The Blood Drive is over.
Cheerful damn nurses are packing their damn little bits of chrome and white paraphernalia, while one last bleeder squeezes the hell out of that damn little rubber ball. I gnash my teeth, and make impotent gestures at the nurses,
“Are you….? Can I still…?”
“Sorry! Finished already! Thank you!”
I steal 3 plastic bottles of H20 off the otherwise empty sign-up table, with the thought of ingesting two and beating Thompson to death with the third. I retreat to the comfort of my phone for a few minutes to get some soothing Likes and Retweets. It doesn’t work. I walk out into the hall, to find Thompson, looking in remarkable shape for someone who’d just been mauled by 300 people. Other than a broken cigarette dangling from its holder and maybe one missing button on his shirt, he looks normalish. He pats his crotch.
“They roughed me up, but they didn’t find my marzi stash.”
I mentally throw him over the railing to fall one story to his hopefully slow and agonizing death, and keep walking. He follows.
I’m done and heading out for the long drive home. I try to get away from him, blazing down the escalator, through the crowd and out the doors onto the piazza. I do my best bobbing and weaving, cutting through photo ops – being very rude – but somehow he ends up in front of me, back up on the same planter we’d stood on before. I have no idea how he did that, the guy moves like a wild otter when he wants to.
“Dude. Duke. You’re killing me, man. You’re gonna get me arrested for drugs or fighting or something – in my Last Bookstore t-shirt. No bueno.”
“I don’t got any drugs, amigo – I told you it wasn’t mescaline. It’s fish oil: good for the coat. I haven’t done any drugs since… urrf, mid-2000s, I guess.”
“Marzipan. Now, get up here. Just for a second and I sweartogod I will leave you alone. I just want you to see this.”
I stand on the edge of the planter next to him, hoping he means it.
“Look at this, Larkin – Wondercon is America.” He was lifting both arms up, like he was hoisting the entire piazza and everyone in it, like Touchdown Jesus. “This is the dream, right here – you can be anyone you want, make whatever you want with whatever you’ve got. That guy there used to weigh 280 lbs in high school, but he wanted to be like Wolverine. So, he started lifting and eating… you know, vegetables and protein – whatever those people eat. Look at him now, he’s an Adonis – on his own terms, it’s his dream! And this guy over here weighs 280 lbs, but he just paints himself green and he’s a superb Hulk. Or Shrek. It’s beautiful, man. Look at those Troopers; that’s the 501st Legion. They have a gang for maybe the first time in their lives. And what do they do with their collective power? Beat the hell outta people waiting at bus stops? Hell no! They visit kids in hospitals! That girl – kinda homely – not her fault, most of us are – but she puts on a blonde wig and a dragon on her shoulder and you see who she really is- she’s fun! She’s a g-d barrel of monkeys! And I think Naruto over there is working up the courage to talk to her. GET IT, NARUTO! GAMBARE! Those 4 steampunkists – they look like middle-management types, right? They killed a dream or two in their 20s, so they could pay their bills, but they missed theater and art and all that shit they loved doing – and look at them now – reinvented! They made that weird crap they’re wearing by hand and it’s so damn good, everyone wants to take a photo. These people invent and reinvent themselves using all their faculties and in complete freedom! It’s a new frontier, but the massacres come with do-overs! It’s an alternate reality for the prophetic imagination! They’re turning a zero-sum game into a MMORPG – which is what life is, right? So much for the myth of scarcity; it’s goddamn America!”
I’m shaken out of my trance by the sight of 3 Hilton security guards standing in front of us. Thompson stops, and assumes a more casual pose.
“Gentlemen. I, uh… just got off the phone with my, uh… bank. And… RUN FOR IT LARKIN!” He dives backwards through the shrubs and off the back end of the planter.
“Wait – why would I run?!” They follow, one of them half-assedly trying to grab my wrist. He gives up immediately, caught up in the chase of Hunter. I try to see where they go, but I lose them in the crowd.
I’m scanning the colored melange of capes and armor, when Thompson pops up in front of me, the Hilton thugs nowhere in sight.
“Let’s go – down the Rabbit Hole! Always have an escape plan.”
We duck walk – I assume so we’re not seen, but it could just be because Thompson thinks he’s a duck – through the wizards and Ninja Turtles and Wonder Women right up to the edge of the blanket he’d pointed out earlier: Alice and the Mad Hatter in alert repose, a small plate of small cookies and steam from the teapot. I have no idea how this scene is possible in the chaos around us.
“Mister Thompson!” says Alice.
“Alice, hello. That’s Larkin. This is Alice and, uh… what’s his face.”
“Trouble again, I suspect!” The Mad Hatter’s eyes went googly with delight.
“Nothing I can’t handle!”
I found myself sitting and a tea cup in my hand, feeling a little dizzy.
“A photograph, perhaps, Hunter? If you please?” This was the Hatter, gesturing to Thompson, who was still standing. The Hatter and Alice pulled in tighter to me, the three of us smiling for a Tea Time photo.
“Yeah. Happy g-d Unbirthday, Larkin. I’ll see you around.” Thompson held up a little Instamatic camera outta nowhere. I blinked a few times… a grey out? He was gone.
“What the hell?” I have the feeling of having been asleep for a few minutes. There’s Sherlock and a Steampunkist sharing the blanket with us, but they weren’t there a second ago. “What, uh…?” I blink at Alice.
“Do you feel alright, Larkin?”
“Down the Rabbit Hole. Safe. Far away, in a glittering cave. Or maybe, Wonderland.”
I eat about 10 cookies, and sit until I’m not wobbly. I am very confused.
The Mad Hatter taps me on the shoulder, “Look, old boy – your friends are waiting for you.” He points, and I see a gaggle of pals from my other life. It’s like a thunderclap, and I’m wide awake. Alice hands me a business card, and gives me a gentle shove towards my friends. When I turn back to ask questions, they are gone. No tea, no Alice, no googly-eyed Mad Hatter. There’s a crossplay Batman eating cheese fries where the whole Wonderland blanket thing had been.
I stumble into my small home crowd.
“Dude. You okay?”
“God, yes. Please.”
Dudes. Adventure awaits, every single damn day. Even when you wake up late.