Throughout his rather long life, Jinni had served in more wars than he could remember. For some of them, he had volunteered; in others, he was serving under slave’s orders. But there was one common thread: regardless of the reasoning behind his participation, Jinni had a knack for solo assassin missions. His cunning, catlike maneuverability and stealthy attendance had caught dozens of high-profile targets off guard. Before they could even smell his breath, Jinni had already taken theirs.
While his abilities as a chameleon were a necessity to move around unnoticed in the Calypso Queen’s castle, killing was out of the question, as it would draw the kind of attention and suspicion that would undo any progress he’d made while pretending to be the mirror.
As it had many times before, proper planning and decades of experience prevailed, and Jinni slipped out of the castle and through the surrounding forest unnoticed. Due to the overwhelming power of certain streams he’d taken to get to Calypso Island, Jinni guided his lifeboat along a different path.
He had spent three uneventful days on calm, balmy waters en route back to South Nestor Island and the Lost Boys, but before he could pat himself on the back for a job well done, he began to hear the water ahead screaming and pulling at the water gently guiding his boat.
“Great.” Of course, getting there was easy. Jinni grabbed his oar firmly and dug into his seat as the lifeboat approached a waterfall. He took several deep breaths to brace himself for what was sure to be a sharp descent whose depth was still to be determined.
The initial drop wasn’t all that remarkable, but once the lifeboat had taken the plunge, there was no end in sight to the raging waves smashing into one another and the cruel rocks craving flesh. Jinni, usually much cooler in such situations, succumbed to waves of panic as angry smacks from the aquatic cradle jolted the lifeboat.
“Come on,” he said. From out of nowhere, the most significant wave up to that point threw itself over Jinni, landing enough in his craft to slow it considerably. “No. No. Come on.”
The overworked vessel began to moan as the rocks reaching for the surface dug into its hull.
“Here we go,” Jinni said, finally getting a glimpse of calm water. After two more gut punches to the lifeboat’s tender portside, Jinni successfully guided it through the rough and into a large gentle pocket stretching ahead past his field of vision. He placed the oar at his feet, leaned back, and exhaled a breath of relief, then another, running trembling hands down a face that was still in shock.
“Wooooo,” he yelled out. He was still unable to control his rapid rate of breath but began to relax his shoulders and the rest of his body before reaching back down for the oar. “Unbelievable,” he said, nodding and looking ahead.
Without warning, something burst from the water just in front him, stopping the boat—and the peace. Before he could pull a sword or dagger to stop her, the Sea Witch’s face was inches from his own.
“Miss me?” she asked, showcasing her horrid green teeth.
Jinni reached toward his waist for a weapon, but his reflexes were no match for the scorpion-like strike of a tentacle wrapping around his throat. Just as quickly as she’d struck, she released him and retreated. Smiling, she slithered away and sunk beneath the surface with a deliberate pace.
Jinni’s vision blurred, and his unconscious body fell limp in the lifeboat. He entered a vivid dream state, revisiting a tapestry of past traumas while simultaneously creating new ones. She left him alone out there in the vast aquatic space, at the mercy of her venom, the weather, and any other monsters lurking beneath the disturbingly still water.
A shiny bar of soap sat in the center of a sudsy bathtub until the delicate hand of Peter Pan’s most current companion dunked it under the water. Her back rested against the clawed tub’s porcelain wall while his rested on her welcoming breasts. She ran the soap over his bare chest and caressed his neck and shaggy hair afterward. He couldn’t recall the last time he’d spent consecutive evenings with the same woman but found himself hoping the streak would continue.
“How do you know so much about Otis Seehus?” he asked, wrapping her left hand with both of his before planting a gentle kiss upon it.
“How do you not know more about him?” she asked. “You’re the one on the rescue mission—so you say.”
He could hear her grin form with her last words. “Everything about you is exquisite. You know that? Your skin. Your eyes. Even your name.”
“Are you taking a piss?” she asked, wrestling with a giggle.
He looked down, taken aback. “No. What the hell kind of guy you think I am?”
“No,” she said, smiling. “It means, are you messing with me?”
“Oh. No, I’m serious. I think your name is lovely. And I’ve never heard it anywhere else.”
“That’s because it’s a nickname—a moniker that I acquired. The night of my first performance, some drunken asshole sitting in the back yelled out, ’When-dee-ya take your clothes off? I ain’t payin’ ya to tell stories.’ My stage name has been Wendy ever since. My real name is Moira Angela.”
“Moira Angela,” he said, enunciating. “Even more beautiful than I could have possibly imagined.”
“You are the biggest bullshitter this side of the island.”
“I’m serious,” he said. “It is. And you never did tell me how you know so many Otis stories.”
“I’m a traveling storyteller,” she said. “You know that.”
“You know what I mean,” he said, playfully tossing a handful of bubbles over his shoulder. “There’s a lot of traveling storytellers. Not all of them know as much about Otis Seehus as you do.”
“Popularity, mostly,” she said. “When people ask to hear stories about the Trojan War, it’s him they want to hear about. Him and Achilles. Sometimes Robin Hood. Maybe one day they’ll want to hear stories about the great Peter Pan.”
Peter grinned. “They’ll be hard up for stories if that’s the case.”
“You’re still young,” she said. “There’s time for you yet. And you can’t be a Lost Boy forever.”
Peter’s smile washed away with her comment. Wendy could feel his mood shift despite being unable to see his troubled face.
“But that’s not a bad thing. Especially when you consider what they’re doing tonight—compared to what you’re doing tonight.”
“Don’t think for one second that you have any idea what I’m doing tonight, Moira Angela.” He turned to face her and leaned forward to kiss the dampness of her ear and neck. “But just for fun—guess how long I can hold my breath.” He slowly burrowed his forehead into the suds, disappearing into the water. She closed her eyes and grinned, unleashing several more giggles. One thing was for certain: none of the other Lost Boys were doing what Peter was this evening.
The violet sky carried a hodgepodge of voices and indiscernible conversations over the docks and on the deck of the stationary Elvira. One, Two, and Tootles sat in a lopsided circle open to Nibs, who was pressing his thumbs into a corncob pipe.
“So is it tobacco? Or something else?” One asked.
“And why’s it green?” Tootles wiped the gloss from his face. As it was unseasonably humid that night, the moisture carried by the sticky evening air refused to absorb the damp layer accumulating on his skin.
“The girl who sold it to me said it was like tobacco but way better,” Nibs said, frustrated that he had to explain himself further. He finished packing the pipe, growing impatient with their lack of faith, but he began to question his own after a quick whiff of his fingers triggered an involuntary scrunch of the nose.
“It better be,” Two said. “It smells like a skunk’s asshole.”
“That’s probably your asshole you’re smellin’. Crick-shy mooncalf.”
“What the hell did you just call me?”
“Take it easy,” Nibs said. “Just bustin’ balls.” He pulled a match from his breast pocket and sparked it to life before placing it over a small corner of the open pipe. He took several puffs and passed the pipe to his left, leaving a tiny black blemish in the otherwise pea-colored herb. A chalky breath of burning plant scorched the back of his throat, causing him to double over and release a violent, unruly cough. Everyone stared in silent horror.
“Are you all right?” Tootles asked.
With his arms wrapped around his shins and his knees digging into his chest, Nibs rocked back and forth. He couldn’t stop coughing but was able to ease the increasing concern for his wellness with an enthusiastic thumbs-up.
“Pass that pipe, and give me a match,” One said eagerly.
The four of them passed the pipe and book of matches around as they normally would a bottle of whiskey, surprised by the increasing euphoria, peace, and lightweight depth saturating the air and conversation.
“What I want to know,” Nibs said, with lead-filled eyelids. “One. How did they find this stuff? Two. How did they know how to grow it? And three. How did they know that burning it and breathing in the smoke would make you feel like this?”
“I thought you were talking to me and him for a second,” One said.
“You were like—One—blah, blah, blah. Two—blah, blah, blah.” Two’s eyes were practically closed as his ear-to-ear grin quickly turned to a laugh.
“Were you seriously not listening?” Nib’s asked.
“You lost me when you started talking about your round earth theory,” One said.
Nibs sat up with a passionate hostility. “If it was flat like all you assholes say, there would be so many more stories about ships falling off the edge. You hear more stories about the Sea Witch than you do about ships falling off.”
“How would any of the stories get back if they fell off the earth, dummy?”
“Eat a dick,” Nibs said. “I was done with this conversation five minutes ago.”
The bunch sat still long enough to let the dust of the bad vibes settle. “Where’s Slightly tonight?” One asked. “He’d like this.”
“Not sure,” Tootles said.
One, hesitant, looked over both shoulders and lowered his voice. “Have you guys ever seen Slightly…go home with a guy?”
“I have,” Nibs said. He began to smirk, then giggle, causing a chain reaction of laughter.
“I walked in on him with a guy once. Here on the Elvira,” Tootles said.
The laughter was contagious.
“Why you ask, One?” Nibs asked. “It bother you?”
“Nah,” One said. “I wouldn’t say bother. I think it’s a bit weird, and I can’t help but think it’d be rather painful. But to each his own.”
The group’s laughter collected and swelled. Tootles contained his for a moment but never let go of the wide grin being smashed by his chubby cheeks. “The poor bastard he brought back sure sounded like he was hurtin’.”
At this point, the group’s laughter boiled like a pot of water, taking on more heat. Even people in town were starting to hear the faint collection of cackles.
“Slightly has a great big hog too,” Tootles added, wiping a tear from his eye.
“How the hell do you know that?” Nibs asked.
“I walked in on him changing one time.”
“Christ Almighty, Tootles,” One said. “Don’t you ever knock?”
Two sat up and looked toward Nibs. “You should pack another pipe. This stuff is great.”
A familiar voice entered from a distance. “There she is,” Slightly said. “The Elvira.” The group turned and opened their squinting eyes just enough to see Slightly approaching with a male counterpart who had a similar build and facial features.
“What are you non-pussy-gettin’ losers laughing about?” Slightly asked, never stopping en route to his room. “And what are you doing back so early?”
“Nibs got some sort of special tobacco from a girl in town. Want to try it?”
“No thanks,” Slightly said, twitching his nose at the lingering foreign smell.
“Who’s your friend?” One asked, his smile about to burst with laughter.
The question was met with the aggressive slam of the downstairs hatch. Once Slightly and his new friend were out of sight, the laughter hit an entirely new level.
“Oh, I have one. I have one,” Tootles said urgently. He glanced over at the orange-and-white-striped cat. “Do you think that Cecil can see things we can’t—like gods, or ghosts…or trolls?”
The following morning, Nibs awoke, feeling as though someone had lined the roof of his mouth and the back of his throat with carpet. He stumbled toward the nearest barrel of drinking water and scooped out two full ladles before being distracted by a rhythmic tapping coming from somewhere nearby. He moved with purpose throughout the vessel, searching it inside and out. He couldn’t pinpoint the tapping, but he knew it wasn’t coming from any of the other Lost Boys—all of whom were still fast asleep, scattered about everywhere but their beds. The only other living soul up and about was Cecil, licking remnants of a late-night milk bottle from Tootles’s lips.
Tap. Tap. Tap. There it was again. Tap. Tap. Nibs stepped over Tootles and looked over the Elvira’s starboard side.
“Oh shit,” Nibs said, turning toward the comatose bunch. “Guys. Wake up. It’s Jinni.”
Jinni was as dead to the world as the rest of them and looked ten times worse. The stingers injected into his neck were clearly visible, despite the expanding cherry rash surrounding them. It had worked its way down his chest and up past the curve of his chin.
“Jinni.” The increased volume of Nibs’s voice woke everyone else on board while its urgency galvanized them into hurrying over. Collectively, the bunch raised Jinni’s boat and carried him to his bed as he shook and spewed gibberish in the midst of what seemed to be a harrowing nightmare.
Slightly’s fingers were steady and precise with a pair of rusted tweezers. He pulled the first of many stingers from Jinni’s neck and placed them in a glass jar before rolling him over and realizing that there were twice as many scattered across his back.
Within the dreadful, hallucinogenic slumber, Jinni kept repeating himself. “Don’t put me back in there,” he shouted, tears streaming out the bottom of his closed eyelids. “Please don’t put me back in there.”
“Man. These things are in there good,” Slightly said. He removed two more turquoise stingers from Jinni’s back, struggling to win the tug-of-war with the tender flesh.
“Don’t put me back in there. Please. Please don’t put me back in there.”