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Second to the Right

By Zach Neuman All Rights Reserved ©

Adventure / Fantasy


Before he was Peter Pan, he was "David". No last name, no family and all alone. In order to escape the Orphanage, and the abusive Head Priest, he'd have to believe in the impossible: That he could escape from that Orphanage, twice. That he could face the same Edwardian London that swallowed up his other friends...and laugh in its face. That he could get to the one place where impossible doesn't exist… Neverland. Yet in a world where children can fly and ships sail amongst the clouds, there's always a way to do the impossible.

The Priest's Apprentice

Part I- Second to the Right…

David gripped the cold bars like a prisoner as the London fog drifted above the cobbled streets. Carridges and motorized Wolseleys rumbled across the streets as men in dark trenchcoats sped past his peripherals. Those same bars gave that bleak outside world a chaotic pattern of black stripes, intersecting at various places on the fence.

Green grass and grey stones coloured the playground square, surrounded on three sides by railings that scratched at the heavens. To everyone outside of the orphanage, it looked like a prison. To the orphans of St. Augustine’s at Carmelite House, they didn’t care; they adored their playground, as a refuge, even as a paradise of sorts.

The moment the bell for break rang, all of the boys rushed out of the workshops to enjoy a few measly minutes away from work. They even settled with half-filled balls and short sticks for games of cricket and violent games of rugby. None of the boys cared to look out beyond the black bars- except him.

At night he could look out from the huge windows in the dormitory, but here everything looked more alive. Some of the people even slowed down to stare at his pale, freckled face like a window display, but they never stopped to talk to him. He knew already that living behind these bars meant just casual glances from the outside world.

Yet he kept looking, regardless of the stares. Maybe, just maybe, he would find his new family walking down the street, so he could get their attention. He had always dreamed of what they looked like and what they would all do together. David even envisioned where they would travel to; an exotic beach with sand as warm as a mother’s hug, places to run, trees to climb and the safe embrace of a father’s arms as they all drew pictures with the stars at night.

Yet here, on a brisk Saturday in 1913, the leaves, covered in raindrops, erupted in a slow pace from the trees, like glittering stones on silver bark. During the change of weather the clouds would replace their supply of snow with rain.

Maybe the outsiders thought he deserved to be in the orphanage. They didn’t know anything about him, yet they judged him. How could they have known his choice had been thrown out the moment St. Augustines took him back under their wing?

Maybe the people judging him became grown ups.

That new phrase disgusted him, especially since he heard it for the first time that day. Father Kenneth, with his cold eyes pointed at him and the others in the shop, addressed them at the first lesson of their advanced Bible study between shifts. He declared their classes as the "first step to becoming what we all truly want to be- good grown ups." Whatever Father had to say, it never crossed well with him, even though he only spoke at community-wide sermons on Sundays.

David should have learned a lot that day, especially after what the class had been told at the beginning. The teachers blamed it on his daydreams, yet those same dreams enthralled his friends at night. It warmed up the cold dormitory as he spun a tale about some place they had never seen or heard of before. Places where clouds flew below the ground, where water flowed upwards, where people could fly higher than birds; places where tiny people used prams to get around, or where ravens could talk and pigeons wore little suits and walked with canes and brown top-hats.

Time always flew when he lost himself in daydreams. The end-of-break bell rang him back into reality, into the one thing he hated most; the single-file line back to work, underneath the arch with angels carved into the sides. His hands ached in anticipation as the overseeing adults forced them into lines from youngest to oldest. Not knowing his age, David shifted to the middle of the line, between the sixteen and six year olds. They marched in tight rows, their hard shoes clomping on the cobblestone floor. He followed his row of workmates, most of whom taller than himself, until a nun walked straight up to him and tapped him sharply on the shoulder.

"David, please come with me. Father Kenneth wants to see you."

Sister Agnes looked excited in a secretive sort of way. The surrounding boys didn’t know what to think as she jerked him out of line. Out of the hundreds of boys here, why him?

David’s mouth became tighter than his belt. The nun chuckled a little, sending shivers down his spine. They went the rest of the way in a silence interrupted by their shoes slapping down on the stone floor. She led him to the confessional, over on the other side of the building, past the huge sanctuary and shrouded in darkness.

He had only heard in rumours that Father Kenneth used the confessional booth to scare the children into obeying the nuns. And it seemed true enough; blackness shrouded the front curtain, forbidding even hope from entering. When she opened the confessional, an odour of frankincense and myrrh rose up, smacked him in the face, burnt his nostrils and made his eyes water. After the door closed behind him, a small votive candle stood in the corner of the cramped cubicle. It flickered, and shadows danced across the walls. Through the veiled compartment he saw a door slide open on the other side of the decorative grating. As the silhouette of a person entered, David immediately bowed his head in a gesture of respect. He heard whispers of Latin permeate the other side.

"In nomine Patris et filii et spiritus sancti... Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum, Et vitam ventúri sæculi..."

Father Kenneth droned the rest of the trinitarian formula. David never liked Latin. As soon as he had been able to open his copy of the Lily Grammar, Latin became the language of choice around higher administrating Nuns. Only a few nuns broke the rules, but never in front of the administrators.

Suddenly the mumbling stopped. The shadows continued to dance.

David, I presume?

His voice rasped through his bones, his neck hairs shooting up.

Yes, Father.

I’ve called you in here about something very important. So important that I needed to tell you in private.

Of course, Father.

He cleared his throat and sealed David’s fate.

I always known of something special about you from the moment you came into our lives. I’ve been told that you were adopted twice. This is true, yes?

He ought to have known it happened twice, but said nothing.

Well, every time you left, you found your way back here. That’s how I knew God had a plan for you. As you grow up before our eyes, I’ve seen you become the man that everyone else wants for you. I can safely say that you’ll be able to take my place someday, with proper training. You understand?

David paused in utter disbelief.

I’m to replace you... as the priest.

Sister Agnes chuckled outside of the booth, low enough for only David to hear.

Correct, my son. As of tomorrow, you will begin training. After which you will be transferred to the proper seminary, then ordained. From there you will return here to replace me when I pass on.

The seconds felt like days as David stared down in disbelief. Tears welled up and turned the whole room into a big blob of black and dark red. He couldn’t hold back his tongue once Father finished.

Tomorrow? But does that mean I can’t be adopted? I can’t leave the orphanage?…Ever?

After a tiny pause to clear his throat, Father made it clear.

Yes, David. You will stay here.

Crying wasn’t allowed in the booth, but quiet sobs were. Hot tears fell down his cheeks as he rocked himself on the bench, legs wrapped by his thin arms. He would never get that family now, no warm beach, no hugs…

Your name has already been taken you off of the adoption list. No one else will take you away from what God has intended for you. No evil shall taint your soul.

He mumbled incoherently, urging his mouth to speak, to demand an explanation.

No more questions, David. I must return to my own business. Sister Agnes will return you to your work station.

Sister Agnes stepped with delight, but someone had taken a hammer to his dreams. He will never be able to leave these dark and dusty halls. She never once noticed his shuffling feet, his head bent in shame.

As he returned to his workplace, the different parts of the toys blended together into messy sculptures. He always thought his family would come back to adopt him, take him into their world and he would make the most of it. But now he could never leave, doomed to become a man like Father Kenneth. Cursed to live his nightmare.

Sister Deborah stomped through the sunlit halls, her steps loud enough to be heard from the main doors. Sister Agnes had told her the “news” about David, her precious David, and she couldn’t even stand in place. She stormed towards the one person who could decree such a thing. She would demand an explanation, and then scheme to get David back on the adoption list. She had never reached his office so quickly. She rapped once on the door before she heard a surprisingly gleeful “venient in.” Come in.

She kept her self-control in check as she entered, putting on a calmer smile.

Good day, Father.

What can I do for you…Sister?

He liked calling her and the others by their prefixes. He seemed to relish it, like it amused him to call her, or any nun, by their lower rank. She hated the unsubtle contempt for them that he wore around his neck like his gold cross. She closed the door and promptly lowered herself down.

Well, Father, I heard you have chosen a successor.

He leaned back in his chair, staring up, as if reading a book suspended from the ceiling or contemplating a verse.

Yes, Sister. I quite have. And you of all the Sisters should be able to understand why.

He shifted at his desk, as if seeking a more comfortable position in his red chair.

Why what?

She sat upright, trying to retain her dignity.

Why I chose David. Forgive me for not consulting you about my choice.

She sat in silence, looking away from his pale gaze. Sister Deborah had not expected him to apologize; She heard that he droned, so when he went on for too long she could satisfyingly interrupt him.

Thank you for accepting my apology. Now that that’s taken care off, you may go.

Her eyes shot back at his slouching figure, small behind the mountain of books on his desk and shrouded by the dim light behind him.

With all due respect, Father, I didn’t come here to forgive you.

Oh?” His bony hands gripped the armrests, his torso bending forward.

“What did you come here for, pray tell?”

He had switched to english to scare her from speaking brashly. It almost worked. She fidgted in her seat, her leg shaking underneath the chair. She collected her thoughts and resumed the debate.

“I really don’t…I don’t understand why you selected him.”

He took a fast breath through his nostrils. “Well, that’s a shame. Everyone else knows. Why don’t you run along and ask them?”

She tried again, to goad him into the trap. “Father, please explain it to me. I would like to know.”

“Alright… Sister. If you must know, then here’s why—”

He shifted forward again. “Because he’s the one. The chosen one. I can feel it.”

She needed more of a monologue, so she repeated her question.

“Father, Sir, what on earth are you talking about?”

“I just know it. Like the way God chose Moses, I just know. David is special, Sister.”

She couldn’t wait any longer. She’d have to spring the verbal trap herself.

“But how can you be so sure? Have you taken advice about any of the other boys?”

“Do you not think that I haven’t considered the other orphans?”

“No, not at all, it’s just that there are others who are better, more suited to be ‘chosen’.”

He shifted even further towards the desk, towards her.

“Are you questioning my judgment?”

Her heart thundered in her chest as her patience ran dry. She took quick breaths as courage to start her fight mustered inside of her.

“Well, is it right to keep a good boy from a family, Father?”

His anger grew as darkness creeped through cracks in the room.

“How dare you—.”

She stood up in defiance, heart beating out of her chest.

“He’s just a boy, Father! And you are denying what God has offered him on His good green Earth! Do you think he wants to be here, Father? To be your little puppet to serve you after you pass on? That is a cruel, heartless thing to do, and I demand a good reason for it! You and I both know what would happen if you are wrong, and that sin is too great to bear, even for you!”


“And how can you be so sure? What about the other boys?! Have you seen Julius? He’s the first one to offer grace, and he’s one of the older boys!”


“Or Jonathan, the lead choir boy? Or Maximillian, the star pupil-”


She stopped in her tracks and gracefully situated herself. Fast breaths ran through her chest as her legs shook. She knew she made a mistake.

“First off, I NEVER SIN. How dare you find fault with me in such a way, as if I am an old fool! You may think you know this boy, but you’re just one stupid little girl! The rest of us see him as a king waiting to be crowned, as he shall be.”

He stood up and approached her chair. Defiance shone in her eyes.

“No matter what you can say or do, that boy will stay here. The law shall not stand in the way of G-d’s Will, as you foolishly think it will. And I’m never wrong, Sister. Look at where I am and where you are. Don’t you remember to honour thy Father…Sister?”

Her courage ebbed further as he circled her like a bloodthirsty lion.

“So, should you see him again, I want you to tell him how wonderful it is to be a man of the cloth. Tell him why it is so important to stay here and what demons and dangers exist out there. Or do you want me to remind you of the forgotten corner you came from?”

She never expected him to use her secret as the ultimate blackmail. Her eyes grew wide and wet as she held down a sob.

“Good. Now I must pray for another soul that needs redemption. If I were you, I would watch what I say next time…Sister.”

He held open the door and watched her walk away on unsteady legs.

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