Jinni lay on a cot in the Elvira’s belly, as gravity’s brawny shove weighed him down. His eyes opened slowly, bothered by the thumping coming from above on the ship’s deck. After concluding that it was One and Two going best seven out of ten in a series of competitive sprints, Jinni knew the noise wasn’t going to quit anytime soon. He let out a sigh, rolled onto his side, and placed a pillow over his right ear. Peter, sitting in a nearby chair, startled Jinni’s attempt to get more rest.
“There he is,” Peter said. “Glad we waited an extra day.”
“No. Not yet.”
“How long was I out?”
Jinni tried to rub the itch from his eyes but only made it worse as he forced his legs off the edge of the cot and sat up.
“You OK?” Peter asked.
“Yeah. Will be.”
“Must’ve been a wild trip.”
“You could say that.” Jinni grew concerned with the lack of energy following his awakening.
“So…uh, now may not be the best time to ask, but I’m gonna anyway. You find out anything about Otis?”
“Yeah,” Jinni said, closing his eyes and attempting to shake the pain between his temples. “I know where he is.”
“You heard where he is, or you know where he is?”
“I know where he is. I saw him. I talked to him.”
“He’s on Calypso Island. Being held by the queen.”
Peter, midblink, kept his eyes shut upon hearing this news. “Are you serious?”
“Of course, he’s on Calypso Island,” Peter said as if this journey had reached its worst-case scenario. “Well, what now? What’s next? I suppose you want to keep going with this.”
“No. We’re not going there,” Jinni said, much to the surprise of his young captain. “I can’t go back.” Jinni stood up and suffered a dizzy spell paired with weary legs.
“Whoa, whoa.” Peter stepped forward and grabbed his shoulders, helping to guide him back down. “You all right?”
Jinni raised his eyebrows. “I dunno. I’ve never felt like this before. It’s strange.”
“Go back to sleep. You just need some more rest, is all.”
“That’s probably it,” Jinni said, knowing that it wasn’t. “Hey, before you go. Don’t tell any of the other guys about this.”
“If Mac comes back empty handed, I don’t want one of them to let it slip and give him a reason to keep going with this.”
“Fair enough,” Peter said. “Anything else?”
Disheartened, and potentially more emotional than usual as a result of his withdrawal from the Sea Witch’s venom, Jinni began to confide in Peter in a way he hadn’t up to this point. “I hurt, Pete. My skin hurts. My insides hurt. Even my soul feels like it’s crying out in pain. Like there’s some…problem, deep inside me, struggling to correct itself. I feel—”
Peter could see Jinni struggling to find the right word. “Human?”
Jinni nodded, downtrodden, and released a small amount of stress with his next breath. “I’ll never forget the first time she got ahold of me.”
“Who?” Peter asked.
“The Sea Witch.”
Shell-shocked, Peter dropped his jaw and raised his eyebrows.
“It was like she was a toddler, and I was her new toy,” Jinni continued. “She took pleasure in the fact that her stingers could only hurt me. There was this…admiration in her eyes. Like she finally found someone—something she always wanted. But it feels different now when she gets me.
“Time was, I’d seek her out for a game of cat and mouse, just because I was bored, feeling adventurous. I don’t know if I’ve done it too many times, or I’m just getting too old to fight off her venom, but everything feels so much different now.”
“What are you saying, Jinni?”
Jinni gently pressed his left hand against his belly. “Nothing,” he said, realizing he’d said too much. “Her poison makes me chatty. Just need to get some more rest—like you said.”
Peter nodded, struggling to hide the concern on his young face. “You do that. Holler up if you need anything.”
Up in the crow’s nest, Nibs’s gentle paintbrush was guided by the glimmering night sky he was attempting to capture on paper. He dipped his brush into a cup of water, captivated by the dark-blue cloud as it dispersed in the once-clear liquid until Peter’s head and slender shoulders peeked over the ledge.
“He OK?” Nibs asked, never looking away from the painting.
“He gonna live?”
“I dunno,” Peter said disconsolately. “I think so. But there definitely seems to be somethin’ wrong with him, or his magic, or both.”
“Really?” Nibs set his brush down.
“Yeah. There’s something else, though. But ya can’t say anything to the other guys.”
“What is it?”
“Jinni says Otis is being held captive on Calypso Island—by the queen.”
“He sure?” Nibs asked.
“He seemed pretty sure.”
“So we’re not going then? Right?” Nibs asked.
“No. Big no.”
“That’s a bummer. I was lookin’ forward to meetin’ him,” Nibs said, turning half his attention back to his painting.
“Otis?” Peter grinned.
“Hell yes!” Nibs exclaimed. “They’ll be telling his stories and singing his songs for centuries. We were about to be part of one of the most important chapters. Arguably the most important.” Nibs looked up at the sky once more for reference before peeking back down at the early stages of his painting. “So what’s our next move?”
“Don’t have one yet.” Peter stood up and crossed his arms. “For now, just enjoy our downtime until Mac gets back.”
“How long’s that gonna be?”
Mac wasn’t expected back at the Elvira for at least another few days, but after only one night as a guest of Emperor Aladdin and Empress Helen, Mac double-timed it back to the South Nestor coast. Both he and Pinocchio were eager to make it back.
Pinocchio was missing his wife and daughters, and Mac was one bread crumb closer to finding his father and excited to share what he’d learned with Jinni and the other Lost Boys.
The two of them arrived on the edge of town just after dusk in the exact spot from whence they had left. After a quick goodbye, they parted ways, both grateful to have met the other and to have been a part of two generations of fathers and sons working together. While they hadn’t encountered any obstacles on their journey back as they had on the way there, Mac had to make a small jaunt through town before he could count his blessings. It was there, within the busy grid of the market square, where he was spotted and recognized.
Of the three men sitting together, John was the only one who caught that initial glimpse. “I’ll be. Look who’s out, all alone.”
The other two men squinted in the distance before one of them lost interest and took a swig from his stein.
“It’s one of the Lost Boys that cut us off on the way here.”
A giddy Mac had tunnel vision en route to the Elvira; otherwise, he may have noticed his attackers closing in on him after leaving the busiest part of town behind. They trailed closely before dispersing and sneaking ahead. They got into position, hidden by the cloak of a pitch-black alleyway. The moment Mac had stepped within their grasp they pulled him into the darkness.
The three of them would go on to beat Mac severely. His face was pounded to a bruised and bloodied pulp while everything from the neck down suffered through an array of jabs, cuts, and more bruises.
“Please. Please.” It was the only word he could spit out. “Please.”
After a harsh half a minute, two of the three men decided that they’d had enough. They could plainly see that Mac had as well.
“No.” The man with whom Peter Pan had the original dispute declared, “I ain’t done with him yet.”
“Come on, John. You give him much more, and you’re gonna kill him.”
“Pity,” John said unfazed.
“Think about the watchmen.”
“Their only concern right now is the boats comin’ in. No one’ll bat an eye for this little twerp. Not by the time we’re gone anyway.” John sneered at the two men. “If you two aren’t going to help, then get the hell outta here.”
As they walked away, John took a moment to collect his breath. Mac lay in a pool of blood and saliva. At that moment, above the pain, above the thought of impending death, Mac thought of Penelope. In one quick flash, he was weighed down with a life’s worth of regret. He regretted that he wouldn’t have a chance to tell her goodbye. Even more so, he regretted all the times that a simple spat between the two of them had escalated into a memorable argument. He thought of times he had hurt her feelings with his careless choice of words and shed a tear at the thought that these moments would sum up her memories of him. All he ever wanted was to please his mother—and make her proud. And now he was about to leave her here, alone.
“Get up,” John said, pointing his sword toward Mac’s chest.
Mac was drained but used what was left of his energy to stand up. Glaring at John, Mac confidently spat another mouthful of blood.
“Turn around, tough guy.”
Mac turned around slowly.
“Move it,” John said, dashing a glance over his shoulder. He poked Mac in the back with his sword, guiding him deeper into the alley.
“Are you going to kill me?” Mac asked, seemingly delirious.
“Do you really wanna know?”
Mac stopped. “No. Please don’t kill me. I’ll do anything you want. Please, no.”
“Shut up,” John said with another jab of his sword. “You ain’t talkin’ your way outta this one, Lost Boy. Now get scootin’.”
He jabbed Mac in the back once more. That’s when Mac widened his eyes and performed the tactic that his new pal Pinocchio had taught him in the desert.
Mac pivoted to his right, guiding John’s blade under his arm and grasping the sword’s handle. While fighting for control with the dumbstruck John, Mac curled his left fist and planted it firmly into John’s unprepared cheek.
Within the darkness, the thud of John’s body and the clang of his sword gave birth to a new man: Mac Seehus. The young champion knew he would never live up to the name created by his father, or the stories people told of him. But Mac did know that this moment was important. And if they ever did tell stories of him as they did his father, this moment would belong entirely to Mac.
He had been beaten into mush, in more pain than he knew to be possible, and as close to death as anyone has ever been without meeting it—not once, but twice. But something funny happens to some people when they’re as close to death as Mac was at that moment. They realize, more than ever, they want to be alive.