Closer to Home

Chapter 17

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 threw 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 ramming it from 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!!! Unhand 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 Neverland? We can’t leave now… Mustn’t leave… Wendy… Wendy will be home, soon… Wendy...”

“Inspector!”

The Inspector hurried to the officer who had called him, the man standing aside on his approach 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 of 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 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 uniform 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 warm, 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.

But 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 must have been 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.

Then 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.

Then he noticed Doug Lanley, still pacing on the pavement, and realised it was his own unenviable duty to inform the man that a woman’s body was lying in the house behind him, and it was very likely that of his wife.

The officers eventually managed to force the boy into the back of one of their cars, 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.

The End

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