Peter stared down at the lifeless, little creature in his hands. Her light had glimmered, then faded, and all that was left was a dull, cold husk.
Clutching Tinkerbell to his chest, Peter Pan dropped to his knees and wept; the grief manifesting in one heart-wrenching, mournful wail.
The boy tried to bite back the sobs, but he wasn’t only grieving for his lost fairy; he was also grieving for himself.
How would he get home? He couldn’t fly. He just knew he couldn’t. Not now; not after having his mind filled with dark thoughts by that lunatic sitting behind him.
Michael had been sobbing on the floor, at the end of his brother’s bed… But when he heard Peter’s desperate cry, he had looked up, and realised the boy had not gone; had not left him again.
Wiping his nose with the back of his sleeve, childishly, Michael got to his feet, and tentatively approached the weeping boy.
The child grew still, but did not turn or look around; he kept his eyes cast on the fairy corpse he still held.
Michael grew a little confident, ‘You can’t fly now, can you?’
He sounded smug, not needing an answer, so Peter grew angry.
‘You killed her!’, he screamed, standing and turning to face the man. Michael looked like he had been slapped. ‘You pulled off her wing… and put her in that jar… it’s your fault!’
‘It wasn’t me; it was you!’ Michael yelled, his momentary upset at the boy’s words, gone. ‘You must have stopped believing.’
‘Of course I didn’t!’ It was Peter’s turn to look outraged.
Looking back down at the body of his loyal friend, the tears welled up once more, and Peter sat down heavily, on the edge of the window seat.
Michael knelt down in front of him. ‘Don’t worry Peter… we can play a game!’
His voice was suddenly so full of excitement, Peter looked up and stared at him in disgust. Michael seemed not to notice.
‘What shall we play? Hunting grizzlies? Fighting pirates?’
Peter continued to stare at the man for a moment, then returned his attention to Tinkerbell. Michael’s eye twitched in irritation; perhaps jealousy. Standing up and moving forward, he went to snatch the fairy away… but Peter grabbed hold of his hand, trying to push him back.
‘NO! Don’t touch her!’ The scuffle between them didn’t last long. Michael soon prized Tink’s corpse away, and dashed from the nursery with it.
‘NO!’, Peter screamed once more, running to catch up with the man as he hurried down the stairs and into the kitchen.
‘Give her back!… Please!’ The boy desperately tried to grab the fairy back, but Michael just kept pushing him away.
Reaching the sink, he dropped the tiny body into it, and turned on the tap, which blasted into life with violent ferocity.
Peter’s scream, then, was even more desperate and pleading than the last. But it was too late. All the wretched child could do was lean against the sink, and look down into the plug hole’s black depths. She was gone, forever. Just like Wendy.
Tears, again, streaked Peter Pan’s face… and he felt numb.
‘You can play with me, now, Peter,’ Michael’s voice was calm… creepy. Peter couldn’t think; he didn’t know what to do. ‘It will be fun.’ Peter did not move.
‘Let’s go and finish the Indian ceremony...’ Michael gestured towards the hallway, but Peter still did not respond.
The man grew frustrated, and grabbed the boy by the wrist.
Peter immediately flew into action, passionately trying to resist Michael’s grasp pulling him towards the stairs.
‘Let go of me, you murderer!’
Michael ignored the yells, and kicks, and punches, and dragged Peter back upstairs, wrestling him into one of the other bedrooms, and pinning him down on the bed.
This room was gloomy, despite the daylight outside; it was quite small, and all it’s windows were pasted over with sun-aged newspaper. As in the rest of the house, bits and pieces were strewn about, and Michael grabbed up some rope from amongst the clutter, to tie Peter’s hands.
Once bound, Peter felt Michael release him, and the room grew still and silent.
‘Thank you for not leaving me, Peter.’ Michael whispered, eventually, ‘I knew you wouldn’t go.’
Peter managed to sit up and turn just in time to see the door slamming shut behind Michael as he left.
Annabel Lanley enjoyed her work; she felt like she was truly helping people. It also got her out of the house… and that was the only payment she needed. Her husband didn’t understand. Doug wouldn’t lift a finger if there wasn’t a pay-check waiting for his trouble… unless it was to make Annabel happy; she knew he’d do anything to make her smile.
Walking along the quiet street, she thought about the nursery. It might seem a little premature to some, but Anna knew she would eventually fill the spare bedroom of her little terraced house with children of her own. She and Doug just needed to be patient. In the meantime, she would indulge in furnishing and decorating the cosy space. And she could take her time; a cot one month… some wallpaper the next. Money wasn’t exactly flowing in, but they managed.
Offering her time as a volunteer community carer also distracted her from her concerns, financial and otherwise. And it was far better than waiting for a paying job to surface. She knew she wouldn’t be able to stand working in a factory for long… and that was all that ever seemed available. No… she would rather volunteer for the time being.
Annabel halted and beheld the large Georgian town house that now stood before her. Taking in it’s impressive but dishevelled façade, she let out a long sigh; one of her more troublesome cases lived here.
Anna had been assigned Michael Darling over a month ago, but as of yet, she still hadn’t met him. He never would open the door for her, but she was convinced he wasn’t looking after himself properly; the house and garden where in obvious disarray, and Mr Darling himself rarely emerged, according to neighbours. Sometimes, he wouldn’t be seen leaving the house for a fortnight or more… and he certainly didn’t seem to purchase enough food to properly sustain himself for that long.
Visibly bracing herself with a deep sigh, Annabel opened the little garden gate, hanging crooked on its hinges, and began along the weed-ridden path.
Peter was staring at the ceiling, watching the small tendrils of sunlight that managed to penetrate the papered windows. His hands were still tied, and the door of the room was locked. He felt strangely calm as he plotted his escape. Perhaps ‘numb’ would be a better word for it. His dearest and most loyal companion was dead. Not only that, but Wendy was also gone forever. Peter felt utterly alone.
At first, Peter’s mind didn’t take notice of the sound of knocking; he was too absorbed in misery. But when the loud chiming of the aged doorbell broke through the silence of the house, Peter realised what it meant; someone was at the door.
No sooner had Peter started shouting, sitting up to beat his bound hands against the nearest window, than the sound of frantic footfall began. The boy’s desperation and calls for help intensified as Michael burst through the door, and grabbed him.
“HELP! HELP ME...” Peter’s voice was cut off as Michael clamped a hand over the child’s mouth, and squeezed.
Anna glanced up at the house. She had heard something. The sound of muffled screams, and someone banging on one of the many windows. She was sure that’s what she had heard… but there was no sign of anyone now. The house had fallen silent. But for a moment, there had been life; she knew someone was at home.
Stooping forward, she lifted the flap of the front door’s mail slot and peered into the gloom of the hallway beyond.
“Hello? Mr Darling?” She was not surprised when she received no answer.
“It’s Mrs Lanley… your community volunteer. May I come in?”
The house now seemed abandoned, without sound or movement. But Annabel was not so easily put off.
Peter sobbed as he desperately tried to fight against the crushing weight of Michael, lying on top of him, pinning him down, a hand still covering his mouth. He could sense Michael’s fear; the man was tense, concentrating more on the window than the boy he was restraining.
“Mr Darling… I really must insist on seeing you.” Still more silence.
“At least let me know that you are alright. Mr Darling?!”
Annabel let out an aggravated sigh as she stepped back, letting the mail slot close, and looking up, once again, at the imposing house. She was convinced Michael Darling was in there; he was simply refusing to cooperate. She had been warned about him by her colleagues; he would never open the door without a fight.
Deciding she had wasted enough time, Anna reluctantly turned and made her way back along the path to the pavement, telling herself this would be the last time Mr Darling would be allowed to avoid meeting with her.
Michael and Peter both heard the un-oiled creak of the gate closing in the front garden below, and Peter was suddenly released as his captor scurried to the window to confirm what they had heard.
He let out a sigh of relief, “She’s gone.”
Peter rolled himself upright, and edged away from the man.
“Blasted woman… why can’t they all just leave us alone?!” He turned then, and saw a terrified boy staring back at him.
Michael shifted uneasily and glanced at his own feet, disturbed by the look of trepidation in Peter’s face.
“Well then… no harm done… but you must never make noise like that again, Peter.”
Peter watched as Michael worked; nailing board after board across each and every window… barring any means of escape for the boy.
The new measure did mean that Michael seemed happy to release Peter’s hands from their bonds, and allow the boy some freedom to move about the house… but Peter felt like he was in a cage, and he was desperate to get out.
“There...” Michael stood back to admire his handy-work, and Peter felt his heart sink a little more at the sight of the boarded-up nursery window; the window he had first entered so many years ago.
Against his will, Peter’s thoughts drifted back to Wendy, and the terrible tale Michael had told of her fate. The idea that she had been taken away and imprisoned stabbed at his heart… but he quickly pushed the emotion away with a sharp intake of breath.
Then he realised Michael had turned and was starring at him. Peter felt uncomfortable under the man’s scrutiny, and shifted his weight awkwardly.
“Let’s play a game!” A huge grin appeared on Michael’s face; an expression that was not mirrored by the boy before him.
Instead, Peter appeared full of reluctance… but he was anxious not to anger his unpredictable captor.
“I’m quite tired...” Michael’s smile fell away as Peter made his excuses.
“No, Peter! Why wait? Let’s play something now!”
Michael moved towards the boy, and Peter hurriedly stepped backwards. Then both halted, and became motionless; the man beseeching, the child fearfully conceiving a crude plan.
“Very well. Let’s play… hide and seek.”
Michael literally jumped up and down with glee.
“Oh, yes! Hide and seek! I love hide and seek!” He clapped his hands excitedly, as a young boy might, and Peter allowed his confidence to grow.
“Excellent. You may hide first. I’ll count to one hundred.”
Peter turned his face to the wall and covered his eyes, about to start the count… but fear suddenly filled him as he felt Michael grab his shoulders roughly, and spin him back to face him.
The man’s face was only inches from Peter’s own, and Michael’s eyes were filled with anger and suspicion.
“You don’t really want to play with me at all! You’re pretending. You just want me out of the way so you can try to leave!”
Peter tried to pull back from Michael’s grasp, but the adult was too strong.
“You nasty, selfish liar!”
“No! Michael! I will play with you. Please… Let go of me! You’re hurting!”
“How dare you try to trick me! You’re so ungrateful.”
Michael’s grasp tightened, until Peter could bear it no more; he wriggled and lashed out with his fists until the man finally paused. But Michael had not stilled because of Peter; the sound of the doorbell had, once again, sounded, and it seemed to freeze Michael to the spot.
Peter blinked, also surprised by the sudden noise and its effect on Michael. After another anxious moment of listening, Michael roughly shoved Peter further into the nursery, releasing him so that he stumbled and almost fell. When Peter managed to keep his footing and looked back at his captor, Michael put a finger to his lips in a gesture of silence, then rushed from the room, slamming the door shut and locking it.
Peter immediately sprang at the door and pulled at its handle, trying desperately to tug it open. When that failed he paused to listen, and could hear Michael’s footfalls reverberating through the house, and the doorbell being rung again.
Hearing muffled voices, Peter realised Michael had reached the front door, and time was running out for Peter to alert the caller to his plight.
Dashing across the room, Peter grabbed up the hammer that Michael had left discarded, and began trying to wrench the wooden boards from the nursery window with it. At the same time, he shouted at the top of his voice, desperately hoping he would be heard.
Standing with the front door opened just enough to peer out at the man on the doorstep, Michael flinched as the sound of Peter’s screams reached him. The postman’s manner clearly altered, and he couldn’t help but glance up at the house as its owner finished writing his signature, and took the parcel from the postman’s outstretched hands.
Michael stared at the man, trying to gage his reaction. He obviously had heard the noise, and seemed to grow uncomfortable and eager to be on his way. Catching his eye, Michael tried to give him an amicable smile, and muttered, “Kids...”
The postman awkwardly grinned back, then turned and walked briskly back to the road.
Peter had managed to pry one of the boards away from the window, and was desperately banging on the glass as he watched the man leave. He must have heard him! Why was he leaving? Peter felt his hope fade once more… replaced by fear at the realisation that Michael would return at any moment.
As if on cue, the nursery door burst open and Michael marched in. Seeing Peter still standing before the window, with the hammer still in one hand and his other pressed against the exposed glass, Michael flew at him.
“I told you not to make any noise! How dare you defy me?!”
Peter made to smash the window with the hammer, but Michael had hold of him before he could strike a blow.
“Let go of me!”
Peter struggled in the man’s grasp as Michael dragged him towards the nursery door. In desperation Peter swung the hammer, and was startled when it connected with Michael, who screamed in anger as well as pain, dropping the boy to the floor.
Holding his shoulder where the pain had blossomed, Michael looked down at Peter with a look of betrayal. Then frustration and contempt burned in his eyes, and he dragged the boy to his feet and frantically shook him until tears streamed down Peter’s face.
Seeming to suddenly notice the state of the child cowering before him, Michael loosened his grip and let his face soften. An expression of concern came upon him as he realised Peter wouldn’t look him in the eye, and was continuing to weep silently.
Michael drew Peter towards him and wrapped his arms around the boy. Peter did not resist Michael’s embrace, too frightened and exhausted to upset the man any further.
“Peter, you shouldn’t have made so much noise. You could have spoiled everything. I only want to keep you safe. We can be happy here… together.”
Having had a few moments to calm himself, still in Michael’s embrace, Peter took a deep breath, and tried a long shot;
“Please, Michael… I just want to go home. Please let me go home.”
Michael pulled back so he could look the boy in the eye. Peter saw the man’s face was filled with what looked like surprise and confusion.
“But Peter… You are home.”
“No… Michael, please… I want to go home to Neverland.”
Again, the man looked at him with a puzzled expression.
“But Peter… This is Neverland.”
Peter’s concern grew as Michael dragged him from room to room, trying to convince him that the old, ramshackle house was his beloved island.
“And see...” insisted Michael, as he opened the door to a bathroom and ushered Peter over to the tub, “Here is Mermaid Lagoon.”
Peter looked up at Michael in complete disbelief. He stared at the man, who was grinning like a Cheshire Cat, so proud of the nonsense he was spouting.
But Peter would not play. He couldn’t. He needed to escape.
When Michael met his gaze, and realised the boy was staring at him with derision, Michael’s smile slipped, and he dropped his eyes to the floor, feeling a little ashamed.
The statement caused Michael’s gaze to rise again, and lock with Peter’s. The insult stabbed at him, and he stuttered as he announced his denial.
“I am not. How dare you?”
“You’re completely mad!”
Michael’s eyes flashed with anger.
“It’s your fault you’re here!” he screamed, letting his temper boil over, “We should all be happy, playing in Neverland… together. But you abandoned us. You abandoned her. And now she’s dead! It’s your fault she’s dead!”
Peter took only a second to retaliate. The unfairness of Michael’s blame raised his own temper.
“I told Wendy to stay with me! She left. It’s her own fault she’s dead!”
Peter gasped at the force of Michael’s hand, slapping him across the face. Then silence fell over both of them, and Peter eyed the man fearfully.
“How dare you speak of her?!” Michael moved to exit, but paused and lowered his voice;
“You promised to come back for her, Peter. You lied.”
Anna felt a deep reluctance as she approached the Darling house, once again. It had only been two days since her failed appointment, but it would have been negligent to ignore the concerns of Keith, especially after she had persuaded him not to get the police involved.
Keith had been good friends with Doug since they were boys, growing up on the same street. Now they would often enjoy a pint together after Doug had finished his shift and Keith had completed his deliveries. Annabel suspected Doug was a little envious of Keith’s occupation as postman… but he would never admit it. It was just the sort of thing Doug would enjoy; lots of fresh air… local people to chat to... But it didn’t pay as well as the Mill.
She felt the nagging guilt come upon her then, thinking of Doug slaving away to put food on the table and pay the rent on time… while she was out working for free. But she brushed those thoughts aside. As long as she was doing some good, it was worth it. Once a decent paying occupation turned up, perhaps Doug could start looking for a job he’d enjoy as well. By then, Anna would be expecting, and everything would be perfect.
Letting her mind slip back to the unfinished nursery, and the pretty material she was saving up for to make bedding for the cot, a smile appeared on Annabel’s face, and she almost forgot why she was walking along that quiet Georgian street.
Soon enough, though, her feet came to a stop at the gate of Number 14, and her thoughts snapped back to the present.
Peter sat on the worn mattress, watching the old man who had once been little Michael Darling. It was so quiet and peaceful when the man slept; Peter could hear the house breathing.
Despite his appearance, Michael certainly acted like a child; even as he slept, he kept his Teddy clutched tight. But Peter wasn’t sure whether he still truly had the mind of a small boy, or if it was just a desperate pretend; a denial of his obvious adulthood.
At first, Peter had thought that it didn’t really matter, either way… but then it occurred to him that it made a great deal of difference; if Michael had the mind of a child, Peter would have to treat him differently than if he were a grown-up with a vendetta.
Perhaps that was what this was… Revenge for Wendy.
But Michael seemed to genuinely want Peter’s approval and companionship. If he had wanted revenge, why hadn’t he just killed him?
It was all too strange for Peter to fathom. All he knew for sure was that Michael was dangerous, and Peter needed to get home.
It had been days since anyone had come to the house. It was difficult to tell exactly how long it had been, especially when he had spent much of it cooped up in the dark little papered room in which he now sat… But he had slept a few times since his capture.
No… his attempts to raise the alarm with the outside world had obviously failed, and he would need to think of another means of escape.
Peering more closely at the man to be sure, Peter was satisfied that Michael was in a deep sleep. Tentatively, the boy stood and tiptoed his way to the bedroom door.
Sheer surprise froze Peter to the spot as the house was filled with the echoing sound of the bell. That surprise was almost immediately replaced with panic, though, and Peter abandoned his attempts to be quiet, and ran.
He made it to the landing before he was caught. He called out in pain as the full weight of Michael crashed into him, and crushed him against the wall.
The man hurriedly stifled the boy’s scream with one hand while wrapping his other arm around the youth’s waist. Peter desperately tried to pull himself free of the man’s embrace, but Michael squeezed him into submission… and both fell silent.
Michael’s eyes darted about as he strained to listen, while keeping hold of the fighting child. At first, silence reined throughout the house… but the peace was shattered as that woman’s voice called out once again.
“Mr Darling… It’s Annabel Lanley, Mr Darling. I was here the other day...”
Peter tried to calm his breathing, beginning to feel almost light-headed from the adrenaline that still filled him. If he could only get free and call out for help. If he could only get to the door. He could see it clearly, only twenty feet or so in front of him at the bottom of the stairs. But Michael was holding him tightly, and showed no sign of relaxing his grip.
The man let out a gasp and quickly dragged Peter backwards as they saw the mail slot in the door open.
“Mr Darling?” Annabel looked deep into the murky depths of the old house for any sign of life.
“Mr Darling, I’m only here to help. Please let me in.”
Anna let the mail slot close and stood, considering a new tactic. She didn’t like it… it almost seemed like a threat. But Keith's words came back to her; “I could have sworn I heard someone shouting for help.”
Anna was sure there would be an innocent explanation… but if she didn’t find out, she would be obliged to inform the police of what Keith had witnessed.
“Mr Darling, if you do not let me in to confirm you are alright I will be forced to contact the police.”
If it were possible, Michael seemed to tense even more. A few moments passed as the man considered his options, and Peter could sense his eyes upon him.
Making up his mind, Michael began to wrestle the boy down the stairs. Peter fought, of course; grabbing onto the banister and trying to plant his feet… But the man was too determined, and was soon dragging the child towards the kitchen, willing the mail slot to remain shut while they were in its field of view.
Having managed to reach the kitchen, Michael continued to drag the boy over to the cabinets. Needing it, the man reluctantly removed his right hand from the boys mouth, but kept his other arm locked securely around the child.
Peter inevitably started shouting, so Michael searched quickly. Sure enough, the bottle was where he had expected. Using a dishcloth, Michael poured a little of the contents out then let the bottle fall, ignoring the glug of the liquid as it spilled out across the floor. Grabbing up the soaked rag, he quickly clamped it over the boy’s mouth.
Peter tried to scream as he felt Michael’s hand return to his face, the cloth covering his mouth and nose. But almost immediately he felt the familiar sensation of loosing all strength and slipping out of consciousness.
“Mr Darling?” Anna was close to giving up. Perhaps she should have gone to the police straight away. Perhaps there was something wrong. Mr Darling’s neighbours hadn’t seen him since before her last visit… so perhaps something had happened to him.
But then she heard something. Opening up the mail slot once again, she caught a brief glimpse of a figure disappearing down the hall.
“Mr Darling? Mr Darling, please just let me in. I won’t keep you long… Mr Darling?”
When no response came, she stood once more. Well, at least she knew he hadn’t died. Sighing in frustration and defeat, Anna turned away. The only thing she could do now was to ask the police for their assistance.
She was at the gate when she heard the sound of the front door unlocking and creaking open. Turning abruptly, she beheld an elderly gentlemen peering at her irritably from the house.
She was so surprised that she stood dumbstruck until the man shifted his feet uncomfortably and looked as though he was about to retreat.
“Mr Darling?” Anna almost had to shake her own head to clear it. She walked back towards the gentleman until she stood before him. He was looking her over suspiciously.
Despite his unwelcoming manner, Anna smiled warmly at him and offered her hand… which he shook reluctantly.
“My name is Annabel Lanley. I’m your community volunteer.”
Michael continued to observe her, obviously unimpressed, and Anna wavered a little, absent-mindedly biting her bottom lip. When the man still didn’t speak, she glanced over his shoulder and into the house.
“May I come in?”
“No. I’m busy.”
The man’s voice was so abrupt and cold that Anna was taken aback… But she took a deep breath to steady her nerves.
“Mr Darling, I really must insist on inspecting your home. I have to satisfy myself and my colleagues that you are coping well.”
“’Coping’? What do you mean, ‘coping’?”
“We need to make sure that you are looking after yourself, Mr Darling.”
“Of course I’m bloody looking after myself! I’m standing here, aren’t I?”
“Please, Mr Darling… I don’t mean any disrespect. There’s no shame in needing a little help...”
“I don’t need any help. I just want to be left alone!”
“I can’t do that, Mr Darling.”
Silence fell over them as Anna stood her ground and Michael waited to see if she would break. When she didn’t, he sighed in annoyance.
“Well… you can come in… but not today. I wasn’t expecting you.”
Anna considered this for a moment; on the one hand, being invited in was a breakthrough, and agreeing to Mr Darling’s request might build some trust between them… On the other, this could easily be a ploy to get rid of her, and he may never open the door to her again. If that happened, however, she would just go to the police, as she would have done if he hadn’t answered the door that day. It seemed like a risk worth taking.
“Very well, Mr Darling.” Anna held out her hand to him once more, “I will return in a week.”
Taking a moment to consider, Michael eventually shook her hand.
It seemed as though days had past again, but Peter remained trapped.
After Michael had subdued him with chloroform for the second time, Peter had been unconscious for hours, and it had been the middle of the night when he had finally come to, disturbed to find himself shut in the small dark room where Michael had revealed his identity and told the story of Wendy’s fate.
That had been at least three days ago, by Peter’s reckoning, and no means of escape had presented itself. Although Peter had been allowed to move about the house freely again, Michael rarely left him alone for long, and was always lurking somewhere in the house. And even when Peter was alone, he was convinced Michael was watching him.
It had come to the stage where Peter thought he would go mad; he was tired… he was hungry… and he was getting desperate.
He needed to think of a way to get Michael out of the way… or to keep him distracted long enough for Peter to escape. If he could get Michael out of the house for a while, that would be perfect. But how?
Michael was scuttling about the kitchen, attempting to clean up again before that woman came back. Peter watched from the doorway, then let his eyes fall to the dining table in the centre of the room. His gaze focused on the tiny wing that still lay on it, and his heart jerked with grief as he remembered the fairy it had belonged to. Hanging from the chair nearby was Michael’s Indian headdress…
Then an idea occurred to the boy. A plan suddenly formed.
Taking a deep breath to calm his nerves and keep his voice casual, Peter stepped further into the kitchen.
“I’ve been thinking...”
“Hmm?” Michael absent-mindedly acknowledged the boy without looking up from his task of hunting down cutlery.
“Perhaps…” Peter felt his nerve waver, so took another deep breath before forcing himself to continue, wary of the man’s temper.
“Perhaps there is a way you could fly.” The boy flinched as Michael swiftly spun round to face him, letting several knives, forks and spoons fall from his hands and crash onto the tile floor.
“Y-yes.” the frightened child stammered.
The piercing stare Michael had fixed him with was deeply unnerving, but Peter knew he couldn’t stop now; the man wouldn’t let him.
“When I was really small, I lived in Kensington Gardens with the birds. When I got too big and forgot how to fly, they asked the fairies to help me...”
“There were fairies in Kensington Gardens?”
Peter nodded anxiously, growing increasingly uncomfortable under the man’s intense gaze.
“There were then… and they might still be there now. Pixie dust might not work on you any more, but if you found enough fairies, they could carry you.”
“Yes… They’re very strong. You’d probably only need five or six to manage it.”
Peter squirmed as he waited for Michael to respond. The man seemed to have turned to stone, except for the occasional blink.
Suddenly he stepped forward and was standing very close… much too close for Peter. The boy was about to step back, and had to fight down the instinct to scream when Michael grabbed hold of his arms.
“You really think… if we find some fairies… we’ll be able to leave? Together?”
“Yes. Of course.”
Another long moment past, and Peter forced himself to keep eye contact.
“Then there’s not a minute to loose!”
Peter was released and watched as Michael hurried out of the kitchen and up the stairs.
“Where are you going?”
“I must go prepared!” he called back, returning quickly with a butterfly net in hand.
Peter couldn’t help the smile that appeared on his face at the thought of how clever his plan was; it was working perfectly.
“Good thinking.” he said encouragingly, reassured by the beaming grin Michael wore.
He started to walk to the front door, but Michael put out an arm to stop him.
“You can’t come, Peter.”
“What?!” The boy was indignant. “But it was my idea!”
Michael dropped the net and grabbed Peter’s arms again, crouching so they stood nose to nose, staring into each other’s eyes. Again, Peter had to fight back the urge to look away as Michael’s gaze pierced into him.
“You don’t want to find fairies...” he proclaimed, after a long moment of silence. “You just want me to let you outside so you can escape!” Michael’s voice steadily filled with anger until he was growling through his teeth.
“No… Michael! I want to help...”
Peter gritted his own teeth as pain shot through his arms, the man squeezing them too tightly.
“Michael, please! You’re hurting me!”
Peter screamed again and started to struggle as Michael dragged him back into the kitchen and forced the boy into a chair.
“Ow! Stop! What are you doing?!”
The man ignored the child’s words until he had finished securing him to the chair with the rope that still lay there from his capture. Satisfied that the knots were sound, Michael finally responded;
“You will stay here while I go and hunt for fairies.”
“But I can help!”
“No, Peter. I cannot trust you. It will be better if I go alone.”
“But…” Peter searched desperately for an argument. “But… What if someone comes to the house?! When you’re gone?”
“You’ll just have to be quiet, won’t you.”
“What if I won’t?”
Peter almost immediately regretted his words as Michael looked at him in astonishment. He had obviously taken it as a threat.
“Good point.” he said at last.
Walking to the worktop, he picked up a wash-rag, and Peter’s heart sunk. He didn’t think he could bear being knocked out again; he always felt terrible when he’d finally wake up.
Michael looked about for the chloroform… then froze as he noticed the bottle on the floor, and the useless pool of liquid that surrounded it. Glancing up at Peter with a perturbed look in his eye, he marched forward, grabbed up a roll of duct tape from the table, and forced the wash cloth into Peter’s mouth.
The boy had never seen duct tape before, and was startled by the load sound it made as Michael pulled at it. He quickly ripped a piece off and stuck it over Peter’s mouth, preventing the boy from spitting out the cloth.
Thus tied and gagged, Peter could only watch as Michael retrieved the butterfly net, donned his coat, and left the house.
No one came to the house while Michael was gone. Peter spent the time struggling to loosen his bonds, but the ropes still gripped his wrists tightly when he finally heard the sound of Michael returning.
He saw the silhouette of the man pass by the kitchen doorway; hunched and furtive. After a few minutes, Michael entered the kitchen, but wouldn’t make eye contact with his captive.
Still looking away, he finally approached the boy and untied him. Peter’s hands immediately flew up to remove the gag, but he was horrified to feel the tape pull at his skin. Panic began to fill him as the sticky substance refused to yield without painful consequence.
Michael suddenly noticed Peter’s predicament and grabbed hold of the boy. Peter screamed through his gag and tried to get away… but Michael held him in place. With one hand on the child’s shoulder, he grabbed one end of the tape with the other and swiftly ripped it from the boy’s mouth, the skin reddening angrily were the tape had been. Peter screamed through the rag still in his mouth, in shock as much as pain… but the pain quickly lessened and became only a soreness.
Spitting out the rest of the gag, Peter looked up at Michael, shock still filling him. The man gave him a weak smile, then turned away and walked from the room.
After a few moments, Peter came to his senses and went after him, remembering Michael’s quest. Surely he had not succeeded in finding a fairy?!
“Well? Did you find any?”
“Let’s play a game!”
“Michael! Did you find a fairy?!”
“What shall we play?”
The boy grew visibly frustrated. This man was more infuriating than the most petulant of children. The Michael Peter remembered had never been like that. True, Peter could barely remember any of the Darlings beyond their names… but he did remember how each child had made him feel. And Michael had always been quite endearing, even to Peter Pan.
The man he had become was cruel and deranged. Peter was becoming increasingly convinced that his pretence of childhood was just that; a pretend. This man knew he was grown-up. And he surely knew that the true Neverland was barred to him.
Noticing Michael was still staring at him intently, awaiting an answer, Peter looked down at his feet which were awkwardly shuffling. He cursed himself for looking so weak and pathetic in front of his captor… but continued to look away.
“I’m hungry,” was the child’s eventual, mumbled response.
“You’re hungry?” Michael blinked as his scattered mind made sense of the boy’s strange answer.
“Oh!” The sudden delight and animation in the man caused Peter to finally look back up at him. Had Peter’s words caused the excitement? He had expected Michael to shout or beat him… but the adult looked ecstatic, like a child who had been given a surprise gift.
“What an excellent idea! We’ll have a feast!”
Peter felt his empty stomach gurgle in anticipation. He almost never felt hunger in Neverland, and the uncommon sensation was truly unpleasant.
The boy managed not to cry out as Michael suddenly grabbed hold of his hand and pulled him back to the kitchen. Gently pushing Peter into his seat at the table, Michael turned his back to the child and started rummaging through the cupboards.
Peter waited patiently as Michael placed a plate and cutlery before him, then sat himself down opposite. It took a moment for the boy to realise that Michael had apparently finished his task, and was now looking at him expectantly.
Peter stared down at the empty plate in front of him… then felt tears prick his eyes as realisation dawned on him; they were playing a game.
“No...” Peter stopped his protest as his voice cracked; He wouldn’t cry in front of the man if he could help it.
“Michael… I really am hungry. I mean… really hungry.”
The man looked on, perplexed.
“Well then… you better tuck in!”
Peter could bare it no longer, and the adult faltered as he watched the boy before him start to sob.
“What’s wrong, Peter?”
Michael’s voice was gentle, but his words did nothing to sooth the child. Peter kept his head bowed as he quietly wept.
“Peter...” The man was growing uncomfortable, “Don’t cry...”
“Please, Michael...” The boy’s words were broken and interspersed with sniffles and gasping breaths as he fought to control himself, “I’m so thirsty… at least let me have something to drink!”
“Of course, Peter.”
As the boy watched the man lift the empty jug from the centre of the table and tilt it over an empty glass, something inside him snapped.
“No, Michael! I need a real drink of real water!”
Michael froze, jug hovering in mid-air, eyes wide and uncomprehending.
“I’m not playing! I won’t play with you! I’ll never play with you!”
Peter realised he was no longer crying; his anger had driven away his tears. But then Michael blinked, and the man’s expression grew darker.
Slamming down the jug, he let out a growl that caused Peter to shrink back into his seat.
“You… nasty, wicked, evil...”
Michael was suddenly on his feet and Peter couldn’t help cowering. But instead of advancing towards the boy, Michael turned and swiftly left the room.
Peter remained in place for a moment, surprised to be suddenly alone… but he couldn’t ignore the opportunity for long; he really was so hungry and thirsty. And although he had no means of filling his stomach, the kitchen tap did offer him some relief.
Hurrying over to it, he tried turning the taps until the spout burst into life and he was able to guzzle down the cold, stale water that poured from it.
The relief and refreshment was immense, and Peter felt himself calming.
No sooner had he quenched his thirst, however, than Michael reappeared in the doorway. Peter had no time to react before Michael roughly grabbed him away from the sink and turned off the tap.
Peter tensed again, but felt almost sick with fear.
“What? No… Michael… I wasn’t playing...”
“You’re a nasty, spoilt cheater!”
Peter hadn’t the strength to fight back as Michael grabbed hold of his arm painfully, and roughly dragged him from the room.
“You’re evil! You killed her! It was your fault! And now… you’re torturing me! Is that why you came back? To finish me off as well?! To torment me?! You’re wicked! WICKED!”
Peter had no chance of responding before Michael had pulled him over to the small junk room filled with newspaper clippings; where Wendy’s portrait lay. Once again, Peter found himself locked within, his cries ignored.
Peter heard Michael first; a strange, melancholy moaning as the man approached the locked closet door.
“Peter?” The voice was so low the boy could barely make out the words, “I’m sorry, Peter.”
The child shielded his eyes and stumbled back as the light of the opening door pierced through the gloom of the closet.
Michael stood in the doorway, his hand outstretched and hopeful, “Please forgive me, Peter. I didn’t mean to loose my temper.”
Peter wanted to scowl, but he was feeling so shaken that he couldn’t keep his eyes from tearing or his lip from trembling.
“Please, Michael… I want to go home. Please, let me go home.”
It was a half-hearted plea, sure to fall on deaf ears. And true enough, the look of near astonishment that appeared on the man’s face made Peter want to weep all the more.
“But Peter… you are home.”
Suddenly turning away and wondering back towards the kitchen, Michael began muttering under his breath and Peter’s anxiety didn’t diminish. He had been right; the man was completely insane.
Mustering the courage, the boy crept out of the confined box-room and followed his captor.
“Michael...” Peter hated how weak and pathetic his own voice sounded. He wished he were as brave as he had thought himself to be. He had battled with blood-thirsty pirates, for heaven’s sake! Why was this adult so terrifying? Because he is completely unpredictable, he answered himself.
Seeing now that the man was bustling about the kitchen, and hadn’t noticed the boy, Peter willed himself to speak more assertively, “Michael.” The man turned and peered at him, “I really am very hungry… For real food.”
Michael looked so disappointed; even sad.
“Then I shall make you something.”
He recommenced ransacking the kitchen cabinets, mumbling to himself as he did so. But it soon became clear that his search was in vain.
Peter slumped into a chair, his eyes downcast, the emptiness of his stomach becoming evermore difficult to ignore.
“Tell you what,” Michael tried to sound cheerful in the hope it would lift the boy’s spirits, “I’ll just nip out to the shops and find us something. It won’t take long.”
The child sniffed and looked up at the man, then gave a weak smile.
Michael sprang into action then, hurrying to get his coat and hat from their place by the front door. He seemed in such haste that Peter began to calculate the possibility of escaping while Michael was out. The windows were boarded, but there was still a chance of finding another way.
As if Peter had been thinking too loudly, Michael suddenly stopped and turned to stare at the boy. Marching back into the kitchen, he grabbed up the rope once more and quickly Peter stood.
“Sit, Peter. I can’t leave you alone unless I tie you up.”
The boy began walking backwards, away from the man, shaking his head slowly.
“Peter, if you don’t make a fuss and promise to be quiet I won’t gag you.”
This made Peter pause. Remembering the vile dish rag in his mouth was enough to comply… but if, by chance, someone did come to the house while Michael was out, they would be sure to hear his cries for help.
Reluctantly, Peter sat himself back on the chair and allowed Michael to bind him to it.
“Do you promise you’ll stay quiet?”
No sooner had the front door clicked shut than Peter began to struggle against his bonds. He had learned from experience to keep as tense as possible when being tied up, as it made for an easier escape… but Michael’s knots were strong, and it seemed like an age before Peter could feel them loosening.
He knew he didn’t have much time… but he owed it to himself to try.
With determined concentration, Peter felt his right hand begin to slide from the rope. His wrist was being stretched painfully, but he continued to pull, the rope burning his skin with the friction.
Relief and hope filled him as his hand was finally freed. With one hand loose he was able to make short work of undoing the knots holding him.
Free from his bonds, Peter set to work, searching the house for the fairy Michael may or may not have caught. If he could fly, he would easily escape Michael and his dismal house.
Hurrying into the living room, Peter pulled open every draw and cupboard in turn, rifling through their contents to no avail. After several minutes of search, however, Peter finally uncovered a glass jar identical to the one that had imprisoned Tinkerbell. Instead of a glittering fairy, though, this jar contained a single, fluttering butterfly, it’s body desperately bumping against the glass that surrounded it.
Disappointment washed over Peter as he watched the frenzied creature in it’s futile attempts to escape. He felt like that butterfly; trapped and alone with no hope of escape. Filled with despair, Peter calmly unscrewed the lid of the jar and watched sadly as the insect found its freedom and took flight across the room. How he wished he was that butterfly. Of course, the creature was still trapped inside the house, as he was…
Peter started examining the windows, pulling against the wooden planks barring each of them to see if any would give way. They were all solid and secure, of course. Peter hadn’t doubted they would be. But he couldn’t just sit around and wait for Michael to return without at least trying to escape.
Just as the boy had decided to think of a plan in earnest, the creak of the garden gate warned him he had already run out of time; Michael would be entering the house in a few moments. Letting his instinct and desperation take over, Peter rushed to the front door and crouched beside it, close to the wall. If only he could get past his captor, he would be free of the man and that hateful house. Michael would never be able to chase him down. Not at his age.
Peter knew success was unlikely, but it was worth a try. He didn’t have time to consider the consequences should his rash plan fail.
Daylight flooded into the gloomy corridor as Michael unlocked the front door and pushed it open, careful of the grocery bags he carried. The sudden appearance of Peter startled him, but as the boy darted past, Michael let his burden fall to the ground, potatoes and apples rolling out across the garden path, and grabbed the child’s arm tightly with both hands.
Peter screamed as he felt Michael grab hold of him, and desperately pulled away. But Michael held on just as desperately, locked one arm around Peter’s waist, and hauled him back through the door and into the house.
Peter sobbed on the floor of the hallway where he had been dropped, Michael hurriedly slamming and locking the front door, abandoning the groceries until later. He breathed heavily from the sudden exertion, leaning against the door once it was secure.
Minutes passed before either spoke.
“You got free of your bonds.”
It was a statement, not a question, and Peter was still fighting to regain his composure and stop the sobs that racked him.
Staring down at the boy, he ignored Peter’s fearful cry as Michael grabbed hold of him once more, pulling him to his feet and dragging him to the closet. Peter began to beg Michael not to shut him in there again, but that’s exactly what the man did; shoving Peter inside the tiny room and closing the door on him, surrounding the child in darkness while he went to tidy up the discarded shopping.
It didn’t seem so terribly long before Peter heard the door unlock and the shielded his eyes from the glare of sudden light. An hour perhaps.
Michael looked down at him for a moment, his expression calm, before turning and walking back into the kitchen without a word.
Peter cautiously got to his feet and stepped out into the hallway. His first instinct was to run as far away from Michael as he could get; find a hiding place in a dark corner of the house and hope to keep out of the man’s way. But the scent of hot food swayed him.
Tentatively, Peter walked into the kitchen and saw two steaming bowls of porridge on the table. He looked at Michael warily, but the man smiled warmly and gestured to him to take a seat. Peter did so and, after a reassuring nod from Michael, he grabbed up a spoon and began shovelling the hot porridge into his mouth. Peter couldn’t remember the last time he had been so hungry, or the last time food had tasted so sublime. There was also a tall glass of water on the table before him, and Peter soon guzzled that down as well, before returning to scrape his bowl clean.
Michael sat opposite the boy and ate slowly as he watched Peter devour the large portion he had given him.
With his bowl licked clean, Peter relaxed into his chair and took a moment to catch his breath.
The boy looked at the man suspiciously, but gave a small smile and a nod.
“Is there any fruit?”
The man smiled back and nodded before rising from his seat and walking over to the grocery bags on the kitchen counter. He returned with an apple, placing it in the centre of the table before returning his attention to his own meal.
Peter snatched it up when Michael’s hands were a safe distance away, and greedily bit into it.
“We should play a game after dinner.”
Peter visibly stiffened and kept his eyes downcast at the half-eaten apple in his hand. Michael watched him for a moment, waiting for a response. Getting none, he let out a long, exasperated sigh.
“Why won’t you play, Peter?”
The boy only twitched, still not meeting the man’s gaze.
“Don’t you know, you’ll grow up if you stop playing.”
This did cause Peter to glance up. He looked worried for a moment, but his face quickly relaxed as he gathered his thoughts.
“I would play, Michael… But not with you.”
Michael’s face fell. Peter thought the man was going to cry; his bottom lip trembled. It was a strange sight, to see a grown up close to tears.
“But… Why not?”
Peter’s muttered reply was so quiet, Michael hoped he had imagined it. But he knew he hadn’t, and it stabbed into him like a knife.
“I hate you.”
The hurt blossomed in Michael’s heart and stung his eyes… but then Wendy filled his mind and he felt the grief morph into anger.
“How dare you?! You… ungrateful… It should be I who hates you for what you did! You left her to die! My lovely, sweet Wendy… It was your fault!
Michael had stood in his rage and towered over Peter as the boy cowered in his chair.
“No! She wanted to come back. I didn’t know...”
“You didn’t CARE!”
Michael lunged at the child then, but Peter managed to dodge and was bolting up the stairs before the man could get hold of him.
Sobbing uncontrollably, Peter felt sick with fear as he could hear Michael storming up the stairs behind him. His tears and trembling legs ruined his escape as he tripped and stumbled before he could reach the landing, and Michael had quickly grabbed him around the waist and heaved him over his shoulder.
Peter screamed and sobbed and kicked in fear, but Michael calmly carried him downstairs without a word and deposited him on the living room sofa. Surprised to have been freed, Peter shuffled as far away from Michael as possible, bringing his knees up to hide his face.
“Now, then...” Michael began pulling several boardgames and puzzles out from a shelf beneath the coffee table before them and arranging them on the table’s surface, “What shall we play?”
Peter shook his head at every board game Michael presented. He didn’t want to play Snakes and Ladders or Monopoly... or even Buccaneer! The boy just continued to pout and turn away until Michael could take no more of it.
Peter flinched as Michael slammed the board game box he was holding down violently, storming out of the room in frustration. The boy listened carefully to the sound of Michael marching up the stairs and stomping from room to room overhead. Peter was wondering if the man had gone out of his mind again when he heard Michael descend the stairs with a lighter, quicker step.
Practically skipping into the living room, Michael grinned at Peter excitedly before producing a fine, feathered, crimson hat and a large iron hook from behind his back.
The child stared at the familiar headpiece and weapon in shock. Despite his notoriously short memory, Peter remembered this hat and its owner with crystal clarity. And how could he ever forget that deadly hook?
“Where did you get those?”
“Just some little souvenirs.”
“Yes, wonderful aren’t they?! They’re perfect for playing pirates!”
Michael placed the Captain’s hat carefully on his head and grinned again at Peter. The boy looked horrified, but the man was too full of excitement to notice.
“You will be a Lost Boy, and I will be… Captain James Hook.”
Peter blinked in astonishment. Announcing the name, Michael put on a most convincing impression of the man who’s hat he now wore. It sounded truly as if it was Hook’s own voice that had emanated from Michael as he towered over Peter. The boy tried not to cower.
“Peter... Pan,” The purring calm of the voice filled the boy with terror. How was Michael doing that with his voice? The voice he spoke with was one that was still known to haunt Peter’s dreams, even now, with Hook dead many a long year.
But the way Michael now looked at him was also startlingly familiar; a bloodthirsty hunger in his eyes. The palpable desire for revenge.
“Michael… Stop it.”
“My young nemesis, cowering before me. How delightful.”
Peter ducked out of his seat and made a break for the stairs, but Michael grabbed hold of the boy and threw him, roughly, back onto the sofa. Baring down on him, the man cackled as Peter let out a sob and screwed his eyes shut in terror.
“So, boy… You’re finally fearing me as you should. That’s good… But it doesn’t atone for what you’ve done. Only blood is payment for that.”
As he said this, Hook held Peter down and pressed the iron claw viciously across the boy’s collarbone. Peter screamed bloody murder as the wound stung and bled, and the panicked cries and struggling seemed to bring Michael to his senses.
Dropping the iron hook so that it clunked heavily to the floor, and casting off the Captain’s hat, Michael reached out to Peter in confusion and concern. Peter flinched in response, and sobbed uncontrollably as Michael hurried off to the bathroom medicine cabinet and came back with a rag and bottle of iodine to tend Peter’s wound.
Peter desperately tried to push Michael away. He felt his heart would burst from it’s hammering, and he was struggling to fill his lungs with air. When Michael finally managed to make contact, pressing the iodine-soaked rag firmly against the child’s wound, Peter screamed again and thrashed and wept.
Eventually, though, the boy quieted and Michael stroked the child’s hair tentatively as tears rolled down his own cheeks.
“I’m so sorry, Peter. I didn’t get here in time...”
Peter met the man’s eye and stared at him in confusion, the madness of his captor’s words gradually sinking in,
“Curse that black-hearted Captain Hook! We’ll be ready for him next time, Peter. Don’t worry about that! I’ll protect you until you regain your strength.”
Still, Peter stared at the man dumbfounded. Despite the voice, it had been Michael who had attacked Peter, not Hook. Captain Hook was dead. Long dead. Michael’s latest pretend unnerved Peter more than any that had come before, and he wanted the cry again, but he refused to let himself. So he just held very still on the sofa and stared at his deranged captor as the man continued to mutter about Captain Hook and his vile pirate crew.
Once again, Annabel Lanley found herself walking up the unkempt garden path of Number 14, the small gate creaking to a close behind her. As promised, she had waited a week before returning, but she wasn’t holding out much hope that any progress was being made. Even if Mr Darling finally let her in, she was expecting the house to be in much the same state as the weed-ridden garden.
What she wasn’t expecting, of course, was the scruffy young boy who now sat solemnly opposite her at the kitchen table, wearing a man’s jumper so oversized that it stopped below the child’s knees. Mr Darling had been positively cheery towards her since opening the door – a very dramatic change since her last visit – and she got the impression he was extremely nervous.
Entering the kitchen and seeing the boy sitting there, Mr Darling hurriedly explained to Annabel that the child was his grandson.
“Forgive me, Mr Darling,” Anna rummaged in her bag for the paperwork she had been allowed, “but I have read the details the council have of you, and I wasn’t aware you had any children.”
Michael’s face dropped as he struggled to come up with an explanation. Peter watched the two grown-ups miserably, wanting the young woman to leave safely, yet willing her to realise his plight somehow and help him.
All that morning, Michael had been frantically trying to tidy the house, but he had done a poor job of it. Peter had been obliged to help clean up too, but had no experience of such tasks and generally just seemed to get in the way and frustrate Michael further.
Peter had been expecting for Michael to restrain him and hide him away while the community volunteer was visiting… But instead, the man grabbed hold of Peter’s shoulders, looked him straight in the eye and gave him a warning;
“I won’t let that woman take you away, Peter. I’ll kill her first.”
He had meant it as a comfort, but Peter was horrified. Even if Michael’s words hadn’t been sincere, they dogged Peter’s mind, filling him with fear and concern as the minutes ticked past and that woman’s visit approached.
Once Michael was, at last, satisfied with his own cleaning efforts he turned his attention to the leaf-clad boy before him. He would need cleaning up a bit as well; leaves were not an appropriate clothing material if they were to avoid too many questions.
Grabbing Peter by the hand, the man hurried both of them upstairs and into a large master bedroom, seemingly left untouched by the adults who had once called it their own. After a few minutes of searching through dresser drawers and an old blanket box, Michael finally produced a man’s navy-blue knitted jumper and handed it to Peter.
“Put this on,”
Peter only hesitated for a brief moment before complying; he was trying his utmost to keep the erratic man calm, and defying his wishes now might have risked violence later.
The jumper was so large that it hid Peter’s leaves completely. Neither one of them gave a thought to Peter’s grubby face or bare feet, but Annabel noticed immediately and the small frown that pursed her lips as she took in the state of him made both man and boy squirm.
“Well,” Michael continued as Anna looked through her notes again, “He’s John’s actually. My brother… Peter’s his grandson. But he’s practically mine as well.”
“I see.” The woman continued to frown, but took a seat at the table opposite the boy and gave him a warm smile. The smile he returned didn’t reach his eyes, but Anna had no time to speak before Michael started bustling about, offering her tea and cake.
Now Anna watched, concerned yet a little amused as the child stuffed cake into his mouth as if he hadn’t eaten in days. Then the idea of it seemed worryingly plausible.
“Tell me, Peter… What did you have for breakfast today?”
Peter swallowed down a mouthful of cake and glanced over at Michael fearfully. Both adults were staring at him intently, and he felt deeply unnerved. The impulse to get up from the table and run into hiding was a strong one, but instead, he cast his gaze down at the cake in his hands, his fingers crumbling it absent-mindedly.
After a long silence, Peter finally said, “Porridge.”
“Do you like porridge?”
The boy blinked and furrowed his brow a little at the odd question. Why was this woman talking to him anyway? She was supposed to be checking that Michael was alright. That was all. That’s what Michael had said. But now all her attention was fixed on Peter. It made him uncomfortable, the thought of a real mother giving him attention. What if she wanted to keep him?! Although… that fate might be preferable to the one he was currently living.
“I do, too. I like drizzling golden syrup on mine. What toppings do you like?”
Peter puzzled at this. The porridge Michael made didn’t have anything on top. It was just porridge. His anxiety growing, Peter glanced at Michael again, who was still staring at him menacingly.
“Apple? That sounds delicious.”
Peter smiled at the woman’s warm response, but quickly checked himself and returned to focusing on the remainder of his cake.
“How long is Peter staying with you, Mr Darling?”
“Oh, quite a while I should expect. His parents don’t have much time for him, so he’s better off here with me.”
Anna nodded thoughtfully at that.
“Do you miss them?”
Peter looked up and met the woman’s eyes as he realised she was, again, talking to him. Another fleeting glance at the man, and the boy looked away again and shrugged his shoulders.
Annabel was in a quandary. She was gaining Mr Darling’s trust, finally gaining access to his home, but she was not happy about leaving a child there. She wasn’t at all convinced by Mr Darling’s explanation of the boy, but to show her distrust and remove the boy herself would not only destroy what little progress she had made with Mr Darling, but it would potentially be breaking the law; if the boy was in Mr Darling’s care legitimately, she had no right to take him without permission.
Feeling as though her hands were tied, she made ready to leave, taking Mr Darling to one side as she recovered her coat from a peg by the front door.
“Mr Darling, if Peter is going to be staying with you, I really must insist that you clean up as much as possible.”
Michael glanced about as though perplexed, thinking of his morning spent on housework.
“And frankly, Mr Darling, that boy needs a bath. And something on his feet. He must be freezing!”
Again, Michael furrowed his brow in confusion at the thought, it never having occurred to him.
“I’ll return in three days, if I may, to make sure you are both making progress.”
Peter and Michael listened to the familiar sound of the rusted garden gate opening and closing… then a quiet fell over the house. Both man and boy let out a sigh of relief; Michael glad to be rid of the interfering woman, Peter pleased that she unwittingly escaped a madman unharmed. Just because Peter distrusted mothers didn’t mean he would want to see the woman hurt.
Now Michael started bustling about the house again, recommencing his attempts to clean up. Peter could sense the man’s agitation, and tried his best to go unnoticed. But Michael suddenly turned on him with angry eyes.
“Don’t just stand there!”
Peter flinched at the man’s tone, “Help me clean up this mess!”
The boy looked about himself awkwardly, completely unsure of how to go about cleaning up a house. Finally, he went to a side table and began gathering up the many dust-covered newspapers and magazines that cluttered it. Trying to lift too many at once, Peter gasped in alarm as the pile he was holding toppled, the magazines sliding across the table and knocking a framed photograph to the floor.
Peter froze as he heard Michael cry out in dismay and hurry over to grab up the frame. Fragments of glass remained on the floor when Michael retrieved it, and Peter felt the now familiar knot of anxiety in his stomach as the man held the damaged photograph to his chest and glared at the boy.
“I’m sorry...” Peter’s voice was trembling.
Michael tenderly placed the frame back on the side table, and Peter noticed that the photograph depicted Wendy, John and Michael as he remembered them from years before.
“No you’re not.” The man’s words were a whisper as he gently stroked a finger across the image of his childhood self.
Perhaps it was the perception of calm in Michael’s voice, but Peter found himself continuing,
“I am sorry. I didn’t mean to...”
“THEN WHY DIDN’T YOU COME BACK?!”
The boy physically jumped back from the intensity of Michael’s shout. The man shook with intensity and stared at Peter with accusing and enraged eyes.
Peter was shaking as well, but from fear. As Michael moved to take a step towards him, Peter fled. Without thinking, Peter sped past the man, evading his outstretched hands and tore up the stairs to the nursery.
Slamming the door shut behind him, Peter only took a moment before grabbing hold of the dresser that stood against the wall and heaving it in front of the door. Somehow, he was able to position the makeshift barricade in time, but the force of Michael trying to open the door caused the dresser to tip, and Peter had to put all his weight against it to keep it from shifting.
The man continued to push against the door violently, and Peter wailed with fear, tears streaming freely down his face.
“Please, Michael! Stop!”
And the man did.
Peter chocked down his sobs as silence fell.
“Listen...” Michael’s voice was hushed on the other side of the door, “Do you hear that?”
Peter listened and heard nothing.
Again, there was silence.
Peter glanced over at the nursery window, but of course, it was still boarded up and offered no escape.
“Pirates.” Again Michael’s voice was quiet, and Peter wasn’t sure if he’d heard correctly,
“It’s Hook! Hook is coming!”
Peter’s eyes began to well with fresh tears. He knew the man was trying to scare him, but since the incident in the living room, Peter couldn’t help feeling terrified.
“Michael, stop it! It’s not funny!”
“Don’t worry, Peter…” The man’s tone was hushed and conspiratorial, “I’ll try to draw them away. Just stay quiet.”
Peter heard Michael hurry away, light-footed, and the following silence filled him more with dread than relief.
Hurrying to the nursery window, Peter began tugging at the planks that barred it in vain, but froze when he heard a floorboard creak in the hallway outside.
Moving back to brace the door again, Peter could make out creeping footsteps that were drawing near. Leaning closer to the door, Peter could hear the steady breathing of a man and held his own breath in fearful anticipation.
The voice that came from beyond the door caused Peter to gasp and stumble back. Again, it was the unmistakable voice of Captain Hook,
“Let me in, boy.”
“LEAVE ME ALONE!”
Peter’s vision blurred with tears and his sobs chocked him. When Hook began to ram the door, Peter screamed in blind panic.
Again and again, the dresser shook with the force of the man’s blows, and when it quickly became clear his barricade would fail, Peter scrambled under a bed and clapped both hands over his own mouth in an effort to stifle his cries.
No sooner had he hid himself than the dresser finally toppled, crashing to the floor with a deafening noise.
A moment of silence followed, then Peter heard booted footsteps enter the room. Closing his eyes, Peter repeated a mantra over and over again in his head; “He’s not real. He’s not real. He’s not real...”
The boy gasped as a strong hand grabbed his ankle, and he screamed as he was dragged from under the bed. Screwing his eyes shut again, Peter flailed about desperately, trying to get free of his enemy. But Hook bore down on him until, by chance, the boy landed a kick and the sound of iron clanking across the floor caused Peter to open his eyes.
And it was not the villainous Captain Hook who he beheld, but the grown Michael Darling. The man was wearing the feathered crimson hat, but it was the iron hook that had gone crashing to the floor, breaking the illusion.
Michael looked as horrified as the boy he was straddling, and a panic overcame him.
Noticing the hammer that he had abandoned from boarding up the windows still on the nursery floor, Michael scrambled to his feet and picked it up,
"I won't let you leave me, Peter."
In horrific desperation, Michael swung down at the boy.
Peter screamed in agony as the hammer connected with his ankle. A strange feeling accompanied the pain; an intense throbbing. Then he knew no more.
It was not the constant throbbing that dragged Peter’s mind from the depths of unconsciousness, but the sudden, sharp stabbing that came from having a cold compress pressed upon his injured ankle.
Gasping to the surface, Peter sat up and locked eyes with Michael. The man was sitting on the edge of the bed that Peter now occupied; a bed that had once belonged to John. The man looked downtrodden and mournful, as if someone close to him had died. He stared at Peter with such grief before dropping his gaze to the floor in disgrace that the boy almost felt a pang of sympathy for the mad old monster.
But the sting of the hammer still remained, and Peter felt the unbearable panic fill him again and overspill into desperate tears.
“I’m so sorry, Peter.” Michael’s voice was as feeble as his apology, and Peter gained no comfort from it. The boy tried to edge further from where the man sat, but cried out in earnest as his ankle protested.
Michael moved to comfort the boy, and Peter screamed again, trying to push the man away. But he was too strong, and pulled the weeping child into an embrace that he thought would soothe.
“I’ll look after you, Peter. I’ll protect you from Hook next time, I swear it… but you must be good.”
When he realised Michael would not be discouraged, Peter relented and quietly wept in the arms of his captor. Feeling the boy calm, Michael pulled away and looked down at the trembling child,
“I know!” the man’s soothing tone was betrayed by a tinge of excitement, “How about a story?”
Peter wiped his nose with the back of his hand, not given time to respond before Michael leapt up from the bed and moved to a small shelf of books in one corner of the room.
“No… Michael… please...”
The boy started hiccuping once his sobs had receded, unable to muster the strength to really object. He didn’t want a story. He didn’t want to pretend everything was alright. He was trapped in a house with a violent madman, and he just wanted to go home.
Oblivious to the boy’s despair, Michael pulled a well-thumbed tome from the shelf and hurried back to his place on the bed.
Clearing his throat and ignoring Peter’s pained sigh, Michael opened the cover and read from the title page, “Treasure Island.”
At first, Peter tried to block out the man’s voice by thinking of something else… but Peter Pan had a bad head for memories, and before Michael had finished the description of Billy Bones, “his tarry pigtail falling over the shoulders of his soiled blue coat; his hands ragged and scarred, with black, broken nails; and the sabre cut across one cheek, a dirty, livid white...” the boy was enthralled.
But when they reached the fight between Billy Bones and Black Dog, and Michael’s storytelling grew in intensity and drama, a sudden quiet fell over him that caused Peter to glance up at the man’s face, which had fallen into pensive melancholy.
The boy watched as Michael stared into space, transported back in his mind to a happier time, his brother and sister performing the roles of the story for him like a play, and always letting Michael play the lead part of Jim Hawkins despite being too young to narrate.
Blinking back to the present, Michael felt eyes upon him and realised Peter was staring at him. Peter Pan… The boy who had abandoned them. The boy who had doomed his sweet sister to a life of pain and torment. The boy who caused her death.
Michael stood up so suddenly that Peter lost his balance and had to grab hold of the mattress beneath him for support. He began to protest, to beg Michael to continue, but the man fixed him with such a vengeful and ruthless stare that Peter cowered before him and fell silent.
Fists clenched, Michael stormed out of the room, Treasure Island discarded on the floor.
When it was clear the man wouldn’t be returning soon, Peter turned his attention to his injured ankle and inspected it carefully.
Surprisingly, there wasn’t any blood… but the swelling mass of bruising flesh looked angry, and the throbbing seemed to intensify under his gaze. He was relieved to find, however, that his toes would still wiggle slightly at his command. Although the simple movement caused pain to shoot through his foot, Peter was reassured that his ankle wasn’t broken.
Swinging his legs cautiously over the side of the bed, Peter watched his feet dangle a few inches above the floor and wondered how much walking would hurt. Would he even be able to stand? Then the thought of flying came to him. True, he hadn’t flown since Tinkerbell’s death… but he wasn’t completely sure if that was because he couldn’t. The grief at loosing his beloved companion was enough to drag him down… but what if he could find a happy thought? There was no reason to think he would never be able to fly again, even without pixie dust. If he believed hard enough, he would fly.
Searching his mind, he found precious few thoughts that could be described as happy; when he thought of Tink now, all he could conjure was the cold husk of her corpse; when he thought of Wendy, all he could think of was her pleading for him to rescue her from her fate; even when he thought of Never Never Land, the memory of Tinkerbell and Wendy were there, spoiling the happy thought until it weighed on him like an anvil.
All that was left was flight itself; the exhilarating speed as you sailed on the wind’s back and chased the stars. Peter remembered the feeling well, and it filled him with hope.
Careful not to put any weight on his injured ankle, Peter climbed to his feet so that he stood on the bed, the nursery already seemingly far below him. Gingerly he wobbled there for a few moments, mastering his doubt and concentrating on his happy thought.
When he had finally mustered the courage, he leapt from the bed, propelling himself into the air.
Panic seized him as he dropped like a stone, landing on his feet but immediately sprawling onto the floor in pain as his damaged ankle gave a sickening crack. Peter screamed in blind agony and tried to hold his injured leg without hurting it further.
Michael dashed into the nursery at the sound of Peter’s cries, looking down, aghast, at the child bawling on the floor in front of him. Rushing to the boy’s side, Michael began to wrap a comforting arm around the boy’s shoulders, but Peter slapped it way and shuffled back out of Michael’s reach. The man was hurt, his eyes welling with a few tears, but he made no move towards the child. He simply sat on the floor and watched as Peter eventually cried himself to sleep.
Disorientated, Peter woke to find he was no longer in the nursery, but in what had become his usual bed in the small, dark room with the newspapered windows. The house around him seemed silent, the gloom suggesting night was falling fast.
He was alone.
As the realisation of his solitude dawned, Peter tentatively pushed himself up into a sitting position and let his gaze wonder the room. Reassured by the deafening silence, Peter stared for a time at the pasted pages of yellowing newspaper, their black text and images illuminated by the dying light of the outside world. Unable to decipher any of the written words, Peter’s attention was drawn by the brighter beam of sunlight penetrating through the smallest of tears in the paper. Leaning closer to it, Peter put a fingernail to the glass and began to dig away until he found purchase on the ragged edge and ripped.
The aged and brittle newspaper peeled away from the glass cleanly, leaving a gap large enough for Peter to peer through. Doing so, he was confronted with the brick exterior of the neighbouring house, about fifteen feet away. A window was set into the wall, but its curtains were drawn and still and no signs of life were visible to the imprisoned boy.
Peter contemplated breaking open the window or smashing the glass to make his escape… but the neighbouring dwelling was too far away and he knew he’d never make it. His attempt at flying had been a disaster, and he certainly didn’t have the confidence to hurl himself from a third-floor window.
The sound of approaching footfalls startled Peter from his thoughts, and he hurriedly tried to cover the gap in the newspapers he had created. But the glue had long since evaporated and no adhesion was left to hold the scrap of paper to the glass.
Peter was forced to give up his futile attempts and quickly shove the evidence beneath the grotty pillow of his dingy bed as the door opened slowly. Michael stood in the doorway furtively and stared down at the bowl of water he held in his hands.
After a moment of silence between them, Michael tentatively approached the bed and sat down on its edge, his back towards the boy. Without a word, the man fished out the rag that floated in the cold water of the bowl before him, and rang it out.
Peter felt frozen in place by his fear of the man, desperately hoping to avoid any more confrontation. As Michael placed the wet rag against Peter’s inflamed ankle, fresh pain erupted and the boy hissed with discomfort.
Michael turned to look at Peter’s face, his own filled with sorrow and shame.
“I am sorry, Peter.”
Perhaps it was fear, or simply fatigue, but Peter decided to humour the man. If he did as Michael asked for a little while… gained his trust… maybe an opportunity to escape would be more forthcoming.
“Michael… would you like to play a board game with me?”
There, again, was that childish excitement. Michael grinned, ear-to-ear, and leapt to his feet knocking the bowl to the floor. Ignoring the spilled water as it trickled along the floorboards, the man leaned in disturbingly close to the boy.
“Oh, Peter… Do you mean it?!”
Giving a half smile while subtly attempting to shuffle away from the man, Peter nodded. The insignificant gesture was all that was needed to send Michael hurtling from the room and clattering through the house in search of Buccaneer.
Peter only had a minute or so to collect himself before Michael burst back in and practically leapt onto the bed, causing Peter’s ankle to flare up painfully.
Ignorant of the boy’s discomfort, Michael put the boxed board game down on Peter’s lap then presented him with the red plumed hat of Captain James Hook. Peter was horrified at the sight of it, and more so when Michael merrily planted it atop the boy’s head.
Fighting the urge to cast off the hat in a fit of panic, Peter instead calmly but quickly took it off and held it in his hands, as if wanting to admire it.
But as he beheld his old enemy’s headpiece, a thought occurred to him.
“Michael, where did you get Hook’s hat?”
The man was distracted, trying to set up the board game on the unstable surface of the bedspread.
“I don’t remember.”
“You don’t remember?” The boy sounded sceptical,
“Are we going to play or not?”
Peter paused, concerned by Michael’s sudden agitation… But, taking a breath and summoning his courage, he pressed on,
“Are there any more?”
“Games? Well, there’s scrabble…”
“No. I mean… Are there any more things? From Neverland?”
Michael ceased setting up Buccaneer and looked earnestly into the boy’s eyes, as if struggling to form an answer.
Seeing the child so interested and engaged, Michael was filled with the desire to please Peter Pan… as any Lost Boy would.
“Let me see...”
Michael, again, left the room with purpose, and Peter felt that little spark of hope rekindle within him. It was unlikely, but Peter took the opportunity to inspect Hook’s hat for the shimmer of pixie dust. If he could only find a sprinkling of the magical substance, it might give him the confidence he needed to fly… And if he could fly, he could surely escape.
No sooner had he given up on the hat holding his salvation than Michael entered the room carrying a cardboard box. Placing it on Peter’s lap, the man stepped back and looked triumphant, pleased with his offering.
Peter gazed down at the contents of the box, and carefully began removing each object, one by one. First to catch his eye was a small, wooden carving of a crocodile, crude but detailed, and Peter had the faintest memory of being its sculptor. There were also several beautiful shells in the box, one of which was so large that Peter could hear the ocean when he held it to his ear; the sea around Neverland, he thought, as another wave of homesickness washed over him.
The box also held a simple wooden sword of the kind used for friendly sword fights between the Lost Boys. It was too long to fit inside the box, so the hilt protruded. As Peter continued to admire the conch in his hands, Michael took hold of the sword and slowly drew it up in front of him.
“A fine weapon,” he mused.
Peter couldn’t help a snigger of disdain for the useless toy, but held his tongue when Michael was suddenly pointing the wooden blade at his throat.
“You were always the best swordsman, Peter. None of the boys could best you. Of course, I was never given a chance to try… You always said I was too little to join in.”
Michael was looking at the sword nostalgically, and Peter should have been grateful for the man’s current calmness… But the boy’s mouth spoke his mind without leave,
“Well, you’re not too little now. Now, you’re too big!”
The hurt that kindled in Michael’s eyes at the implied insult caused Peter to look away in shame. Of course reminding this madman of his age would upset him. Peter knew that about him by now. But perhaps Peter wanted to cause his captor pain… even if that led to hurt of the more physical kind for Peter.
But he needed Michael to trust him; that was the conclusion he had reached. So why had he just jeopardized that trust?! He was being too careless.
In a second Michael’s hurt had turned to anger and he began snatching the objects away from Peter and shoving them back into the box.
“No! Michael… Please!”
The boy’s pleas went ignored as the man grabbed up the box and turned towards the door.
“You’re very cruel to me, Peter.”
“I know I was mean, and I’m sorry. You’re the perfect size. Just right for sword fighting.”
Michael considered the boy and his compliment for a long moment,
“You really think so?”
“Yes! Of course!”
“You’re not just saying that?”
“No, Michael. Holding a blade suits you.”
The man brought himself up to stand a little taller, shoulders back and chest out. He smiled, and Peter grinned too when Michael placed the box back on the bed.
While Michael was still caught in a daydream of sword fighting prowess, Peter rummaged again inside the box and caught sight of something that called out to him loudly, though he wasn’t at first sure why.
Grasping the fine, gold chain gently between his fingers, he lifted the acorn pendent and stared at it as it dangled in front of his eyes.
Wendy appeared in his mind.
Peter had little time to admire the treasure before Michael snatched it from him fiercely, causing the boy to flinch. The anger on the man’s face vanished as quickly as it had appeared, replaced with that sad melancholy Peter had seen him wear before.
Peter knew the acorn had summoned the same ghost for the both of them.
“Michael… Is Wendy really… dead?”
The word and its concept were strange to Peter Pan. He had killed many people in Neverland, and had even claimed that to die would be an awfully big adventure… but the truth of it was that Pan had no idea what death actually meant. Even when his friends died, he soon forgot the horror of their passing. And he had forgotten Wendy, until the desire to give the Lost Boys a mother had reminded him of her.
Now the boy watched as tears pricked in Michael’s eyes, giving Peter his answer without words,
“She’s buried not far from here. With mother and father. I visit her sometimes.”
“Would you take me to visit her?”
The stare Michael fixed the boy with just then was at once blank yet full of incredulity. Peter held his breath at the possibility of leaving that wretched house… but a moment later, Michael was on his feet, still staring at the selfish child… then he turned on his heel and walked from the room.
Peter realised the man was upset. Deeply upset. But he hadn’t meant for his simple request to cause pain. It was clear Michael had seen though him, though, and had felt betrayed.
Nevertheless, Peter did not regret trying; he’d do anything to escape from that awful place.
Left alone again, Peter returned his attention to the objects of Neverland. He was sorry Michael had taken the acorn… but it wasn’t of any real value. What Peter wanted was something that might still carry pixie dust. He’d only need a little. Just enough to boost his confidence.
His gaze fell on the conch that seemed to hold the Neverland waters. Putting it to his ear once again, he listened to the gentle swell of the waves as they broke steadily against Marooner’s Rock. The sound was so familiar and comforting that Peter felt a twinge of homesickness and let the shell drop to his lap. As he looked at it absent-mindedly, thinking of his beloved island, a glint and shimmer of something snapped him back to the present; peering into the shell, the boy’s hope swelled as he beheld the unmistakable glimmer of pixie dust!
The house was quiet.
Peter still sat holding the conch. He couldn’t fathom how long he had been that way; silent… trembling. His hands were shaking at the prospect of escape. With this pixie dust, he had a real chance of finally getting home, where he’d never have to think about Michael or Wendy or this house ever again.
Patiently, he listened. Still, there were no sounds to break the uncomfortable tranquillity of the house around him. Michael couldn’t be heard.
Cautiously, Peter rose from the bed, careful not to put any weight on his injured ankle. Tucking the shell securely under one arm, the boy hobbled to the doorway and listened.
Still nothing. Not a breath.
Tentatively poking his head around the corner, Peter saw that the corridor was deserted. Mustering his courage, he began the arduous journey downstairs. His progress was hindered not only by his injury, but also the uncharacteristic skittishness that now plagued him; the slightest noise or sense of movement froze him to the bone, and he willed his body to move faster than it could.
Eventually, though, Peter stumbled down the bottom stair and found himself staring at the front door… his path to freedom.
Grasping the doorknob with his free hand, he was unsurprised to find the door locked. Taking a deep breath to steady his nerves, Peter glanced around, expecting Michael to lunge for him at any moment. But there was still no sign of the man.
Thinking it worth a go, Peter hobbled hurriedly down the hallway to the back of the house, passing through the kitchen to the back door. Again, the door did not yield to his efforts to open it, but he couldn’t waste any more time. Placing the precious shell delicately onto the kitchen table, Peter grasped the doorknob with both hands and tugged. The handle rattled, but the door, like its twin, was definitely locked.
A sudden thud upstairs caused the boy to hold his breath, terror halting his body immediately. The creaks and groans of the old woodwork confirmed someone was moving around directly above, and the boy knew he was out of time.
Grabbing up a chair from around the table, adrenalin bumped through Peter’s veins as he lifted the chair above his head and hurled it through the glass of the kitchen window. The noise of the shattering window pane was deafening, but Peter wasted no time in grabbing the shell and clambering onto the kitchen chair to reach the new escape route he had created. His progress was hindered not only by his existing injury, but the shards of glass that remained in the window frame, sharp and vicious. Peter had to waste time knocking them out, managing to slice the flesh of his free hand in the process.
He didn’t know if the rhythmic thumps came from his heart of the footfalls of his captor, in pursuit… But no sooner had he moved to jump out than Peter felt Michael grab onto him roughly. The man dragged him back into the kitchen and away from the broken window easily, Peter screaming and kicking desperately, despite the futility and the pain.
Michael took tight hold of the flailing boy, then noticed the Neverland shell Peter still clutched protectively. The man made to wrench it from the child’s hand, but Peter resisted and screamed again.
When the doorbell rang, Michael pulled the boy into such a tight grasp that Peter feared he would suffocate. Both were still as a determined hand knocked on the front door and rang again.
The concerned call of the community volunteer filled the boy with hope and the man with despair. It took all his strength, but Peter pulled away from Michael just enough to scream for help.
Immediately, the man cut off the child’s cry with a firm hand over the mouth, and dragged the boy across the room. It was only when Michael’s foot connected with the empty chloroform bottle, the glass of it chinking at the impact, that he realised his preferred form of restraint was still unavailable to him.
“Mr Darling?! What’s going on in there?!”
Grabbing up the bottle quickly so the boy hadn’t time to pull away, Michael brought the heavy glass of it down on Peter’s head, cutting off one last scream. The child immediately slumped into unconsciousness, a small pooling of blood already reddening his hair.
Scooping Pan into his arms, Michael carried him down the hall and into the drawing room, laying him carefully onto the sofa. All the while, Annabel Lanley frantically pounded on the front door.
“Mr Darling! Open up immediately, or I’ll call the police!”
Anna took a step back as the door suddenly opened. Mr Darling was wild-eyed and breathing heavily… and there was blood on his shirt.
“Mr Darling… Where is Peter?”
“Mr Darling, if you do not let me in this instant, I will go to the police.” The woman’s eyes seemed to burn with conviction, so Michael opened the door a little wider and bid her enter.
“Where is he, Mr Darling?”
“I told you, he’s resting.” At the glare the woman fixed him with, Michael gestured towards the drawing room, and Annabel hurried in.
Seeing the child on the sofa, Anna quickly knelt down before him and gently touched his face. The boy grimaced slightly, and Anna watched in horror as blood trickled down the child’s forehead.
Turning to Michael Darling, who stood hovering behind her, Anna tried to keep her voice steady and calm,
“Call for a doctor, Mr Darling.”
Michael did not move. His face was blank, as though he was in shock. Anna supposed that was to be expected, in the circumstance.
“A doctor!” Her demand was louder and more hysterical than she had meant, but Mr Darling finally took notice, and slowly walked from the room.
Peter let out a quiet, painful moan, and Anna hushed him, gently stroking his cheek and squeezing his hand to comfort him. She willed Mr Darling and the doctor to hurry. And she berated herself for being so careless, not removing the child or even confirming his parents had granted permission for his being there. For all she knew, the boy wasn’t related to Michael Darling at all! A heavy knot of guilt and fear twisted in Anna’s stomach as this realisation dawned on her. How could she have been so neglectful of a child’s welfare?!
Her free hand went instinctively to her own belly as she imagined how she would feel if a similar plight befell the delicate life that had been growing inside her for such a short time, and tears welled in her eyes.
Annabel didn’t notice the boy’s eyelashes flicker, but when he shifted and groaned in groggy discomfort, her mind snapped back to the present.
“Hush, Peter… you’re safe. Everything will be alright,”
The woman’s voice was soothing, and Peter let himself pause for a few moments before trying again to open his eyes. His head was throbbing, and the light of the room seemed to stab at his eyes like knives. But he soon saw Annabel come into focus, smiling at him sadly, one hand still stroking his cheek.
Peter managed a small smile in return, relieved that someone was there to stop Michael. Relieved that Michael’s treatment of him had been exposed, and hopeful he would soon be free.
But Peter’s face fell as he saw the figure of Michael Darling appear behind the young woman silently, hammer in hand.
Peter tried to scream in warning, but all he could manage was a silent gasp as terror closed his throat. But it was enough to make Anna’s eyes widen in alarm. The woman made to turn and face the danger, but before she could, Michael raised the hammer aloft and brought it down on her skull.
The boy suddenly found the voice that had betrayed him, and screamed in horror, tears manifesting unbidden and trailing from his eyes. A strangled breath passed Anna’s lips, her eyes even wider from shock than they had been from unknown fear, and the child on the sofa stared at her, terror distorting his young face, as her attacker brought his weapon down upon her again.
Peter’s screams became pleas for Michael to stop, but the man was in a frenzy. In her final moments of consciousness, as her body was crashing to the floor, Anna put her hand to her stomach instinctively and thought of the baby within who would never now see the light of day, and the father who would never now meet his first-born child.
Michael Darling continued to strike the woman with the hammer until her body stopped twitching. By that time, Peter had dragged himself off of the sofa and crawled into a corner of the room. Both man and boy were spattered with blood, and Peter had shut his eyes tight to the sight of it. He tried to ignore the sound of iron against bone and flesh, but to no avail.
Michael straightened to survey his efforts before noticing Peter. The child was cowering, visibly trembling, and Michael felt a pang of guilt for scaring the boy yet again.
“I had to do it, Peter.”
The man’s voice was calm. Peter kept his eyes shut, desperate not to face the gore of the scene in front of him. When the boy didn’t respond, Michael shuffled his feet awkwardly.
“She was going to take you away. I couldn’t let her take you away from me.”
Peter couldn’t hold back the fresh wave of sobs, and they wracked his body painfully. Michael slowly moved towards the boy, unnoticed.
“She left me no choice.”
Peter flinched in fear as the man knelt down in front of him suddenly. When Michael reached out for him, Peter was immediately filled with blind panic, and kicked out fearfully. But his resistance was weak, and the man pulled him into an unwelcome hug. At last, Peter summoned the strength to push the man away, and Michael stared at him with a look of sorrowful betrayal.
“Help me, Peter.”
The man moved away sullenly and hooked him arms under the shoulders of the lifeless woman, before looking at Peter expectantly.
“What?” The child was horrified, but tried not to stutter.
“We can’t just leave all this mess. Help me clean up.”
Peter’s jaw dropped at the callous indifference of the man. Did Michael really not care that he had just murdered a woman in cold blood? It didn’t seem to affect him in the slightest. Feeling fresh tears roll down his cheeks, Peter shook his head vigorously and buried his head in his hands.
After a short time of staring at the boy, perplexed, Michael released his hold on the corpse, letting the torso slump back to the floor unceremoniously.
“I don’t know why you are pretending to be so upset, Peter...”
The boy raised his head to glare at the man hatefully.
“You’ve killed lots of people.”
It was like a slap in the face, and Peter uncurled himself in outrage, careful not to glance at the bloody mess on the floor before him.
“I only kill pirates, Michael!”
“You killed Wendy.”
The calmness of the statement sent chills down Peter’s spine, causing him to doubt himself.
“And this woman died because you screamed. They’re both dead because of you.”
Yet again, tears pricked in Peter’s eyes as he gasped for breath. He shook his head in denial, but didn’t protest further. Michael was right. If he hadn’t cried out for help, that woman would have given up and left. She wouldn’t have entered the house. But because of him, she was lying lifeless before him, blood pooling around her, her face turned to pulp.
If he had come back sooner, as he had promised, he would have rescued Wendy and she would be living happily in Neverland.
But he had killed them.
Deciding to leave the boy to stew in his guilt a while, Michael again took hold of the dead woman and dragged the corpse from the room.
Michael bustled about the room, futilely scrubbing at the blood stains on the furniture, completely ignorant of the stare of fearful disgust and disbelief Peter was fixing on him. The man was acting as though nothing had happened; that the blood was an everyday mess to be cleaned up without comment.
Peter’s head was thrumming from his injury, but his mind seemed paralysed. All he could think of was the look on Michael’s face as he had swung the hammer over and over again.
The boy hissed in pain as his head-wound began to sting anew, putting a hand to the cut instinctively. The reaction brought Michael out of his concentration, and he looked down at the boy as if he had forgotten the child existed.
Comprehending Peter’s discomfort, Michael crossed the room and crouched down before him so decisively that it caused the boy to flinch in alarm. Peter couldn’t help but freeze in terror as the madman outstretched a hand and gently touched the boy’s forehead.
“That’s a nasty cut you have, Peter. We’d better clean it up.”
Immediately, the boy found some courage and slapped Michael’s hand away.
“Don’t touch me!”
The man looked taken aback by Pan’s ferocious response, as if it were completely uncalled for. Peter held his breath, expecting some violence, but Michael simply stood and slowly walked away.
Later, the thundering pulse of hammering echoed through the house, snatching Peter from a troubled sleep in an instant. The boy felt panic seize him and struggled to calm his breathing as his eyes darted about apprehensively.
He was still huddled in the corner where Michael had left him. The blood on the floor before him was still clearly visible, but it’s colour was a little paler from being determinedly scrubbed with soapy water.
Again, the sound of hammering thumped through his head, and Peter shut his eyes as the vibrations seemed to stab at him. But the hammering was not an internal result of his wound. Standing carefully, leaning on the wall behind him for support, Peter slowly limped towards the kitchen, mindful to avoid stepping on any of the blood.
Michael hummed an invented tune as he worked; grabbing up floorboards he had pulled from an unused bedroom one by one, and securing them crudely over the open space of the broken window. Peter stared, open-mouthed, as Michael hammered a nail home. The sight of the man with that same bloody hammer was too much, and Peter felt his legs suddenly buckle beneath him. Michael turned in surprise at the gut-wrenching wail that rose from the child, and watched as Peter doubled over, retching and sobbing uncontrollably.
Letting the hammer fall to the floor, Michael hurried towards the boy in concern, but his sudden advance sent Peter into hysterics. Ignoring the child’s desperate attempts to get away, Michael grabbed hold of him and held him tight, rocking him gently and cooing comforting sounds until the sobbing relented and the boy calmed.
“Hush, Peter… It’s all alright. I’m sorry it scared you.”
Peter couldn’t find the will to push the man away, struggling to calm his breathing, so he just let Michael hold him.
“I did it for you, you know. I won’t let them take you away as well. Not like Wendy.”
Peter closed his eyes as fresh tears filled them, and did not resist as Michael picked him up and carried him back to the sofa to rest.
The boy awoke to the sight of the bloodstained carpet. He had slept for some time, and rolled onto his stomach at some point, one arm dangling over the side of the sofa, the knuckles of his hand brushing the bloody mess.
Peter snatched his hand away in horror as the memory of what Michael had done returned to the surface. But this time the terrible images fuelled a resolve in Peter; he had to escape, by hook or by crook. Summoning all his courage, Peter got to his feet and crept back to the kitchen as quickly and as quietly as his injured ankle would allow. When he got there, however, he was alarmed to see the kitchen table had been cleared, and the Neverland shell was nowhere to be found.
Despite a frantic search of the room – rummaging through kitchen drawers and cabinets, crawling across the floor to see under the table and behind the refrigerator – Peter could see no sign of the conch or the precious pixie dust it contained. Michael must have put it away somewhere.
As if on cue, Peter suddenly heard the heavy footfalls signalling Michael’s return, and the boy had no time to return to the sofa before the man was standing before him, looking at the boy suspiciously.
“I am.” Peter tried to keep his voice strong and even, but it quivered slightly despite his best efforts.
“What are you doing in here?”
Peter considered asking Michael for the shell straight out, but it occurred to the boy that his desire for it might seem suspicious. He needed to find out where it was without alerting Michael to its importance.
Peter was suddenly struck with a marvellous idea…
“I woke up and I was alone… so I came looking for you.”
The sceptical expression didn’t leave Michael’s face as he continued to stare at the boy. Peter felt uncomfortable and threatened under the man’s gaze, and tried hard not to fidget.
“I thought you might want to play a game.”
Michael’s eyes widened a little in surprise at Pan’s suggestion, and although he knew the boy’s motivations were almost certainly self-serving, he couldn’t see much risk in accepting an offer from Peter Pan to play with him.
“What sort of game?” Michael’s tone remained dubious. He didn’t want to give Peter all the power.
“Well…” Peter looked down at his feet for a moment so that he didn’t have to hold Michael’s intense and quizzical gaze,
“I thought it might be fun to have a treasure hunt… Like Treasure Island.”
“A treasure hunt?” Michael visibly relaxed and shifted his stance, and Peter felt a slight relief at the change in the man. He was interested.
“Yes. We take it in turns to hide treasures about the house and find them. Whoever finds all the treasures the fastest wins.”
A grin spread over the man’s face, and Peter smiled back in kind. Michael was falling for his ploy, and Peter felt a surge of adrenaline fill him at the prospect of getting hold of the shell and escaping.
“Oh, marvellous!” the man exclaimed, bouncing up and down and clasping his hands in delight, “What treasures shall we hunt for?”
Peter tried to be nonchalant as he made his suggestion, “We should use the objects that came from Neverland. I’m sure that’s why they are here.”
Michael stood motionless suddenly, and Peter feared the man had seen through his scheme… but to Peter’s relief, the man was reanimated just as suddenly and made his way out of the kitchen and to the stairs.
“A splendid idea, Peter! I shall go and collect up the treasures now.”
Halfway towards the landing, the man froze again and turned on his heel, causing Peter to hold his breath in apprehension once again.
“I’m so glad you aren’t upset with me any more.”
As the man disappeared upstairs, the boy sighed with relief.
Soon enough, Peter and Michael were standing over the box of Neverland treasures. Michael had brought them to the drawing room and placed them on an end table.
“Who’s going first?” Michael’s voice was high with excitement, but Peter took a moment to think things through; he wanted to get hold of the shell more than anything, and he could see it there in the box… so close. But, if he appeared to be too eager, he might give away his true intentions.
“You decide, Michael.”
The man’s expression exploded into absolute joy; never before had he been given so much control over a new game. In Neverland, when he was small, it was all he could do to keep up with the other boys. Now he had Peter Pan all to himself! It was a dream come true.
Peter tried to look nonchalant, but the thought of having to wait for Michael to find all the treasures before it was Peter’s turn felt like fresh grief. The means of escape was so close, and he wasn’t a naturally patient boy.
“I’ll hide them first. You can find them.”
Pan appeared dumbstruck at Michael’s decision. Surely everyone would rather find treasure, not hide it. But Peter did not comprehend the sense of power Michael had developed a taste for. Being in control was exhilarating, and something he’d never been allowed to experience before. Even when he was no longer little, his family treated him like an imbecile.
But now he had Peter. Peter Pan was his best friend, and no one could spoil it for him.
Before Peter had time to say a word, Michael hurried into the hallway and found a scarf hanging on the coat rack by the front door. Bustling back with it, he held it out and nodded at Peter,
Peter winced as he realised Michael intended to blindfold him… but he couldn’t refuse; It was traditional, after all.
Reluctantly, Peter turned his back on his captor and clenched his fists anxiously as Michael covered the boy’s eyes with the scarf and secured it with a simple knot at the back of the child’s head.
“Right,” Michael turned Peter back to face him gently, with both hands on the boy’s shoulders. He stared carefully at the blindfold to confirm it was fulfilling its function before continuing;
“You wait here while I hide the treasure. And no peeking!”
Peter listened to the sound of Michael scrabbling with the Neverland treasures, trying to fit them into hiding places that were too small or too out of reach. He wasn’t taking the time he should, Peter thought to himself. Hiding treasure was an important skill that Michael obviously did not excel at.
Despite the clear rule, Peter risked a peek, pushing the blindfold away from one eye quickly, anxious to know the exact location of his salvation. He was in luck, glancing Michael stashing the Neverland shell behind the tomes of a bookcase in one corner of the room. Pan let the blindfold fall back into place almost immediately, but he was sure it was the shell he had seen.
He listened again to Michael cavort through the house merrily, the sound of doors opening and closing and stairs being taken two at a time.
Peter realised with a jolt of adrenaline that Michael was upstairs, and had left Peter alone and unbound with pixie dust within easy reach. The temptation to try his luck was great, but Peter decided the risk was too great. Better to hide the shell so that Michael wouldn’t pack it away with all the other objects once the game was done.
With his plan coming together, Peter pulled the blindfold down from his eyes and rushed over to the bookcase as stealthily as he could mange; his ankle still causing discomfort. Fumbling with the books, he caught a glimpse of the conch and pulled it out from its hiding place.
Pan knew he didn’t have much time as he glanced around the room for a safe place. Deciding hurriedly, he pulled open the door of one of the small cupboards that lined the bottom of the bookcase and shoved the shell to the very back of it, hopefully out of sight if Michael were to glance within.
The boy could here the noise of Michael growing louder again as he returned, and Peter had only just managed to return to the spot where he had been left and pull the blindfold back up to cover his eyes before the man entered the room.
Peter could feel that the blindfold was now worryingly loose, and could only hope that it wouldn’t fall from his face by its own volition and give the game away. But thankfully, it did not, and Michael tugged it from the boy’s eyes excitedly.
“Your time starts now, Peter!”
Peter had little choice but to play along. He couldn’t hope to use the pixie dust without notice unless Michael was out of the house or asleep. He would have to wait for the opportunity to arise. So, until then, he would try to keep the man’s trust.
He was upstairs and about halfway through the treasure hunt when the doorbell rang.
On the pavement outside the creaking front gate of Number 14, Doug Lanley paced and bit his thumbnail anxiously as he watched the police officers approach the house. The Inspector rang the doorbell, giving an encouraging nod to the two officers standing either side of him. Two more men were holding back a few feet behind, while another remained at the garden gate to be sure the husband wouldn’t come any closer.
“Open up! Police!”
They listened to the loud ringing of the bell echo throughout the Georgian pile. Then silence fell again. A moment later, the Inspector repeated the action, pressing the button of the mechanism a little more forcefully this time.
Instead of the same silence, the sound of the doorbell was replaced by clear cries of distress and raised voices. One sounded like a child, or perhaps a woman. The other was clearly that of a man.
The Inspector waisted no time in signalling to the officers beside him, and the two men waited a moment for the Inspector to move away before they both shouldered the front door determinedly.
At the first sound of the doorbell, Peter dashed to the landing and looked down at the silhouette of whoever was stood on the other side of the front door. He put a hand on the banister as if to descend when Michael appeared at the foot of the stairs, also staring at the door. When the man turned and looked up at the boy, Peter was terrified to see a wild, desperate expression playing on Michael’s face.
As the man mounted the stairs, Peter turned and ran, screaming in terror just as the sound of the doorbell rang out again.
Michael’s madness seemed to give him strength and speed, for he had caught up with the boy in seconds. Peter cried out again wildly as Michael grabbed hold of his arms from behind and dragged him backwards down the stairs.
The boy wriggled and kicked violently in a desperate effort to escape, but Michael held fast.
“I won’t let them take you from me, Peter.”
The man took better hold of the child, clamping one arm around Peter’s torso and using his free hand to cover the boy’s mouth and nose.
Peter began to panic as he realised he couldn’t breath freely. He pulled and scratched at the hand covering his face, but Michael seemed unaffected by the boy’s desperate struggle to escape. Michael slowly sank to his knees and pulled Peter down with him, the boy still wriggling against his deadly hold.
In a last-ditch attempt to escape suffocation, Peter through his head from side to side until Michael’s grip had loosened slightly, then sank his teeth into the man’s hand, biting down as hard as possible.
Michael howled with surprised pain and pulled his hand away, and Peter took advantage of his distraction and elbowed him hard in the ribs. It was enough to allow Peter to break free, and the boy darted towards the front door, that was now trembling rhythmically under the force of the men outside.
Peter grabbed hold of the doorknob and tried to wrench the thing open, but of course it was locked and bolted. Pan made to undo the top bolt, just within his reach if he stretched on tiptoe, but Michael had recovered quickly and ran at the boy.
Peter dove out of the man’s reach and raced away from him, pulling open the first door he came to and slamming it behind him.
Michael made to give chase when the front door behind him finally gave way, and a troop of police officers stormed in. Michael struggled against the men that took hold of his arms, and cried out for Peter, demanding that the invaders must get out of his house and leave him alone!
“Peter! Help me!!!”
The Inspector calmly approached the sobbing man while the rest of his men began searching the house for the missing woman. The old chap wasn’t the sort the Inspector would peg as a criminal, but he was obviously off his nut.
“Mr Darling? Michael Darling?”
The man ignored him, or couldn’t hear over his own wailing.
“We are looking for Mrs Annabel Lanley, Mr Darling. She was last seen heading to this very house, Mr Darling… to visit with you.”
Still, no answer. Just more sobbing and a gabble of incomprehensible ravings;
“No… Peter… Neverland… What about Never Never Land? We can’t leave now… Mustn’t leave… Wendy… Wendy will be home, soon… Wendy...”
The Inspector hurried to the officer who had called him, the man standing aside to let the Inspector see into a small room full of junk, its walls covered in newspaper articles.
“Oh, Jesus Christ.” The blasphemous swear was whispered by the Inspector at the sight of a young boy, no more than thirteen, huddled up against one wall of the small room, his arms wrapped around his knees, toes tucked in tight to avoid touching the blood and fluids that were oozing out from the lifeless corpse of a young woman, her face smashed in beyond all recognition.
“Jesus Christ.” the Inspector couldn’t help but repeat.
Mentally pulling himself together, he focused on the child and gently reached out a hand towards him.
“Come on then, lad. It’s alright… You’re safe now.”
Peter was still breathing heavily, gasping for air after escaping from Michael’s murderous grip. Looking up at the strangers in the doorway, he couldn’t quite believe the man’s words. And these were still grown-ups, after all. All were dangerous in Peter’s limited experience.
Even so, he had little choice but to hope these men would let him leave, and prevent Michael from keeping him.
Ever so slowly, Peter stood, leaning against the wall for support. His whole body trembled and he felt weak and sick. He tried very hard not to glance down at the body of the woman who had been so nice to him.
“That’s it. Good lad.”
Peter hesitated, reluctant to let these grown-ups touch him… but the man obviously sensed his hesitancy, letting his hand fall and stepping aside so Peter could walk past unaided.
Suddenly Michael was there, lunging at him, taking hold of the front of his jumper as the men in uniforms hurried to drag him off. Peter swallowed a scream and thought, for a moment, that he was going to pass out.
“Don't let them take me to that place, Peter! I don't want to die like Wendy!”
In seconds the officers had pulled Michael away, glancing apologetically back at the obviously traumatised child. Peter watched as Michael was manhandled to the front door and dragged out towards a line of police vehicles.
An officer gently rapped a clean blanket around Peter’s shoulders as the boy stood in the doorway of Number 14 and watched Michael Darling being wrestled into the back of a police wagon, flailing and crying out hysterically.
Peter watched and smiled.
When he felt the amiable force of the police officer try to guide him towards the garden gate and the police cars beyond, Peter seized up in fresh terror. Twisting away from the man’s grasp, he darted back into the house and to the Drawing Room, dashing over to the bookcase, despite his inflamed ankle, tugging open the small cupboard beneath the shelves, ignoring the shouts of the adults behind him.
Carefully taking hold of the Neverland conch, Peter lifted it above his head and tipped it up, emptying its contents over himself.
He felt the shimmering substance cover his skin and then… nothing. He concentrated hard on the happiness of flying, trying desperately to bury the haunting images of grief and violence… but, still, nothing. It was no use. Even with pixie dust, Peter Pan could not fly.
He felt as heavy as stone, and the desperate pain inside him was his heart breaking.
There was suddenly a police officer at his side again, taking a slightly firmer, though still considerate grip on the boy’s shoulder.
The Peter panicked. He couldn’t get home! He was walking out of one prison into a new one. He tried to pull free of the man holding him and run, but they were all ready for him this time, and another officer quickly grabbed hold of his other arm.
They tried in vain to comfort the boy, who kicked and screamed as he was taken from the house.
The Inspector looked on and wondered what horrors the child had endured at the hands of that old murderer. It was too terrible to think of.
The officers eventually managed to force the boy into the back of one of their cares, promising him everything would be alright now. But Peter did not believe them. And as the engine of the police car rumbled into life, and Peter Pan gazed up hopelessly at the house that had brought him joy, grief, and pain, he saw the ghost of Wendy Moira Angela Darling staring down at him from the nursery window.