Closer to Home

Chapter 14

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.

“Mr Darling?!”

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?”

“He’s resting.”

“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.

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