Authors: Brianna Shrum
Tags: #General Fiction
“Peter,” he croaked, finally opening his eyes, “I'd like to go home.”
ETER LAUGHED LOUDLY, AND JAMES STARED
, unblinking, up at him. “Nobody wants to go home. Not from Neverland.”
Peter narrowed his eyes and James felt suddenly that lying on the ground was not the best position to be in for a negotiation. He sat slowly up and let his elbows rest on his knees, trying very hard to look casual. Every one of the Lost Boys backed off, until all he could see was Peter.
“You don't really want to leave. You'll have to go back to London. Grow up. Into a man.” Peter shivered.
James flared his nostrils. “What, Peter, is so particularly awful about becoming a man anyway?” This elicited a collective gasp from the Lost Boys. James was secretly pleased at the reaction.
Peter opened his mouth to speak and then shut it quickly, tilting his head toward the lagoon.
“What is it, Petâ”
Peter cut Bobble off with a flick of his wrist.
Despite the seriousness of the conversation, James discovered that he, too, was quite curious as to what had Peter concentrating so hard a vein was nearly bursting from his head. Then, he heard it.
Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Tick-tock
“I say,” said James. “Is that a clock?”
It was as though he'd just asked, “Is that a bomb?” or, “Is that a soul-eating crypt keeper coming our way?” For all the boys were up in a flurry and panicking.
James frowned. “I did say âclock,' didn't I?”
Pan hopped over to the group and pointed away from the lagoon, and they all began running as fast as James assumed physically possible into the woods. The wind blew quickly around his face and he squinted into it, frowning and confused, until he stole a glance back into the water. The mermaids were nowhere to be found, and gliding through the lagoon was a giant, scaled beast, monstrous and sickly greenâone James had heard of, but never seen.
Its black eyes came out just above the water, shadow of a tail and torso large enough that James figured it must have been an illusion. The closer it swam to shore, the louder the sound of the clock became. James was frozen with fear, and absolutely unable to determine the correlation between the clock and the croc. But that was not his top priority. Filling that slot was the need to pick up his feet and convince them to carry him far away from there.
He was unable to do it, almost as though he was having a dream wherein he wanted to scream, but no sound would come out, wanted to run but found that his legs were made of sand. The crocodile edged closer and closer until its eyes met James's. They shared a cold, dreadful stare for a moment, before James's legs were finally jogged into motion. He hurled himself into the trees, running as far from the lagoon as he could manage.
After a somewhat significant amount of time, he caught up with the rest of the band and collapsed onto the ground into a pile of leaves. His breaths were ragged and heaving and hoarse, and he was sure his face resembled a plump tomato.
Peter raised an eyebrow at him. “You're here.”
A surge of adrenaline coursed through him, blood rising to the surface of his skin, a sudden, thick jolt of rage making him shake. “Of course I'm here, you nitwit. But barely. That crocodile was coming straight for me! You didn't think to wait or come back for me?”
From the corner of his eyes, he could see Slightly's jaw drop, emphasizing the boy's crooked teeth and double chin.
“No,” said Peter, voice hard, leaving no room for argument.
The rest of the boys looked at their feet, but Peter stared him straight in the eyes. It seemed he'd lost him at the word “nitwit.”
“What if I'd been eaten?” James asked, quiet, menacing. The wind stilled until the air was so stagnant and quiet it felt heavy, as though it was almost sucking at him.
Peter didn't blink. “Then you'd have been eaten.”
There was a hint of a challenge in Peter's words. James wasn't sure to what, but it was there nonetheless. “I want to go home, Peter.”
Peter straightened, fists digging hard into his sides. “This is home.”
“Not for me.”
The boys stared at one another for a tense minute, James very badly wishing that at this moment he had broken Peter's second rule and had been just a bit taller. Being short gave him a disadvantage somehow, in the argument, which was rapidly turning into a battle over dominance rather than relocation.
“You're a Lost Boy now, James. There is no home for you but here.”
“Stop saying that,” James said, his voice low and dangerous. Rage was threatening to break through his carefully constructed faÃ§ade of self-control.
“Why should I stop telling you the truth? It's what you are.”
“I'm not a Lost Boy. I was never lost. You knew that the moment you met me.” Fear was strangling him, words coming out all high and clipped and twisted. His hands had, quite without his permission, curled into fists at his sides.
“Nonsense. I only take Lost Boys back with me to Neverland. So, you must have been.” Peter shrugged.
“You know I'm not and never was, and you told me I could come here on holiday. You said I could go back.”
“So,” said Peter, flicking a hand toward the trees, “go then.”
James's lip began to trembleânot from sadness, from rage. Every muscle in his body was tightened. “You know I can't go back unless you show me the way.”
“I never said I would.”
Bibble shifted beside James, leaves crackling underneath his feet, and the rest of them all looked at one another and at the ground. Quiet. Charged energy in the air.
James could feel the darkest part of him expanding, taking him over. “Don't lie to me, Peter Pan. Good things do not happen to boys who lie.”
A shadow fell over Peter's face, and he stepped dangerously close to James. “Is that a threat?”
The forest itself was darker, more menacing, the leaves all decidedly deep green, and the boys were utterly silent. It seemed that everyone had decided not to breathe. James was not sure what to do next. Peter grinned self-importantly and turned away from him, facing the rest of the boys.
“You're a liar, Peter Pan.”
“Excuse me?” Peter turned his head slowly back around. The salted licorice flavor hung in the dense air again. James wanted to choke on it, but he bit it back.
“I said you're a liar.”
Peter's eyes were barely larger than slits, and he shot a piercing black stare at James.
“Do not say such things to me, James Hook.”
James was shaking everywhere; even his eyelashes quivered. Suddenly, the fury he'd been trying to control burst out of him, and he was barreling toward Peter Pan. White-hot rage coursed through his veins as he sprinted toward him. Peter caught him by the throat the instant he got close and squeezed. Then, he threw him to the ground. James swore he could feel every bone in his body crash against the dirt. The grass hardened and curled around him, scratching at him like long, spindly fingernails.
“Do not threaten me again, boy.”
James said nothing. Who was this boy? The skipping, grinning boy from Kensington Gardens was gone, and in his place was
. Who had James trusted to take him so far from home?
He could feel the burning in his throat as he gasped for air. Had Peter really crushed his windpipe in one grab? After what seemed an age, Peter rolled his eyes and walked off. James jerked up as the grass softened again, and stood stiffly, breathing hard. His mind and heart were all awhirl with regrets and fear and desperate, stabbing, greedy hope. He looked blankly at the rest of the boys, blinked for a few seconds, and walked slowly away.
“Where are you going, James Hook?”
He jumped at Bibble behind him, when he was just inside the tree-line. “Leave me alone,” James said, such pain in his voice even the wood could sense it.
“Don't walk too far that way. You'll wind up in the Never Wastes.”
“I don't care.”
Bibble looked hard at him. “You'll care when you step on the shimmering snow that's so sharp it shreds your feet, and when you come face to face with a Grap that's all white skin, because it's drained of blood. When he rips you to bleeding pieces on the ground, and the last thing you see isn't the stars, but a muted, empty sky that looks like day-old milk. You'll care then.”
James stared blankly at him, his bright white skin, too-large ears, pale green eyes full of real concern, and allowed Bibble to turn him in the other direction. He nodded a half-hearted thanks, and took several steps in the way that did not lead to that horror, but probably to another.
“You'll be all right, James Hook. We all are.”
James just kept on stepping.
Thankfully, the darkness lifted almost immediately, and here it was, afternoon. He'd forgotten it was daytime, in the heat of everything.
He stepped deeper and deeper into the woods, not looking at or feeling anything. He deliberately chose not to think anything, for the only thoughts, happy or sad, that popped into his brain evoked terrible pain. So, onward he walked into the depths of the forest, which was already shifting seasons again.
Finally, the adrenaline of the encounter wore off, and there was pain everywhere. He could feel tiny bruises forming where Peter had thrown him to the earth and where his fingers had dug into his throat. There was an ache in his bones, but he doubted that came from the fall.
Eventually, he stopped and eyed his surroundings. Trees to the right of him, to the left, all around. He sat heavily on a fallen stump and stared at nothing and tried very hard to think of nothing. But as the events of the day (days?) weighed on his mind and beat his spirit into exhaustion, he found that he did not have enough energy
to keep the horrid thoughts at bay. Quite against his will, he gave in to them.
He was never going home. That was the thing that hit him hardest. Never going to meet his baby brother or sisterâhe didn't know whichânever again going to harass Mother over her horrendous cooking, never going to greet his father at port and breathe in the salt smell of him, feel his strong arms around him. The image pounded the breath from his lungs, until he was left gasping and sweating and shaking like a madman.
Then, secure in the knowledge that he was utterly alone, he dropped his head into his hands and cried. The boy cried in a way he was sure he hadn't since he was a little child, all needing and disappointment and urgency and lack of any semblance of control. It was as though every bit of him was dying. But, part of it felt good, somehow, cathartic.
A leaf crunched behind the wailing boy and he sat up, wiping the tears from his cheeks, looking worriedly for whomever, or whatever, had made the sound. It was a good distraction, anyway.
Nothing. Another crunch.
His limbs began to tremble. “Hello?”
James flung his head back and forth, beginning to panic, realizing that he was by himself in the middle of an enchanted wood and who knew what sort of creature would love to eat his bones for supper?
Another crunch. At this, he strongly considered leaving. As he was about to do so, the rogue noise-maker revealed herself. James let out a huge breath and his shoulders fell, relieved beyond words when he saw the little Indian girl walking shyly up to him.
“Hello,” James said in a small voice.
Up this close, James guessed that he'd been mistaken. The girl was really just a bit older than six. Seven, perhaps. She had round cheeks and a long, straight nose, and brown eyes so dark, they looked nearly black.
A lovely thing, for being so small
, he thought.
“I heard you crying,” she said, and she crossed her little arms.
“You're mistaken,” he said, sniffing and sitting up straight. Despite the gravity of the situation, James was quite embarrassed at being caught weeping, and by a little girl, no less.
“I'm not. I know I heard someone crying, and I know it was you.”
James stared at the little girl then patted the log beside him. She climbed up on it.
“Not really,” she said, shrugging. “Every animal in the woods heard you, I think.”
They sat in silence for a little while, James getting over his embarrassment, the girl just sitting. James wished he had a way of knowing what she was thinking.
“What's your name?” she asked. Her skin was brown and pretty, and her voice was sweet, like he imagined a honeysuckle would sound, if a honeysuckle could speak.
“James. James Hook.”
“James Hook.” She giggled. “That's a funny name.”
“It isn't!” he retorted, indignant. “What's yours?”
“Tiger Lily.” Tiger Lily smiled with her teeth, quite proud, apparently, of the title.
James smirked. James Hook was certainly no sillier a name than
She held out her tiny hand and James shook it and smiled brightly, unreasonably thrilled at a familiar gesture.