woke to darkness and the sound of her name whispered on the wind.
The storm had come roaring in earlier that evening, bringing with it the bitter chill of the coming winter. Clouds masked the moon and sky, cloaking the city in darkness. It was still early, but the streets were nearly deserted, leaving only the desperate and the unfortunate to brave the night.
The young girl rolled over in her bed, her mind dazed with sleep. Without opening her eyes, she fumbled for the light switch. Rolling out of bed, she knuckled the sleep from her eyes.
The room was long and narrow, painted a flat white that reflected the feeble glow of the small lamp perched in the corner. What light there was barely reached the far end; in the corner, where walls met ceiling, shadows clung like clustered grapes.
A savage gust blew the window open, the glass door slamming against the wall with a loud crash, the curtains billowing wildly. She looked over in annoyance. She was certain that she had fastened the catch that held them shut. With a grimace of pain she stood up and made her way slowly across the room.
Through her bedroom door came the chime of the grandfather clock in the living room. She paused, a young girl dressed in a simple blue nightgown that hid the bruises that dotted her thighs. Her long brown hair was pulled back into a ponytail that extended nearly to her waist. Her face was drawn with care and worry, unusual in a girl only fourteen years old.
The chimes rang 12 times before they ceased. Midnight - the witching hour.
Outside, the wind howled and raged. It whistled through the eaves of the apartment building, an eerie, mournful sound that made her skin crawl. Beneath the window sat a small love seat, its material old and faded. Kneeling down on it, she forced the window closed against the incessant tugging of the breeze. She was glad to find that the catch wasn’t broken; it must have vibrated loose under the constant assault of the wind. She re-latched it and turned away.
There came a soft tap at the window. She tried to ignore it but it increased in urgency, taking on a desperate, insistent tone. Curiosity aroused, she turned back. What could be making the noise? Their apartment was in an old brownstone, five stories up. There was a small ledge that circled the building just below the level of the window, but it was too narrow for someone to stand on.
She had studied Poe in English class, and the vision of a large black raven, tapping at her window, suddenly came to her. The idea amused her. She pulled aside the curtains and tried to look through the glass, but the light from the lamp reflected off the window, giving her a distorted funhouse view of the rooms’ interior. Cupping her hands around her eyes, she pressed her nose to the glass.
A face stared back at her.
With a cry she fell backwards onto the hardwood floor. A terrific blast of air shook the panes and the window flew open again, the curtains fluttering madly. Before her startled eyes a man flew in through the opening, trailing a ribbon of glowing light behind him.
Unable to believe her eyes, she scrambled to her feet. The man stood several feet away, between her and the door. She briefly considered calling out for her father, but the image of him slumped in his easy chair, an empty bottle of gin fallen from his nerveless fingers, stopped her.
The intruder stood with his back to her, looking around the room curiously. When he was done, he turned to face her. He stood there with legs spread wide and hands on hips, and a slight smile playing about his lips. His eyes traveled the length of her body.
He was about fifty, with red–rimmed eyes that danced merrily in the puffy ruin of his face. Long gray hair poked out from under his peaked cap. He was wearing the most ridiculous outfit she had ever seen. Over a pair of green felt tights he wore a long shirt of the same material. It was cinched tightly against his bulging belly by a wide leather belt. From the belt hung a long scabbard in which the worn handle of a knife protruded. His boots, curled at the toes, were of soft suede that was cracked and dirty. He wore a hat of green felt, with a wide red feather sticking out on one side. If not for the fear that gnawed at her, she would have laughed out loud. He looked like a character from a child’s book of fairy tales. Like Robin Hood. Or maybe….
She looked at her bedside table, and the book lying open there.
The man followed her gaze and smiled. With a flamboyant sweep of his hand he snatched the cap off his head and bowed deeply at the waist. When he straightened back up, he was holding a small card. He handed it to her with a flourish.
It was the size and shape of a business card, made of a material thicker and tougher than ordinary paper. It felt dry and leathery in her hand. It smelled musty, as if it had been locked in a trunk in somebody’s attic for many years. The writing was printed in a gold embossed font that glittered and shined.
NEVERLAND DEVELOPMENT CO.
MR. PETER PAN, PRESIDENT
She passed a shaking hand over her eyes. What was going on? He waited silently, smiling serenely. Then he extended his hand.
“Mr. Peter Pan at your service, Ma’am.” His voice was rough, as if from years of smoking and drinking.
She pointed to the card. “You don’t expect me to believe this?”
The man who claimed to be Peter Pan chuckled merrily. “No,” he said quietly, “Not without proof.” He leaned closer. “”That is why I’m here, Wendy. You will come to believe me. You must, or there is no hope for me. Belief is the only thing I have left.”
“I think you had better leave,” she said firmly. Stepping around him, she headed for the door. He made no move to stop her.
“What are you doing Wendy?” There was a hint of desperation in his voice.
“I’m getting my Father.”
He grabbed her arm and spun her around roughly.
“Do you really want to do that?”
With his free hand, he reached inside his tunic. He pulled out a small bag tied with string.
She struggled against his grip but he held her fast. “Let go of me,” she cried.
He did. Loosening the string that held the small bag closed, he said. “I’m going to show you what will happen if you call your father.”
He reached in and pulled out a pinch of golden dust. He tossed it into the air. With a snap of his fingers he disappeared. The room shimmered before her eyes. When her vision cleared, she was alone in the room. The bedroom door opened. Silhouetted in the doorway was her father. From across the room she smelled alcohol on his breath. He moved towards her, and she relived the nightmare she had been living for the last several weeks.
Her Father lunged for her. She tried to move away, but she was not swift enough to avoid the sweep of his long arms. His flabby arms closed around her and she was lifted off of her feet. Turning, he threw her onto the bed, his full weight coming down on top of her. Her breath left her in one quick rush. She heard the sound of her nightgown tearing as he forced her legs apart…
“Stop it,” she screamed, burying her face in her hands. She began to cry, sobs shaking her thin body.
Her vision cleared. The man who claimed to be Peter Pan stood before her again. Taking her in his arms he hugged her gently.
Wendy’s sobs subsided. Her head was pressed against his chest. He smelled of the outdoors, of pine trees and wildflowers, and of smoke curling lazily upward. For the first time since her mother had left years ago, she felt at peace.
“Who are you?” she cried. “Why are you here?”
“In your heart, you know who I am,” he said softly. Holding her at arms’ length, he looked deeply into her eyes. “You called me here.” At her quizzical look, he smiled and shook his head gently. “No, not with your voice; it was your pain and despair that called to me. In your loneliness you brought me across gulfs unimaginable. I want to help you. But I can only do that if you believe in me. “
“Why is it so important that I believe in you?”
‘It was the imagination of a man that brought me to life,” he answered, “But it is the belief of children that has kept me and the other residents of Neverland in existence for these many years. There are many kinds of magic, Wendy, but belief is the strongest magic of all.”
“But why don’t you look like you do in the books?” she asked quizzically. ”Why have you gotten old?”
He looked at her sadly. “After a time, the children began to forget us. When we first came into being, we were young and strong, but as the years passed and we have faded from their imaginations, we have also faded physically.
Wendy felt a great ache inside. To exist on the whims of children was a precarious existence at best.
“What is The Neverland Development Co.?”
“A man’s got to make a living,” he said with a shrug. His eyes held a faraway look. “They’re all gone now, you know. Tinkerbell, Captain Hook, the Lost Boys. One by one, as the years passed, they faded away. I’m the only one left.”
Wendy look into his face, and noticed a subtle change. The lines of worry and sadness had eased. When he had first appeared, his hair had been an iron gray, but it had darkened perceptibly. The shirt that had been stretched tight against his swollen belly now hung slack. ”You’re getting younger,” Wendy said delightedly.
“Am I,” he cried.
“I’ll get a mirror and show you,” she said, heading for the door.
“No!” he shouted. With a lithe move he bounded after her. His fingers dug into the soft flesh of her arm. “No mirrors!”
She gently pried his fingers loose. “O.K,” she said.
The Grandfather clocked chimed once, sounding muffled and distant. Peter Pan was growing younger more rapidly, his seamed face now entirely smooth, the clothes hanging loosely on his body.
“We have to go, Wendy,” he said. “There's not much time.”
An icy hand clutched her heart. “What do you mean, we have to go?”
“You're coming with me. You must. I'm not the only one out there that heard your call.” He took her by the hands. “There are things out there,” he nodded toward the window, “that mean you harm.” He shuddered. “You can't stay here.”
“I'll do it,” she said. “I'll go with you.”
“Wendy, you must realize one thing.” His voice held a note of cosmic sadness. “You can never come back. Ever.”
“I don’t care. Whatever it takes, I’ll do it.”
Peter Pan pulled the knife from its sheath. “To attain anything you desire,” he said. “You must pay the price.” His transformation was nearly complete. Where before her there had once stood a broken old man, there now stood a teenage boy. Grabbing her hand, he drew the blade across the ball of her thumb, bringing forth a crimson flow of blood. She winced at the pain. He smeared this blood on the blade. “Take this knife and cut away your shadow, as I once did.”
He pointed at the floor. He cast no shadow.
She did what he asked. She bent down, tracing the outline of her shadow with the point of the knife. She stepped away when she was finished. Her shadow didn’t move with her; it remained where it was on the floor.
Peter lifted it as if it was made of cloth. The outline of her shadow was traced in blood on the carpet. Folding it up, he tucked it inside his tunic.
She was still holding his card. She walked to the table and placed it in the open book. Taking his hand, they walked together to the window.
He sprinkled a handful of golden dust on her head. Stepping onto the sill, he turned to face her. “Remember,” he cautioned, “you must believe or the magic will not work.” Then he allowed himself to fall slowly backwards out of the window.
She ran forward, terrified that she would see his broken body lying on the pavement below, but he hung in the air motionless before her. The wind tore at him, making his shirt billow and whistling through the feather in his cap.
He waved to her, a faint trace of golden light trailing behind his arm.
“We must hurry,” he hissed, “We have a long journey ahead of us.”
Wendy clambered onto the ledge. She felt as light as a balloon. With a deep breath, she closed her eyes and stepped from the light into the darkness.
Lt. Goodwin stepped wearily from the police cruiser. The red and blue lights of the ambulance played merrily along the scarred wall of the building. To him they looked like Christmas lights, an incongruously cheery thought considering the circumstances. The ambulance attendants were huddled over a shapeless form stretched out on the pavement. Merry Fucking Christmas, he thought bitterly.
Sgt. Chapham was leaning against the ambulance, scribbling in a notebook. He said nothing as Goodwin approached. Nodding a hello, he went back to his writing.
Goodwin waited until he finished. “So, what have we got here?”
“Another jumper,” Chapham said, sounding bored. He was a good cop who had spent too many years on suicide detail.
Goodwin sighed. “What are the details?”
“White female, early teens.” He pointed to a window on the fifth floor, “She jumped from that window up there.”
“Christ. That’s how many in the last week?”
Goodwin scratched his head. “What the hell is going on?” he said, more to himself than to Chapham.
“You know how it is with kids these days,” Chapham said. “They think suicide is romantic. Do you want to hear my own personal theory? It’s that damn music they listen to. It would drive anybody nuts.”
Goodwin, who had heard all this a dozen times, merely nodded. “What about the parents?”
Chapham absently flipped through his notebook. “The mother skipped out a few years ago. She lived with her father.”
“Where’s the dad?”
“He’s at the hospital. One of the neighbors called us when it happened. When the black and white arrived no one answered the knock. The super let us in. We found him passed out dead drunk in front of the T.V. He slept through the whole thing.”
Goodwin shook his head. “Has anybody been in the room yet?”
“No. I didn’t think you’d want anybody in there before you had a chance to check it out for yourself.”
“Good.” Chapham said. He nodded toward the building. “Let’s you and me take a look upstairs, shall we?”
The stairway was dingy and poorly lit. It smelled of urine and old socks. They were silent as they walked the five flights of stairs. A small group of people, held back by a grim faced policeman, crowded around the door, hoping for a better look.
Chapham and Goodwin forced their way through the crowd. The apartment was neat and tidy. The furniture was old and dingy but in good shape. Chapham pointed at a door set in the far wall.
They opened the door and stepped inside. The window was open, the curtains billowing in the stiff breeze. Chapham went over and closed the window. The book lying open on the night table caught Goodwin’s eye. He picked it up.
It was a children’s book, with full color illustrations on the facing pages. It was opened to a picture of a young man, dressed in forest green, who was flying through a wooded glade, a band of golden light trailing behind him. Looking up at him was a young girl with long brown hair and a blue nightgown.
“I loved that story when I was a kid,” Chapham said. Goodwin had been staring mesmerized by the picture; Chapham had startled him. He straightened up with a jerk. “Huh,” he said stupidly.
“Peter Pan. My mother used to read it to me when I was a kid.” He smiled wistfully; the first time Goodwin had seen him do so in a long time. The smile slowly faded and became a frown. Pointing at the girl in the picture, he said, “Our jumper looked just like this; all the way down to the blue nightgown.”
He turned away. “Hey, what’s this?” he said, bending over and picking something off the floor. He looked at it for several seconds before handing it to Goodwin. “What do you make of this?”
It was the size and shape of a business card, but it wasn’t printed on paper. The material had a greasy, leathery, unpleasant feel.
“There’s a poem written on it,” he said. He read it aloud.
We’ll trick you and we’ll fool you
You’ll be dead before we’re through
No one knows the reason why
It’s just what demons do
“What do you suppose it means?” Chapham asked.
“I don’t know,” Goodwin replied. In the dark recesses of his mind, a memory stirred. “When I was a child, my grandmother came to live with us. She was from the old country, Greece, and she would tell us the old myths. One day I asked her what had happened to the Old Gods. Had they died? She told me that once they had been the most powerful entities in the universe, but as time passed, the people began to forget. With no one to worship them, the Old Gods power had faded until all that was left were distant echoes of what they once had been. But there were a few, she said, who had turned evil in order to exist. They became demons, tricking people into killing themselves and then stealing their life force. “
“Your Gammy must have been one gloomy old lady,” Chapham said.
Goodwin laughed. “And then some. I think what she was trying to say was to be careful what you believe in. It might not be what you expect.”
The two men fell silent. Outside, the keening wail of the wind disturbed the quiet. Goodwin felt goose bumps rising on his arms.
Chapham broke the silence. “What do you believe in, Lt.?”
Goodwin looked at him for a minute, his face set and grim. Then it broke into a wide smile. He clapped Chapham on the shoulder and said, “I believe I’m going to buy you a drink.”
They turned out the light and closed the door, leaving the room in silence except for the hollow mocking laughter of the wind.