. Maybe they stayed here and bided their time, played nice with Paramint until they formed a real plan—until Oliver was feeling better and could persuade them to have someone else for dinner. Maybe they’d be able to think more clearly in a couple of hours. After all, Paramint wanted to plan a feast. They wouldn’t be eaten in the next five minutes.
Maybe Alice had gotten ahead of herself; she was too anxious and panicked; she was sure that was it. In fact, now she was sure they would do better to stay. Racing around with no rational plan couldn’t help them at all, she thought. So she exhaled a deep breath and glanced back at the eggshell home, ready to tell Oliver her new idea.
Except that when she glanced back, there stood Paramint, hovering just to the side of his own front door, smiling at her in a way that she no longer trusted. He carried in one hand a very large linen sack. And, in the other, a very large butcher knife.
Something inside of Alice screamed, but she didn’t say a word.
Paramint’s eyes were locked on to hers, and when he next spoke, his voice was suddenly too high, too happy, all wrong. “Where are you going, your honorableness?”
At any other time, they might’ve been able to dash past Paramint and head back from whence they came, but Oliver could barely stand, much less sprint. Alice scanned the forest floor for options and found little solace in the thousand-foot fall below them. Oliver had said that falling in Furthermore was too anticlimactic to be deadly, but Alice felt certain that this drop would be an exception. After all, if it were safe to fall so far, why was the seamstress pushed off the branch?
All these thoughts rushed through Alice’s mind in only a snip of a second, but this last question reminded Alice of something she’d nearly forgotten. It was something Ancilly had said—something she sang.
I fell into the sky one day
And it didn’t hurt at all
I fell into the sky one day
But I didn’t fall at all