The Elvira’s next several days blended together as one while passing by in the blink of an eye. In the span of that time, Mac was offered—and accepted—a job from Peter Pan as a more permanent crew member. It was really a sweet deal for all parties involved. Mac could ride with them as long as he wanted, provided he continued performing his duties. Peter told him that in twelve to fifteen months, they would be returning to Ithaca, at which time Mac could either part ways with them, or he could stay on as crew.
After loading up on provisions and enjoying one last night of drunken mayhem, the Elvira set sail for North Nestor, using the island’s west coastline as a guide. Mac had performed his duties for the day and kept to himself on what was quickly becoming his favorite hammock. Previously, the Lost Boys had thought of Mac more as a passenger—a privileged prince who had all of life’s goodies and none of its hardships. However, now that they were about to label him a peer and spend significantly more time with him, his reserved demeanor and social skills were noticeably incompatible with “Lost Boy culture.” His choice of few words, and how he spoke them, rubbed them the wrong way. And none of them, least of all Peter, expected Mac to make it.
Needless to say, teenagers are moody. And the pendulum of their moodiness is as unpredictable in pace as it is in direction. As Mac’s slender back dug into that hammock, the resentment he felt toward his father was reaching such a peak that it began to bring into question his relationship with Penelope. When was the last time she acted like a mother? He couldn’t remember.
He could remember the smell of laudanum on her breath—sometimes vague, more often rich. He could remember all the times she’d pawned him off on one of their servants when she didn’t have the strength to get out of bed or face the sunlight. But he couldn’t remember the last time she’d acted like a mother. That’s when he realized, much like he had with Otis’s words spoken by Jinni, the person Mac had left behind wasn’t her. Who Penelope had been for the better part of his life wasn’t really his mother. His true mother had been the bottle clutched within her fingers. Once he made this realization and understood that his parents weren’t the parents they should have been, something inside him clicked, when, before, it would have snapped.
Belowdecks, and finally sleeping fewer than twenty hours a day, Jinni was finally nearing full recovery from the Sea Witch’s near-lethal injections. Once darkness had overtaken the dusk, Mac got out of his hammock and walked downstairs. Despite Mac’s footsteps being silent and Jinni’s eyes being closed, Jinni could feel his presence in the room.
“I don’t suppose you’re down here to tell me a bedtime story,” Jinni said.
“I wanted to tell you first,” Mac said. “Then I’ll tell Peter.”
“Tell me what?” Jinni asked, sitting up.
“I’m not going any further with you guys. I’m going to Calypso Island. I have to. I know it may sound stupid, but I can’t just leave family behind like that…I won’t be able to live with myself if I know that I could have done more to help him and choked when I had the chance.”
“Well,” Jinni said, disappointed. “If that’s how you feel. Pete’s not gonna be happy about it. It’s not every day he offers someone a job. But it is what it is. And get over it. So will the other guys.”
“Thank you.” Mac nodded.
Mac packed what few items he had in a satchel, strapped his sword and dagger to his belt, and went upstairs to tell Peter of his decision. Peter was indifferent, for the most part. If he had shown any signs of caring, it was only because he had lost the pool he and the other guys had going on how long Mac was going to last as a crewmember. Tootles was the only one who had bet that it would be less than a week.
“Are there any ports we can stop at tonight so you can let me off?” Mac asked. Peter and every other Lost Boy reacted to Mac’s question as if they thought he had been joking. Tootles and One even began to giggle.
“No,” Peter said. His stern tone was over the top, to the point of being comedic. “There aren’t any ports we can stop at tonight.”
“But I thought you said—”
“At no point in time did I ever say we’d be making any special ports so Princess Mac can get off the boat. Tootles, did I say that?”
“Nibs. Did you hear me say anything of the sort?
“I didn’t think so,” Peter said. “We won’t be making port until we reach North Nestor Island. Until then, you’ll perform your duties as they were assigned to you.” Peter cracked a smile and started hamming it up with the other guys. “Are there any ports we can stop at tonight?” he asked in a mocking tone. “Get the hell outta here.”
Fuming, Mac wanted to tackle Peter and bury his fists into Peter’s smug face. But a cooler, more rational head prevailed. While Peter and the Lost Boys continued to snicker and smirk at Mac’s expense, he walked away from their condescending eyes to the Elvira’s starboard stern. He tightened his satchel, secured his dagger, and grabbed two logs from a pile of firewood. Unnoticed, Mac lowered the logs into the water and carefully placed his sword on top of them. He slipped into the surface and watched the Elvira sail on without him.
Jinni, sensing that something was off, bolted upstairs to find Peter and the Lost Boys still yukking it up. They had moved onto another subject, oblivious to the fact that Mac was gone.
“Where is he?” Jinni asked, panicked.
“Probably went back to his hammock to cry some more,” Peter said. “I’m not his au pair.”
Jinni looked back and saw that the hammock was empty. “No, he’s not. Where’d he go?”
“I don’t know,” Peter said, trying to mellow the mood. “He’s gotta be around here somewhere.”
“There he is,” One yelled out, pointing at the Elvira’s wake.
“Son of a bitch,” Peter said. “The little brat jumped overboard.”
“Drop the anchor,” Jinni said.
“No,” Peter said. “And don’t ever give me a command again. To hell with him.” Peter proceeded toward the back of the ship to share his thoughts with Mac. “Good luck. Spoiled prick.”
Jinni brought up a bag of provisions and got the lifeboat ready.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Peter asked.
“I can’t let him go to Calypso Island alone. He’s gonna get himself killed.”
“Who gives a shit?” Peter asked. “I think the world will survive with one less prince running around.”
“I have to help him.”
“I’m sorry, Pete. I just can’t let him go alone.”
“Then don’t,” Peter replied, coldly.
Jinni held a stone face and didn’t answer.
“You wanna get yourself killed on Calypso Island?” Peter asked. “Be my guest. You can even take the lifeboat.” Peter said these words as if he had won the argument. But everyone knew that if anyone other than Jinni had challenged Peter, the result would not have been the same.
“Thank you, Peter,” Jinni said.
“If by some miracle you don’t get yourself killed, we’ll be on the north port of Nestor Island for three weeks.”
Jinni nodded and quickly loaded up in the lifeboat, not wanting to draw out the goodbye with fear that Peter would change his mind. Just as Jinni was about to break loose from the Elvira, Nibs called out and stopped him.
“Not you too.” Peter’s tone was that of a disappointed parent.
“Come on, Nibs,” Two said.
“Sorry, guys. But it’s not every day you get a chance to meet a real-life hero, much less save one. See y’all at North Nestor. Have an ale and two whores ready for me.”
Jinni waited for Nibs to grab a few sticks of beef jerky, water, weapons, and a small bottle of wine.
Once Jinni and Nibs had caught up to Mac, Nibs initiated the conversation. “I swear Nestor Island has the ugliest mermaids I’ve ever seen.”
“Piss off, Nibs,” Mac said with a middle finger.
“Mac. What are you doing?” Jinni asked.
“I have to go to Calypso Island. I have to.”
“Yeah. Thought you meant you were gonna go once we’d reached port. Why don’t you let us take you back to the ship? You can think about everything—really think about it.”
“No time,” Mac snapped back.
“I already told you—”
“I know what you told me, Jinni,” Mac said. “And I believe every word of it. But he’s not himself right now. What he said—him staying there—it’s not him. Something’s controlling the real him, so I can’t abandon him now. The same can be said about my mom.” Mac felt a weight lift from his shoulders.
“Get in the boat.”
“No,” Mac said. “I’m not going back to the ship.”
“There’s something you should know…I didn’t exactly leave your dad behind after I spoke to him. I did try something else. Whether or not it worked, I still don’t know.”
Mac raised his eyebrows and leaned forward, resting his arms on the boat. “What did you try?”
“The queen of Calypso Island…has this mirror.” Jinni went on to reveal the last remaining secret he’d been keeping. “And if she truly swears by its every command, request, and opinion, it stands to reason that she’s going to free him—if she hasn’t already.”
“And how do you know she hasn’t already?”
“I don’t. But that’s information that will travel fast. We won’t have to go to Calypso Island for it to find us.”
Mac looked east toward the vast, hungry sea that awaited his next move. “I’m still going. He’s been cooped up all these years. You said yourself, he seemed scared. It’s hard to say what kind of mind tricks she used to get him under her control. When he gets out, he’s going to need a friendly face to help him home. How many more secrets you got in that big magic brain of yours anyway?”
“Mac,” Jinni said gently. “Get in the boat.”
“No. I’m not going back to the Elvira.”
“Get in,” Jinni said, reaching his hand toward Mac. “I’ll take you. I’ll take you to Calypso Island.”
Mac, Jinni, and Nibs spent the next several days in close quarters and exposed to the elements. A clear midnight sky guided them quietly into Calypso Island’s foggy and humid coastline. The three of them settled on a secluded bank hidden by fallen tree branches, thick swarms of brush, and mosquitoes.
“Ow. Damn,” Nibs said, smacking his neck.
“Shhh,” Jinni said, with a finger on his mouth.
They stepped off the boat as silent as the calm waters that had cradled them on the way in.
“Follow me,” Jinni whispered. Nibs and Mac followed closely behind, mirroring their guide’s every move. Jinni stopped and turned around. “Shhh. Don’t move.” He tiptoed ahead. “Something doesn’t feel right here.” He stopped and turned around once more. Nibs and Mac stood frozen like frightened goslings. “Climb this tree. Don’t move, and keep your mouths shut. I’ll be back in a minute.”
Before Mac and Nibs had even taken their first steps up, Jinni was gone. He had disappeared into the woods, feeling uneasy without the slightest inkling as to why. He was right to be worried, however. The cause of his uneasiness was the glowing energy of raw, war-torn land. It was as abundant in the air as the ozone rolling over the moonlit moss. Calypso Island was officially in the midst of a civil war.
First, the queen had gone missing. Several guards swore up and down that they had seen her go into the guest quarters after dinner, but no one had seen her come out. Then, several days later, it was discovered that a passenger ship was attacked and torn to shreds, leaving over one hundred Calypso Island residents to freeze to death in the icy waters. In many minds, there was little doubt. Calypso Island was under attack.
The panic wasn’t limited to inside the castle walls either. Every guard and servant who had been loyal to the queen remained so after her disappearance. Not only were her military and security units on the lookout for the nonexistent threat from somewhere overseas, but they were also skeptical of their own residents’ intentions more than at any other time in the island’s history.
As a result, vigilance had become the number-one priority. Different patches of land surrounding her castle that weren’t normally under surveillance were now under the eagle-eyed foot soldiers ready to defend her honor. Of course, all this information was so new that it hadn’t yet reached the Elvira. Otherwise, Jinni might have taken another route to the castle. With light and quick footsteps, Jinni scampered through roving hilltops encumbered with trees that blacked out the moonlight. He didn’t feel any sort of human presence, just the musical mixture of communication between birds, crows, and wild turkeys.
“Stop right there,” a stern voice called out from the dark. “By order of the queen.”
Jinni stopped, stood still, and held his breath. He had been around long enough to know that sometimes it’s better to plead your case with the authorities than to run. This, however, was not one of those times. Within the blink of an eye, Jinni turned around and ran for his life.
“Stop,” the voice called out again. “Fire.”
Jinni was already running as fast as he could but somehow picked up speed as the whoosh of zipping arrows fired past and around him. Feeling their nips, he juked, twisted, bent, slid, and ducked all the way back to where Nibs and Mac were waiting.
“Oh, shit,” Nibs said, seeing Jinni’s panicked silhouette sprinting into eyeshot.
“Ruuuuuuun!” Jinni yelled.
Mac and Nibs scurried down the tree, landed hard on the ground, and started running toward the boat. Jinni and multiple relentless waves of arrows followed behind. “Go, go, go,” Jinni yelled.
He, Nibs, and Mac sprinted as fast as they could, nearly losing balance and running themselves into the ground several times. The arrows felt to be moving in closer with the potentially slow hand of death, but water and the boat were finally in sight.
“Nibs,” Jinni said, keeping his breath despite the sprint. “You’re gonna take the left paddle. Be ready to haul ass.”
“Check,” Nibs said. He slid beneath a fallen tree and popped up onto his feet, seamlessly accelerating back to his original pace. “Ow. Damn,” Nibs yelled. His face went pale with terror as he reached back, clutching the sharp sting in his right leg. After another half step, he fell to the ground, sliding face-first through the dirt.
“Get up,” Jinni yelled.
“I can’t,” Nibs said, trying to pull the bloody arrow from his leg, failing to make it budge. “Ow. Shit, that hurts. You’re gonna have to go ahead without me, Jinni. Don’t let ’em get you too.”
Jinni looked at Nibs and Mac, then toward the war cries closing in all around. After a moment of struggle, Jinni helped Nibs guide one arm around himself and the other around Mac. They carried him onward. By some miracle or other force of good nature, all three made it back to the lifeboat without any additional wounds. Jinni and Mac plopped Nibs inside and paddled with maximum effort while Nibs affixed his eyes to the blacked-out tree line resting over their seemingly sluggish wake.
Fueled by a superhuman supply of adrenaline, Jinni paddled so hard on the right side that he was forcing the boat left. He shoved Mac aside and took over the left paddle, desperately trying to place distance between the lifeboat and shoreline.
As the rain of arrows pounded down on the water behind them, Jinni eased up on the paddling and sighed with relief, allowing himself and the boat a rest. Mac was still in a slight state of shock but was coming around. Nibs seemed to be visibly relieved, too, letting out a nervous but reassured giggle.
The gentle momentum that carried their boat came to a sudden stop.
“Oh no,” Jinni said.
Thump. Thump. Thump. Overcome with dread, Jinni, Mac, and Nibs looked at the bottom of the boat and felt chills wrap around their shoulders and backs. Thump. Thump. Jinni reached down for his belt and pulled out his sword. Mac and Nibs did the same. Thump. They each readied their stances, Nibs struggling more than the other two.
“Jinni,” Nibs whispered. “What do we do?”
“Fight. And whatever you do, don’t let go of that sword.”
Just as the boat began to moan and creak, Jinni dove headfirst into the water and swam away.
“Jiniiiiiii,” Nibs shouted.
As Jinni diverted attention from the lifeboat, a trail of wake followed behind. As the wake nearly caught up to him, Jinni rose from the water, encased by the grip of several stringy, twisting tentacles.
“Hey there, stranger,” the Sea Witch said, rising from the water. The more Jinni struggled, the tighter she squeezed.
“Ya know,” she said. “There’s something remarkably different about you, isn’t there? I thought I felt it last time, but I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Now I know. It’s your blood. It used to reject my venom. I used to be able to feel it. Fighting—like a proud Titan in the heat of battle. Now, it just feels like a man’s blood. A weak man’s blood, at that.”
Her tentacles reeled Jinni in, but before she could indulge in the spoils of her next kill, Nibs launched into the air and landed on her back. Finally having freed the arrow from his leg, he drove it into her shoulder. She craned her neck as the tentacles holding Jinni tossed him aside, and two others swatted Nibs. He splashed into the water as the Sea Witch pulled the arrow out of her shoulder.
“That was rather unpleasant,” she said. She tossed the arrow aside, treating it and her wound as nothing more than a minor inconvenience. “Where did you come from? Are you a Lost Boy too?” She approached the helpless Nibs and raised him from the water with a mess of tentacles, keeping his limbs spread open and wrapped separately.
Frozen by a sheet of terror, Mac watched from the lifeboat, wondering when she would notice him.
“Ahhhh!” The universe of pain in which Nibs was navigating was unlike anything he’d ever endured.
“Hurts, doesn’t it?” the Sea Witch asked. “As my stingers penetrate your weak flesh, the venom makes your blood feel as though someone set it ablaze. And even though you’re submerged in an endless supply of crispy cool water, you’ll never be able to put it out. It’ll just burn, and burn, and burn, until there’s nothing left—but ashes.”
Her tentacles gave him one unbearably tight squeeze before releasing their grip. Lifeless, Nibs sank into the abyss with the arrow.
“How about that?” she said, looking down as Nibs sank deeper within his watery grave. “Now you really are a lost boy. Where were we, Mr. Jinni?” she asked, letting out her sinister green smile and yanking him under the water. Skimming just under the surface, she looked back and saw Jinni struggling to remain conscious. “Boy, you are getting weak.”
Suddenly, an imposing purple cloud overtook the area, churned by the speedy craft from which it seemed to be coming. It was the Elvira, and she was traveling alongside a thick trail of wine.
“Get another barrel ready, Tootles,” Peter yelled out.
Beneath the water, the Sea Witch was overtaken by two tiny streams that trailed off the mass of purple haze and entered her nose. Her eyes grew heavy, and her grip loosened, releasing Jinni back up to the surface. One and Two roped him aboard while the Sea Witch sank. Docile and without a care in the world, she gazed up at the endless collection of rippling stars and dropped even further as the Elvira sped away.
One and Two pulled Jinni over the edge and plopped him on deck. Slightly immediately started performing his initial series of medical tasks. One and Two then proceeded to pull Mac aboard and resecured the lifeboat.
“I’m fine, Slightly,” Jinni said, annoyed. “She didn’t even sting me.”
“Where’s Nibs?” Peter asked, knowing without knowing.
Jinni stood up, struggling to recollect his strength.
“Where is Nibs?” Peter repeated, raising his voice, looking to both Jinni and Mac for an answer.
Jinni looked down at Peter’s feet, then up to his teary eyes. “Nibs didn’t make it.”
Peter struggled to let in a new breath and fought, even more, to let it out. “Did you see his body?”
“What does it matter? There’s no way he—”
“Why can’t you just answer me?” Peter screamed. “Did you see his body?”
Peter took heavy steps toward Jinni and tried to shove him several times.
Jinni didn’t budge. “There’s nothing I could have done, Pete. Nibs jumped in to save me.”
“You saw his body, didn’t you?” The first of Peter’s tears began to fall. “Why didn’t you do that…thing you do? Jinni.”
“It doesn’t work like that, Pete. It’s never worked like that.”
Peter waved him off and stormed away, intentionally bumping his shoulder into Jinni’s arm while passing by. “This is your fault,” Peter said, pointing an angry finger at Mac.
“Peter,” Tootles said.
“Let’s get him back to Ithaca. Before he gets anyone else killed tonight.” Slightly, One, Two, and Tootles watched disapprovingly as Peter stomped belowdecks.
“He didn’t mean that, Mac,” Tootles said.
“Doesn’t mean it isn’t true,” Mac said.