1 | At Fault
"Marcus! Get up now, do you hear that? I want to find out where the music is coming from."
He slowly got up groggily, "what on the earth are you on about? I can't hear anything, just go back to sleep."
I wasn't going to give up. That tune was delightful-no, entrancing. The urge to follow and find it was intolerable. Therefore, I took his hand and pulled him out of bed. Being the older sibling meant he can't complain. We left the house abruptly, being certain to not have awoken our parents. We ran as far as our slippers could take us, which in turn led us to a nearby forest.
I asked with a grin as we went deeper into the forest, "You must be able to hear the music now. It's lovely, isn't it?"
Marcus replied with annoyance, "I can't hear a thing; It must be in your head. Let's go back home before we get into anymore trouble."
Although I was throughly confused by his inability to hear the music, which became significantly louder once we entered the forest, I thought it was best to listen to him. Until my thoughts were interrupted by the sound of laughter. We both headed towards the sound quietly, hand in hand, until we reached a clearing in the forest. A fire in the centre, there were at least 5 boys dancing around it. Skipping, jumping and plummeting to the ground with delight and laughter. I faced my brother, seeing his joyous smile, he went to join them before I could stop him. A part of me wanted to join in and be free, but I couldn't let my guard down. I watched them dance, trying to gesture to Marcus to come back to me. However, my eyes suddenly were set on a hooded figure who was playing the sweet melody. A pipe to his lips, I couldn't see his entire face. He sparked mystery and intrigued me on many levels.
He faced me and I hid quickly behind the tree next to me. he didn't seem me. Afterwards my eyes were still set on the boys dancing freely with innocence and joy. A feeling of unease hit me sharply and I leaped to grab my brother and take him away from this madness. I fell hard on the ground. I blinked and got up from the ground. They disappeared.
No fire pit, no boys, no music, not even the mysterious boy with the pipe. The clearing was completely empty. The only sound was the wind pinching my already cold ears. I stumbled upon the empty clearing and called, "Marcus?"
This time I screamed in panic, "MARCUS"
Still no sound. I slumped to the ground, whispering his name one last time. Nothing. I settled myself in the dirt, where I belonged. Chanting to myself, "I'm so sorry mark, I shouldn't have took you with me. Please come back. I should have stopped you. Please forgive me. It's my fault."
There I laid, crying in a foetus position, the mud staining my pyjamas as I waited for my brother to return.
Eventually, the police found me sleeping in the middle of the woods alone. They questioned me and I told the truth; they didn't believe me. I eventually find out 5 other boys, including Marcus, disappeared that night. The police came to the conclusion that whoever stole my brother away from me didn't take me because I was a girl. They consider me lucky.
Do they not understand I could have stopped him? I was responsible for him and I let him down. Since that day I would cry every night, whispering to myself, "Forgive me Marcus, I'll come back for you. I promise one day I'll find you and take you home."
That dreadful day was almost a year ago. I still sometimes stay up late to call out for my brother or even hear out for that hauntingly sweet tune played by the mysterious piper. Although, everyone believes he is dead; there is this gut feeling deep down inside of me who believes he's alive, somewhere. Anywhere. I cling onto that feeling like velcro because if I believed he died that night...then a part of me would die with him too.
Although my family never behaved the same after his disappearance, I live a relatively normal life; breakfast, school, homework & sleep. I have friends, although one of them disappeared the very night my brother left, Thomas. I was too busy gazing at the hooded piper to notice he vanished with Marcus. I bear the blame on myself for his life too. I could have stopped all the boys, if I wasn't so scared. I blame my cowardice self for not helping. However, I blame the hooded figure that haunts my dreams more. My veins linger with vengeance and pure hatred for the soul who stripped me away from my little brother. He was only 13 and was undoubtedly tall and broad for his age, but I saw him as a little kid-my responsibility-and, I still do.
I came back from school exhausted, avoiding my parents and headed straight to my room. Ever since they kept referring to Marcus as if he was dead, I can't bare to look at them in the face. I slumped onto my bed and dazed off to sleep...
The ground was hard beneath me. My eyes fluttered open to black smoke circling me as if I was it's prey. Lifting myself up cautiously, I took in my surroundings. I wasn't outside nor inside. There were no walls, just an abyss of darkness as far as the eye can see. The ground covered in a thick layer of fog and the sky looked like a black river on top of me. However, I wasn't scared, and for some reason that was beyond me, I felt safe.
Speaking cautiously, "Hello? Is anyone here?"
A man came out of the shadows, his skin was scaly and almost golden. His eyes most definitely creepy and idiosyncratic. He spoke with ease, "Hello Aurora, I received your messages and after great consideration; I've decided to help you."
Hesitantly I spoke, "wh-what? Why? How do you know me? W-who are you?"
He grinned unattractively, "Well dearie, I'm Rumplestiltskin, the power within the messages you sent were strong, I'll give you that."
"Your screams and wails? Only such women from a rare ancestry can send messages amongst realms so effortlessly as yours. I was almost certain such bloodline had deceased, but here I am proven wrong."
"What are you talking about?"
He squinted and waved his arms in strange gestures, "Nevermind that dearie, I know where and how to get to your dearest brother."
My eyes widened in disbelief, "where is h-he? Is he okay? Take me to him now."
"All magic comes with a price, dearie." His rotten teeth exposed.
"I'll do anything just tell me where he is." I didn't consider the consequences, it's my fault he's gone. The least I could do is get him back home, whether or not I suffer for it.
"Anything, you say?"
I took a deep breath, "Anything."
Suddenly Rumplestilskin twirled his hands and golden smoke entangled his fingers. The second the glittery smoke cleared, a scroll and quill was in one of each hand.
My eyes almost bulged out of my head, "How did you do that? What is that for?"
"To seal the deal." He lifted the quill for me to sign.
I had just realised, "What's your end of the bargain?"
He took a moment to think, "A favour."
"Well, if you don't want to take my deal then I should go get my things and leave."
He began to walk away and I knew what I wanted, so I urged, "No! I'll take it. Let me sign."
He happily leaped over to me and passed me the quill to sign. I shakily wrote my name and then second I did, the scroll and quill disappeared.
He chuckles gladly, "Tomorrow night, you will hear a pipe playing: follow it. It's the tune only Lost Boys can hear. It will lead you to the Pied Piper, if you blend in correctly, he should take you to Neverland, to your brother."
An obvious part of me questioned everything about this. 'Neverland' and the 'Pied Piper', they were all fairytale books. And this was all coming from Rumplestiltskin. A book character. I quickly concluded I was dreaming, although every single cell in my body told me otherwise. However, I decided to keep up with this charade of his since I've never experienced a dream like this one. It felt so real.
With a stern face, I replied, "how do you expect me to get back home after he takes me?"
"That's another deal for another time, but don't fret; I will be back."
"W-why? Why help me?"
"Well little lass, we both crave vengeance and it seems fitting that, as magic wielders, we should work together to fulfil our dreams"
"And how can I trust your words?"
A grim smile was the only answer I received as darkness grew over me. The darkness slowly turned into light...then my ceiling? I quickly realised I was in my bedroom and checked the time. It was six in the morning.
Like a tsunami, waves of confusion, curiosity and self doubt hit me abrasively. But among all those feelings, one stood out: hope. I knew it was a dream. Just a dream. My imagination toying with the grief of Marcus. However, if my subconscious was premeditating a way for me to cope through the anniversary of my brother's disappearance, the least I could do was use this as a way to cope with today. I've lived 365 days without him and each and every one of them made me feel empty. Maybe I could fill that void with hope, just for one day. Even if that means I don't hear the pipe playing tonight; I just had to make it through today.
As it was the year anniversary of Marcus's disappearance; i knew my parents would avoid the subject, or me. Ever since my younger brother Jack was born, the focus was less on me and more on him. I couldn't blame them since he was an autistic mute and I loved him too much to blame him.
Lifting myself out of bed, I ended up on my laptop. If I was going to do what Rumplestiltskin told me, the least I could do is some research on everything he's told me. I caught up on the bedtime stories of the Pied Piper and Rumplestiltskin. It still didn't add up! Why would the Pied Piper take him? Then I remembered him mentioning Neverland. I ended up reading stories about Peter Pan and anything and everything on Neverland. Why would the Pied Piper be taking boys to Neverland? Maybe he's taking them to Peter Pan to become lost boys? Or maybe the Pied Piper works for Peter Pan. Either way, there are a lot of unanswered questions I'll have to solve.
With a pen in my hand, I wrote like there was no tomorrow. There are mermaids, natives, and pirates within this place. All of which, seemed unrealistic and untrue, but I kept that part of me at the back of my mind. I realise it's ridiculous to think that my brother is in a fairytale land and that I can save him, but I can't help it. The more I worked, the more that empty part of me, that left with my brother, was being fulfilled. I even searched up about magic wielders; Rumple mentioned how I was one. It didn't come up with much unfortunately, but I tried not to think too much of it since my priority was Marcus.
I realised all the disappearances, including my brother's, had something in common: they were all boys. I briefly remembered Rumple telling me to blend in, how was I meant to do that?
I slumped into my chair aggravated and looked up into the ceiling. Whispering repeatedly, "How?".
With my long hair and feminine figure, I couldn't pass as a boy: could I? I stood up and went straight to my mirror. I took my shirt off and looked at myself grimly. Frankly, I don't ever look at myself fondly in the mirror. I grabbed my hair and clumped it up behind my head. My eyes narrowed at myself and turned towards a pair of scissors on my desk. Maybe if I...no. Could I? No. But if this is my chance to save him, I have to. After all, hair grows back. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. It's my fault Marcus is gone, sacrificing my hair shouldn't be a problem.
My eyes fluttered open to the pair of scissors and I slowly paced towards it. My hand was about to reach down until I heard a distant shout in the background.
I flinched. Honestly, I need a new name; one that hasn't been worn out by being called so much. Something like a flower or symbol. Although, a part of me was relieved that I could stall on cutting my hair for a while.
My family were in the living room watching the television. Nowadays the only thing keeping my parents together is their love and interest for politics. We had breakfast and I left as soon as I could. I couldn't waste a second. However, they did ask how I was holding up and I just told them I'm fine and just really busy with homework. They didn't question it further, knowing I might give a reaction in some way.
Glancing at my desk covered in notes; something hit me. Rumple's voice whispered at the back of my head, "It's the tune only Lost Boys can hear."
The night they took my brother, I recall that Marcus couldn't hear the pipes. Only I did. But that can't be true, I'm no lost boy. Sure, I've always felt out of place, but I wouldn't consider myself as a lost soul. And I'm most certainly not a boy. I never really fitted in and I was always content with it. I still had friends, although they never really knew me deep down. My parents are great, they clearly care about me although they have a tough way of showing it. So why could I hear the pipes? Maybe I was more lost than I had thought.
Skipping dinner, I focused on the task on hand: preparation. I began grabbing random items that seem necessary and plopping them on my bed. From the information I've gathered, Neverland is a forest. Therefore, a compass and lighter seemed wise. I stole a lighter from my dad's room and couldn't help but notice a pack of strong painkillers and an empty unused needle in a packet for his diabetes. I didn't know what my brother's kidnappers are capable of, but if one of us gets hurt, then maybe this could help.
I also brought my essentials like my epipen and a photo of my family. With the small pile on my bed prepared, it was getting late. I ducked under my bed and brought out a small retractable switchblade that belonged to a friend of my dad's. I didn't think he would miss it, so I mindlessly stole it. A lot of dark moments in my life was with this blade, but I tried to shove those thoughts away.
Reluctantly, I grabbed the scissors and went into the bathroom. Placing the scissors besides the sink, I ran the shower and looked through the drawers and found what I needed: bandages. It was then I realised cutting my hair wasn't the only thing I would struggle with. I stripped myself as looked in the mirror; I'll have to wrap my breasts. After my shower, I carefully wrapped my chest trying my best to make it as comfortable as I can. But in the end, it felt awful and suffocating. Ignoring the clear discomfort, I looked at my silky hair in the mirror. Reluctantly cutting with the scissors, bit by bit, pieces of my hair started to hit the ground. It was an inch or two above shoulder length. I wrapped it in a man bun. In a form of comfort, I imagined myself as Mulan, my favourite fairytale. She didn't hesitate to take her father's place; so why should I hesitate to save my own brother?
My courage was slowly fading as tears started to seep through my eyes. My vanity was arising and I hated myself for it. I shouldn't care, but I looked like a mess. Deep down I cared about how I looked. There was still this lingering part of me screaming that the dream was a lie, but what's done is done. I can't go back now. Sacrifices must be made.
I packed everything into a pouch that would stay hidden under my shirt. Until I realised I didn't know what to wear. I went into a cellar filled with boxes of my brother's old clothes and stole a shirt, jumper, trousers and shoes. All of which, were too big for me. Although he was my younger brother, Marcus certainly looked older since he was taller.
With all the clothes on and pouch tucked in, I gazed at myself in the mirror. Well, I will most certainly get away with being a boy since the baggy clothes hides any view of my figure. I guess now was the waiting game.
Hours went by and nothing. My window open along with my ears to hear out for anything. To no avail. Only the sound of the miserable wind haunting my regrets. All feeling of hope flushing out of my system; I laid down in my bed. Drifting to sleep until I realised the lullaby that haunted my dreams.
The sound of the pipes.