Back on the Elvira, Jinni sat on the edge of his bed suffering from a fever, only finding relief from the occasional wipe of a damp rag. He remained silent in the dark, running the soothing cloth over his neck and face while listening to the indiscernible chatter coming from the Lost Boys on deck and directly above his room. All of them lay scattered about, bathing under the blazing high-noon sun.
“Keep wearing dirty underwear, and that’s exactly what’s going to happen,” Nibs said, directing his comment at One.
Peter, losing patience, sat up. “Enough. We’re done talking about this.” He started to close his eyes and lie down but was startled by Tootles and his reaction to something Peter hadn’t yet noticed. Peter, along with everyone else, looked over to see what had Tootles so taken aback.
It was a beaten and bloodied Mac. He was tired, sweaty, grimy, and wearing a well-deserved stubble that hadn’t been there when they’d last seen his young face. Peter looked him over, making a note of the spiderweb cracks on his raw knuckles and the dry crimson that had leaked and blackened.
Slightly approached Mac, getting into his face and pawing gently at his most visible wounds. “Holy shit. Are you OK?”
“I’m fine,” Mac said.
Slightly, still concerned, eased away.
Peter could see through the surface wounds and knew that the young man who stood before him was not the same young man he’d seen off. Mac was gone. And this strange, young, stout man carried a pearl of wisdom and way about him. It was painful wisdom that one can only ascertain with a harsh test that breaks the very fabric of comfort and spirit that once made that person who he was. The Mac in front of them now was cold, harsh, resilient, and much more determined. Nothing—and no one—was going to stand in his way.
“What’s the other guy look like?” Peter asked, letting out a playful grin.
Through bruised yet confident cheeks, Mac replied with a mischievous and red-toothed grin. “Where’s Jinni?” he asked, trading the smile for a more puzzled expression.
“Downstairs,” Peter said. “Resting.”
Peter’s glum tone and the quiet, emotional response by the Lost Boys was cause for concern.
“Is that bad?” Mac asked.
“It’s a long story,” Peter said. “He’ll have to fill you in on the details.”
Mac nodded. “I’ve got some details for him as well.”
Mac nodded again with more vigor. “I know where he is. I know where my father is.”
“A small island called Calypso,” Mac said.
The Lost Boys recoiled in horror.
“What? What is it?”
“Calypso Island?” Tootles asked. “The emperor said those words? Calypso Island?”
“Yeah,” Mac said with a shrug. “So?”
“Calypso Island is a dangerous place,” One said. “It’s hostile. And the queen there is—”
“Insane,” Jinni said, ascending from the stairs.
“Queen?” Tootles asked. “What about the Sea Witch?”
“Sea Witch?” Mac asked mockingly. “Don’t tell me you guys have gone superstitious on me now. She’s not real.”
“Yes. She is,” Jinni said.
“I can’t believe I’m having to sell you all on this. You wanted a payday; you brought me all the way here for the chance at a payday. And now that we get confirmation that my father is still alive and that payday is a certainty, you guys come at me with stories about scary queens and sea witches. Come on.”
“Don’t be like that.” Jinni closed his eyes and crossed his arms.
“I’m not being like anything. I’m just saying. If you guys don’t want to come, I appreciate all you’ve done up to this point. I really do. If you don’t want to go any further, I understand. And I won’t hold it against any of you. But I’m going to get him.”
“How you plan on getting there without us?” Jinni asked.
“Without this ship?” Peter added.
“I’ll figure it out,” Mac said. “I suckered you into bringing me here, didn’t I?”
“Yeah. Big man,” Jinni said. “Got it all figured out now.”
“I didn’t say that. And this isn’t about me being a big man. It is and always was about finding my father. This is the closest I’ve ever been to reaching out and touching him. I don’t care if there are a thousand crazy queens on Calypso Island, each with her own personal sea witch. I’m going to get my father—with or without you. I figured, from all I’ve learned about you guys, that you’d understand what this means.” Mac looked down at his knuckles. “What I’ve done to get here. What you guys have done to get me here. And how close we are now.” Mac paused and realized that his plea for sympathy from the Lost Boys did little in terms of value. None had much of a reaction to his emotional display.
“Ya know,” Mac went on. “I never believed it when I heard people say bad things about Lost Boys. But now I know they were right. You’re nothing but a bunch of bandits claiming false moral high ground. You really don’t give a good goddamn about the people you claim to want to help unless there’s an easy guarantee it’ll line your pockets.”
Peter stepped forward. “Jinni already told you once, Mac. We were all slaves most of our lives. We’re—”
“Yeah, yeah. You’re done doin’ shit for free. I know. But no one’s asking you to do anything for free. I know you were in this for the reward from the start—all of you. But we’re as close as we’ve been. The reward is still there. It’ll be yours for the taking. And the glory. But we’re gonna have to go through Calypso Island for you to get it.”
“Nope. Sorry,” Peter said unapologetically.
Mac curled his lips, ready to let words and fists fly.
“I was there, Mac,” Jinni said. “I was in the castle. I spoke to your father. Directly.” Jinni’s words fired through the air like an arrow, striking each of the Lost Boys before settling on Mac’s chest.
“You what?” Mac asked. “When were you planning on telling me?”
“I wasn’t sure I was going to tell you. But your father—he isn’t who he once was. He looks like a frail old man. And scared. So scared. Poor bastard wasn’t even convinced I was really there. Thought I was a ghost. Or part of some dream.”
“No. You’re lying,” Mac said, growing red.
“Afraid not, kid.”
“No. No. If I’d have been with you…if he had known that I was out looking for him, trying to—”
“I told him all that, Mac. I told him everything. It didn’t matter a lick. Said he couldn’t explain it, but he couldn’t leave without permission. I got the distinct feeling that he was—afraid. There was no question there. At first, I thought he was afraid of me. That my helping him was some sort of a trick or trap. But it was her. He was afraid of her and what she’d do if she caught him trying to escape.”
“The queen,” Jinni said, with a shiver. “She’s the one who’s got him.”
“I still don’t believe you. I might not know my father, but I know he wouldn’t turn down the chance to escape. No. No way. I don’t know who you talked to, but it wasn’t my father.”
“I really wish it wasn’t.”
“Tell me what he said, then. So far, all I’ve heard is a lot of bullshit about what you think he was feeling. What did he say?”
The personality in Jinni’s face disappeared, and he stood like a statue as Otis’s voice began to speak, with a crescendo of emotional outpouring.
“Tell him I’m sorry. And tell Penelope I’m sorry. Tell Mac he’s officially the man of the house now, and that I’m proud of the man he’s become. Tell him that…not many sons get a chance to live up to the names their fathers make for them, but he has the potential to do exactly that…” Jinni shed a tear. “But I have to stay. I can’t leave here without permission.”
After several moments of silence, Jinni’s soul returned to his face.
“Bastard.” Mac wiped the sad tears from his eyes as a few angry ones stepped into their place.
Still shaken by Jinni’s metamorphosis, the Lost Boys gave Mac their undivided empathy.
“For what it’s worth, he couldn’t explain why he needed her permission,” Jinni said. “Just that he needed it. Like he was being held by some kind of spell or invisible gate. I know I said it was just a feeling, but I could see in his eyes that he was petrified to get caught by her. Like it’d happened once before. And the punishment was severe.”
“Did he say any of that?” Mac asked. “Or is it just another feeling?”
“Just a feeling.”
“That’s what I thought.” Mac hung his shoulders, defeated. “Some hero. The great, brave, magnificent, charming, witty…” he said with showmanship. “Otis,” he said, deflated.
“Sorry, Mac,” Jinni said. “Unfortunately, sometimes that’s part of growing up.”
“Learning that your father isn’t the man they said he was.
Mac got himself cleaned up and into some fresh clothes. He rested on a hammock under the shade of closed eyes but couldn’t catch any sleep as his mind raced with resentment. Much like Otis had once pictured his family moving on and being happy without him, Mac pictured his father living the good life with a new family and a new castle.
Life there must be good. Dad must be happy. How could he turn down a perfectly good opportunity to escape? Jinni talking about feelings, and spells, and invisible gates. What a load of horseshit. Who wouldn’t seize on the opportunity to leave somewhere they were being kept prisoner unless they wanted to be there?
The question burned like an iron brand on the back of his neck. Nobody—that’s who. But the question was just too big for Mac at the time, as was the answer.
As Mac sat alone, sulking and growing more resentful of his father’s cowardice, his father’s unconscious body lay limp on the damp sand of a desolate beach. Suddenly, his mind jolted the rest of his body awake, forcing his tense eyes open. For a moment, everything from his neck down was paralyzed until his lungs filled with life, and he was able to sit up.
“Ow.” Otis gently brushed the tips of his fingers over the sand sticking to his arm and the shallow scratch from the Sea Witch’s stinger. Seething, he struggled to curb the pain coming from the cherry-red rash spreading rapidly around his wound.
He stood and patted himself down, only to be startled by a small, malnourished white rabbit scampering across the sand. It was the type of incident that would have been forgotten about within the hour. But there was something peculiar about this particular rabbit. He was dressed in human clothes. Donning a sleek three-piece suit, the rabbit was either running to or from something and paying little mind to the dents and scratches being picked up by the pocket watch chained to his back right paw.
“Now I’ve seen everything,” Otis said, watching the debonair critter scamper into the nearby woods.
Moments later, Otis saw exactly for himself what the rabbit had been running from, as a flock of jumbo king crabs pitter-pattered through the coarse sand. The fleet proudly carried human skulls for shells and sounded as though they were walking on fiddle strings as their claws stabbed the earth with each step forward.
Otis was overcome with an eerie feeling, complete with a spine-soaking chill as the last and smallest crab tailed behind with a child-sized skull. As creepy as they were, however, they all ignored Otis. Following the exact path and opening that the rabbit had taken into the woods, they organized themselves into a single-file line and disappeared into the brush.
Otis apprehensively stepped in line behind the small crab and followed it through the open patch. Once encumbered by the shadow of that first tree, Otis could feel the inviting embrace from a collection of trees nearby. The seemingly visible presence of their age and wisdom was euphoric. Despite the lack of light, brilliant and vivid colors chimed out from the lilies, orchids, tulips, roses, and wildflowers that had been intricately placed throughout the heavenly landscape.
Still feeling a bit delirious, Otis couldn’t shake the feeling that the trees and flowers were watching him, studying his movements and consciously aware of his presence—maybe even his thoughts. Curious, he thought, smiling.
“Oh. Hello,” a strange and gentle young voice called out.
Otis turned to his left and noticed a narrow yet rapid stream that hadn’t been there before, where a seven-year-old girl was cleansing her hands. With a mess of back-length hair and cheeks overflowing with freckles, she seemed eager to see Otis and acted as if she had known him for a number of years.
“Hi there,” he said. “What are you doing out here all by yourself?”
“I’m not by myself. You know better than that.”
Puzzled, Otis looked around, seeing no life except for the surrounding collage of vibrant vegetation.
“What happened to you?” she asked. “You’re soaked.”
He raised his eyebrows. “I was sailing home.” He remembered bits of what had happened but struggled to find the words or any proper order in which to let them out. Despite all that had happened, all he could muster was, “The Sea Witch. She sank my boat.”
“I see she got your arm there,” the little girl said. “That’s no good.”
“You’re telling me. Her venom hurts.”
“That’s not all it does.”
“What else does it do?”
She stared up and tilted her head.
“Am I going to be OK?” Otis asked.
“I don’t know,” she said, smiling and looking just as confused as he.
“Well, where are we?” he asked. Otis raised his palms to the sky and twisted his slender torso to the left and right. “Am I dreaming? Am I…did I not make it? What the hell is going on here?”
“I don’t know,” she said. Her smile hit Otis in such a way that he thought she was antagonistic. But in reality, there was no reality.
“Well, what do you know?” Otis asked, changing his tone from concerned to frustrated.
“Show me your eyes,” she said.
“Your eyes.” Her voice elevated. “Show me your eyes.”
Still feeling as though he was being toyed with, Otis appeased the young girl by standing still and facing her. She gazed into his eyes curiously, tilting her head back and forth before her face froze in terror.
“What? What do you see?”
“There’s something…wrong with them.”
“What? What’s wrong with my eyes?”
She looked around, scanning the area to make sure no new parties had arrived. “They’re seeing things that aren’t part of your universe,” she whispered.
“I don’t understand,” he said, more puzzled than before.
“You’re in a rabbit hole now. At the bottom, in fact. And it’s one you were never meant to be in. Here. Drink this.” She handed him a small bottle labeled “Drink Me.”
“What’s it going to do me?” he asked.
“Why is a raven like a writing desk?”
“What?” he asked.
“Why is a raven like a writing desk?”
“I have no idea. Why?” Otis looked at the bottle as if expecting to find the answer.
“Drink it,” she said. “You’ll get all the answers you’re looking for.”
Otis hesitated but eventually brought the bottle to his lips and took a tiny sip before slipping into a convulsive coughing fit. Liquid began to pour from his mouth so fast and so thick that he couldn’t take a breath. He dropped to his knees in a panic as the stream grew heavier and faster. He looked up to her, asking with his eyes why she felt the need to poison him. Her eyes closed, revealing two more eyes instead of eyelids. Then she leaned forward and whispered. “Climb.”
Otis’s closed eyes popped open, and water burst from his mouth, catapulting him from the dream world. Violent ocean waves rolled ashore, inches from his feet, as he lay in the damp, gritty sand. The rich, earthy aromas of pine trees and marigolds played peekaboo with the inside of his nose as the hum of a billion honeybees lay claim to the beachfront. Otis had no idea where he was, and less of an idea as to how he gotten there—and he was paralyzed from the neck down.