Okay, first thing’s first, I’m not going to start this story with once upon a time because that implies that it will end with a happily ever after. Sure, James and Walt decided to tell the world that I’m a happy little boy who never wants to grow up, but their stories couldn’t be further from the truth. I don’t even know where the jealous fairy came from, or the hungry crocodile, but there were a few things in my storyline they got right.
I guess I’ll start from where you know the best, from the rooftops of London.
Finally. Was all I could think as I soared over a calm river, far different from the crystal clear waters of Neverland, but better than anything I’d ever seen. I was free, finally in the world I wanted to be, finally back to where I belonged, finally free from that island.
The buildings here were much different than the last time I’d been to London, and I appreciated the quaint rows of charming houses on each street. As I reached the center of town, a large bell tower rose above the rest of the buildings. A glowing smile on my face, I landed gently on the hour hand of the clock. Here I could see all of London, a glittering city of new hope and happiness.
Then everything came crashing down around me. That familiar tug, telling me I had gone too far. I thought I’d escaped, but evidently the shadow had followed me here and was yet again preying on some poor boy who will be bound to the island forever. My heart sank, this was not what I wanted.
Of course I had to go save the boy before the shadow destroyed his soul.
Flying across the town, passing the river once more, I simply followed that ever present connection I loathed. Unsurprised, I landed on the windowsill of a child’s bedroom, and even more unsurprising was that there were three beds inside. Two were occupied by sleeping figures, but the third had thrown back sheets and was completely empty. I worried that the shadow had already done too much damage for me to save the child.
The window creaked as I pressed it slowly open. I felt the shadow watching me before I saw it, mocking me from back wall. Frantically, I searched the room for a body, but thankfully there was none. A sigh of resignation escaped my lips, my freedom was nice while it lasted, then I pounced on the shadow. Of course, slippery little sucker, he jumped out of the way and I rammed straight into the wall. Whipping my head around, I checked on the children. They were still fast asleep, and the shadow was perched on the ceiling fan, still mocking me. It would drag me back to that godforsaken island eventually, might as well be now before it has the chance to hurt anyone.
Faking a jump up at it, I flew straight onto the fan, but it still managed to slip from my grip. I was about to make another move when the gas light by the bedroom door turned on.
“John, Michael? What are you doing in here?” A girl, curled hair bouncing around her terror stricken face, dressed in a simple nightgown stood before us. The two sleeping boys stirred, one sitting up, searching for his glasses, the other hugging a bear close to his chest. Three pairs of eyes trained on me immediately. Instead of running to her parents with tears, the girl stepped forward, a glass of water in her hands. The shadow hovered above my head, ready to make a move. Three children, one of them a girl no less. I had to keep it from taking them.
It leaped off the wall, straight for the smallest boy, but I tackled it in the air before it could get close to the child with the stuffed bear.
“You’re Peter Pan… aren’t you?” The girl said in wonder. Shock made the shadow freeze, my fist wrapped firmly around its ankle. Her eyes sparked with disillusionment. “Are you here to save us? Take us to Neverland so I never have to move out of the nursery?” Her voice was tinted with excitement and, even worse, hope.
“Yay!” The small boy cried “We don’t ever have to grow up!” Fear filled me as I realized what happened. I was too late, the shadow had already influenced their minds, had given them fantasies of wonder and entertainment. Resignation took over, as it always did, because the shadow was going to take them either way, now that it brainwashed them into thinking I was a hero. Squaring my shoulders, I prepared for yet another explanation with a fake smile spread on my face.
“Yes, I am Peter Pan, and my shadow has gotten away from me.” I could feel the shadow mocking me once again. It won, like always, and I was left with a sickening feeling that I would never escape. But I smiled through the pain. Like all of the drills before, I taught them to believe in flying – my normal spiel of happiness and magic – even though it was really just the shadow lifting them into the air. The three of them smiled in bewilderment, the smallest clinging onto his bear the whole time, and the older boy inexplicably bringing along a top hat. This would be the first time we’ve ever had a girl on the island, but the shadow didn’t seem to care. Or didn’t notice.
We flew back across the river, up and up and up towards the brightest star. My stomach dropped and twisted at the thought of returning. It didn’t matter, the shadow just pulled me along because I had no choice in the matter. And then we arrived, Neverland coming into view below us, endless inescapable water surrounding it.
Without a moment’s notice, a cannonball flew at us from beneath. I rolled my eyes at the perpetual aggression of the one and only Captain Hook. “Watch out!” I screamed behind to the children. They didn’t even know what to watch out for, and luckily the cannonball flew straight past them. A hiss came from beside me and the shadow flew down towards the ship in anger. “Follow me,” I told the children hoping the shadow would be busy with the pirates for a while. Long enough for me to hide them away with the rest of the lost boys.
Captain Hook wanted to be free of this island as desperately as I did, but instead of dealing with the shadow and learning how to fly like I did (in vain, but I’ll get away some day), he simply tried to kill me. Every day. It was his belief that killing me would get rid of the shadow, which was wildly inaccurate. The shadow stole me away, prey of some other poor soul who was trapped like me now. The other boy died – I have never known how – and the shadow just picked another victim. And that just so happened to be me.
I guided the children down to the beaches, on the edge of the forest, and whistled into the trees. A chorus of whistles echoed back and I smiled mischievously. The lost boys were hiding in the woods, playing one of their games. It’s true, I hated it here more than anything, but my band of friends was the one thing that brightens my spirits, even if they were brainwashed to think never growing up is a good thing.
Before I could do anything, though, the short boy with the top hat blocked my way with an outstretched hand. “My name is John Darling,” he said terribly formally, but I decided to shake his hand anyway. A sad smile worked its way to my lips. “And I’m Michael!” A small voice peeped from behind me. I turned to see him waving his bear around in the air, standing on the beach in all his footie pajama glory.
The girl didn’t even notice, for she was gazing off down the beach, towards Mermaid Lagoon. Bushes rustled behind me and two boys dressed in all manner of forest material with identical crops of ginger hair peeked out from the line of trees. They whistled.
“Peter! The shadow is back!” George stage whispered, hiding in the shrubbery. His twin, Jim, nodded his head vehemently, eyes wide. There were days when the shadow terrified them, and days where they wanted to play cards with it. I’d learned that it had to do with its mood, and looking out over the water where pirates were falling into the ocean, I decided now was a time to be scared.
“I know,” I whispered in the same tone, “this is John, Michael, and their sister – we need to get them to the tree.” The twins nodded dutifully and waved the boys over to them. I turned, ready to fly out to the pirates and try to get the shadow away from them when I noticed the girl was still staring out at the water. “Hey, you need to go with the lost boys – they will keep you safe.” She turned to me with a confused look on her face.
“It’s so beautiful here.” Loud shots from the cannons rang out over the water, and I whipped my head up to see the shadow flying back towards us. “Come on,” I took the girl’s hand and flew up over the trees, in the opposite direction of where the shadow was headed. I would have let go, but she struggled to stay afloat, for some odd reason. Everyone taken by the shadow believed in flight, and soared through the air as easily as she shadow itself. But not this girl.
“I’m Wendy, by the way.” She told me, struggling for breath as much as she was to stay in the air. Sending a smile her way, I turned towards Mermaid Lagoon, hoping the lost boys made it to the tree before the shadow could send its wrath down on them.
The next few days were spent avoiding the shadow, playing games in the woods, and telling stories in the tree at night. Tonight was Wendy’s turn to tell a story, and I’d noticed that she was very unsettled throughout the day. The lost boys had taken a liking to her, and surrounded the small room dug out beneath our tree eagerly, ready to hear her story. She settled in beside her smaller brother, Michael, and began.
It took only moments for me to recognize it.
Her story was of a boy who never wanted to grow up, who fought pirates and had valor and courage. It was a story the shadow had fabricated to make children believe in me long ago, but I hadn’t heard it for years. She told the story with such wonder in her eyes, excitement and joy in each of her words.
“And that boy…” she looked shyly up to where I was sitting in a hammock, “was named Peter Pan.” And then it clicked. All day she seemed off, she had a fight with the mermaids, kept talking about the future, and her flying kept getting worse. She was never brainwashed.
“Wendy, how long have you known this story?” I asked cautiously. The lost boys also seemed wary of her.
“Ever since I was little.” My eyes widened and I hopped down from my perch immediately. Beckoning Wendy to follow me, I brought her into the back room, separated from the rest of the tree by a heavy curtain. She followed, the boys all settling in for bed.
“Wendy, do you want to be here?” I asked her. She simply gave me a face of confusion. “Wendy I need to know,” I held her shoulders in my hands and gave her a little shake. Although this was an urgent matter, I may have been a little too forceful with my wording.
“No, as a matter of fact I do not.” Without listening to another word I had to say, she stormed out. I heard her call to her brothers. “Come on boys, we’re leaving.” Pieces came flying to me – why the shadow only took boys in the past, how Wendy was much older than anyone here, and how the pirates were stuck here because of greed and anger. Wendy was much younger than them, yes, but she was lured here by the shadow. The pirates were lured here by the prospect of gold and pillaging.
Wendy had the power to escape Neverland.
She had the power to save everyone, but that meant I would have to stay here. Keep the shadow at bay. Make sure it had no power to stop them. But at least they would all get to leave this place.
I had to tell her, make her listen, but when I ran out to the front room, no one was there. Only a note, stabbed into the tree by a dagger.
“Your life for theirs, Peter Pan,” It read. I scowled with a roll of my eyes. The pirates always had to ruin everything.
“Peter Pan will save us! You’ll see!” Wendy shouted as pirates pushed their swords towards her on the plank, fearless even in the face of death. I was going to miss her.
“WALK THE PLANK!” The brutes chanted. Straightening her shoulders, Wendy walked forward. With a smirk on my face, I flew beneath the ship, positioned to catch her. She dropped from the sky, and without a moment’s hesitation, I moved forward, catching her in my arms.
“I knew you would come!” She whispered in excitement. Above, the pirates began to panic. Wendy never hit the water, and they were dumbfounded.
“Wendy, you need to listen to me.” Her face became serious as I explained the plan to her. Tears formed in her eyes, as she knew this was the last time we would see each other.
“Goodbye Peter Pan,” she whispered, giving me a kiss on the cheek. I nodded, unable to say goodbye, as I flew up into the sails. Dropping her off on the climbing rope, so she could climb back to the deck, I flew down behind the mast where the lost boys and Wendy’s brothers were tied up. My knife slipped out of its sheath easily, and I cut through the rope. They wanted to celebrate, but I put my finger to my lips as Wendy stood up on the banister of the ship.
“Listen up!” She shouted. Everyone froze, the pirates with their swords out, ready to pounce. In the distance, I saw the shadow approaching. “I have a way for us all to escape!” The pirates’ swords wavered. “If we work together, we can leave this island forever.” I nodded to her, so she would keep going, and floated silently into the air. The shadow was fast approaching over the water.
For this plan to work, the shadow had to be distracted.
I flew just as fast as the menacing shadow itself, arrow straight. Slamming into the shadow at full force, I pushed it back towards the island. I’d never tried to fight the shadow in its own land before, so this was going to be an adventure.
It hissed, as it usually did when angry, and tried to push back. However, unlike everyone else on the island, this shadow was part of me. It couldn’t simply float through me, or mess with my mind. Because it was part of me, I was part of it. And that gave me what little control I needed for Wendy to convince the pirates.
We spiraled down into the forest below, crashing through the trees. Whirling punches that I wasn’t even sure hurt it, I kept the shadow at an arm’s length. Before we hit the ground, I pulled up and the shadow was caught off guard and slammed into the dirt. The entire island seemed to darken, the sky turning gray and the trees wilting slightly. As I always suspected, Neverland was connected to the shadow as much as the shadow was connected to me.
Clearly I’d made it angry, as I’d hoped to do, and I just had to believe it would follow me out of anger. To keep the shadow away long enough, I had to capture it as it did to so many children before. Like I thought, as I sped through the forest, vines and twigs scraping at my arms and legs, the shadow followed, its incessant hissing accompanying it all the way. It was gaining speed, flying much faster than I’d ever been able to, but I couldn’t let it catch me. Our tree was in sight, the hollow opening at the top gaping and dark.
The shadow was just about to reach me when I shot straight down, into the tree hole. This was the last time I’d see this tree the way it was now. If I trapped the shadow, it would destroy the tree. If I failed, I would probably die and the shadow would lash out in anger and capture the soul of one of the lost boys to connect itself to.
I could not fail.
The shadow followed me in, a storm of rage. I held the curtain to the back room in my hands. A deep breath in and a deep breath out and I was ready. Its hissing seemed to grow louder, even more malicious. Then it pounced.
But I’d gotten this sheet a long time ago, when the shadow was off capturing children and I was helpless but to watch. I’d been preparing it for years and years, and the curtain possessed some of the shadow’s own magic, so that when I wrapped it around the shadow, it was trapped, at least momentarily. No time for celebration, speed was a necessity.
I flew out of the tree and sealed every opening to our home that I could think of and then sped off across the island. A great cracking came from behind me, and I knew the shadow was trying to break out from the tree, but its strength was diminished from the curtain.
When I reached the beach line, I heard the splintering explosion of the only home I’d ever really known. But the shadow was too late. It floated slowly beside me, hovering in the air above the water.
We watched together as a ship, so far in the distance that it looked the size of my thumb, flew straight into the stars and disappeared forever.
I suppose I could end this story with happily ever after, but I truly don’t know what became of my friends after the escaped Neverland. As for me, I was trapped in Neverland forever. It was a dying island with a dying shadow. A shadow that listened to me now, and stayed in its land never to return to the world to steal children to keep its island alive. We will fade away eventually, along with the island itself.
But for now we stayed, forever here in Neverland.