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!