I have been writing my own novel over the last three years, and it is going to be published in eBook format on Amazon.com this week! For your delectation and delight, I will be posting up the initial chapters of The Fall of Peter Pan here first.
This novel is an adaptation of the original Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie.
Chapter 4 THE FLIGHT
“Second to the right, and straight on till morning.”
That, Peter had told Wendy, was the way to the Neverland; but even birds, carrying maps and consulting them at windy corners, could not have sighted it with these instructions. Peter simply said anything that came into his head. Really, it was that blind lady, Luck, who let a child reach Neverland, or a star or a fairy guide, for they are a part of magic, and cannot get lost while traveling between the worlds even if they close their eyes, spin in a circle and try.
Sometimes just being lost might bring one to Neverland’s shores, or one might be tricked onto it, and thereafter entrapped.
Hook, Captain of the JOLLY ROGER, was one of the former; Scar Faced Woman Who Slew the Tiger Hiding in the Lilies and her braves were of the latter camp. What could trick an entire war canoe of seasoned Haida warriors from the coast of Canada and their young leader into those gloomy shadows? Nothing less than the machinations of Yaahl the raven. The story is theirs to tell; suffice to say that they fled the adult world in the middle of the eighteenth century, desperate to avoid the spirit of pestilence – smallpox – which was reaching epidemic proportions across all the indigenous nations.
Trapped on Neverland, the Haida made their secret paths through the forests, climbing high in the pines and setting traps for the devilish lost boys, who plagued them as much as that mongrel mix of pirates who competed with them for resources.
The pirates and Haida were each other’s enemies, it is true. But in a heartbeat they would string their arrows with the same bow, and stand side by side, raising club and sabre as one, to strike down their true nemesis: Peter Pan.
That spritely spirit, the laughing, arrogant Puck with whom we have been only recently acquainted ourselves, carries within him darker taints. The Neverland is his hunting preserve, and he does not hunt mere animals.
Unlike the Haida, the pirates were not tricked into Neverland, but sought it out, if one can seek a destination whilst desperately lost. The fierce men of the crew had cowered beneath a shooting sky filled with frosty stars that denied any navigation known to man. A month they endured, lost, lost far from any land of Earth and far from the light of day. A month of night, during which the cycle of standing watch and sleep, served as the only timepiece.
They had steered betwixt battling behemoths, and round slumbering turtles the size of Venice, Hook’s eyes ever fixed upon some point over the curve of the horizon.
“Where are we, Captain?” cried the first mate, Gentleman Starkey, almost despairing as a ship-killing storm came upon them: the third such. Even then, the crew were labouring desperately over the bilge-pumps below the deck, emptying the water that the strained timbers of the ship were allowing in.
“Compass unknown,” snarled the Captain, wrestling with the wheel as the ships’ timbers creaked, and a spar broke loose to whip past him with a malevolent partridge whir. “Light my cigar, man!”
The only man that the Sea-Cook had ever feared, Hook stood firm upon the deck, two strong hands grasping the wheel, cigarette holder clenched between his teeth. He had taken command of the ship after the Sea-Cook’s death, and with a hold full of supplies, sent them off the face of the Earth through a gate made of storms and uncertainty. The last land they had seen was the disappearing Ivory Coast; from there, Hook had steered them down to the Horn and straight into a maelstrom.
“But where are we going, Captain?” Gentleman Starkey demanded desperately, filled with fear.
Hook laughed, blackly, and would not answer him. He was navigating towards a certain winking star; one with a reddish hue, which a mother’s voice had told him about, many years ago, in the strictest confidence. In the lantern strapped to the prow, a small pinprick of fading light strained for that magical island, where it might be freed. The captured fairy expired as they crossed out of the Ocean, fading away entirely, like the last ember of a dying fire.
Canvas groaning under the pressure, the storm drove them into Neverland’s waters, and nearly broke them upon the shoals, as the white wave horses screamed and beat their foamy hooves across the deck. The JOLLY ROGER wallowed dangerously, until they managed to fight their way around the island to shelter in the lee, out of the wind.
As soon as the weather grew calm enough to make land, Captain Hook began searching the island. The discovery of treasure appeased many of those whose faith in him had been shaken by the long, mysterious voyage through darkness. He found in the land an active adversary; but it also revealed to him many of the markers his mother had spoken of.
Of the Lady Niamh herself, there was no sign. Eventually, James Hook was forced to accept that she had likely not been able to return to the island. Taking on stores of fresh water, he attempted to pilot the JOLLY ROGER away, back into the ocean. He did not like the island, and if he attempted to force his crew to stay there, away from cities and major shipping lanes, he would have a mutiny on his hands. Regardless of what his mother had promised, he refused to become a castaway for her sake.
The JOLLY ROGER was steered out into the open waters around Neverland, towards the midnight of the horizon…only to find contrary winds pushing them firmly back, no matter how hard they tacked back and forth. Contrary winds turned to gales, which forced them almost against the rocks. After weeks of futile efforts, the pirates began to give up. Though they might sail around the deeper waters of the island, they could not leave its sphere of influence, like a toy boat spinning about the whirlpool of an emptying drain.
They were marooned, each man among them, imprisoned in this cruel little paradise. The JOLLY ROGER was no more than a raft which served as their shelter; they could not steer it to any real purpose, and may as well have been floating in a lake, the borders of which they could neither sail nor row across.
A trio of the pirates had attempted, under Hook’s instructions, to pilot a small dinghy out into the midnight ocean. Every member of crew had crowded along the rail to watch, muttering superstitious prayers. Hook and Gentleman Starkey had squinted through their spyglasses for hours, the hot sun reflecting in glassy streaks from the bouncing waves.
“They’re nearing it!” called down Smee, who was watching aloft from the crows’ nest.
Indeed they were. And then, before the eyes of the crew, the men had stopped rowing. The small craft bobbed, motionless.
“What are they looking at?” muttered Captain Hook into his moustache. They were very nearly there, in that deepening zone of twilight, which taunted them with the promise of free sailing. Yet they had stopped, and were staring as though hypnotised at a patch of water near them.
There were oaths and cries of horror as the crew witnessed the three unfortunate men stand in the rocking dinghy, and leap overboard. Like most sailors, pirates could not swim. Though they watched for long, agonizing minutes, not a one of them ever surfaced.
“Cap’n!” cried Cecco, his fingers clenching and unclenching convulsively into fists, “What did you see?”
Captain Hook and Gentleman Starkey shared a glance.
“Mermaids,” Hook said hollowly, still disbelieving what he had seen through the spyglass. “It was mermaids, the devil take them.”
Against such supernatural forces, he could not expect any more men to mount expeditions to the edge of the Neverland Sea. They stayed, stuck firmly in the centre of the web of influence that was the magical isle. With every moon that passed, the pirates grew more restless, and Hook resorted to ever-bloodier cruelties in order to retain the captaincy.
And so they stayed, waiting, and so Peter found them, returning from his adventures. What happened then? A cockerel’s crow split the air, and the bemused buccaneers found themselves attacked by a posse of small children. Their amusement turned swiftly to shock, and then hatred, as their number fell to the flashing little blades and piercing arrows. Attack from the natives who dwelt on the island was a matter of course to the crew of the JOLLY ROGER; but this wicked band of children, with their supernaturally lucky and vicious leader, was not an eventuality they had imagined even in their wildest nightmares.
Hook mused darkly on his most humiliating confrontation with the boy as he stared at the gleaming hook affixed to his wrist. Even now, he thought, if I close my eyes, I can feel my hand, clench my fist. The phantom pains sometimes awoke him in the night, sending him to the solace of dark amber spirits whose harsh smokiness soothed and befuddled his canker of a heart. The sun beat down, and he stretched out his legs before him to examine the rich, liquid sheen of the polished leather of his boots. His greatcoat was of exquisite velvet – blue today, to match his eyes – and an embroidered silk waistcoat danced down the long planes of his stomach to the solid gold buckle of his belt.
Ever since his childhood of deprivation in the boarding schools of England’s finest, he had emulated the manners of the grand gentlemen whose sons were his tormentors and unwilling companions. If not for his parents’ indiscretion, he might have been their peer, rather than their plaything. Despite this, he had always taken pride in being better dressed than any of the common herd, except possibly, the son of the Italian ambassador. Hook had seduced the boy into committing crimes, and then exposed him, so machinating the boy’s expulsion in disgrace, leaving Hook in command of the field. This unerring sense for the finer things in life had guided him unfailingly; had he stayed true to such fashion, he might have made his name in the rarefied halls of privilege and state. He had, however, made something of a mistake in turning to the ocean waves for his fortune.
That morning, when Peter was still abroad and the island therefore relatively peaceful, the mysterious currents that wend their way into Neverland brought with them a strange piece of flotsam.
Hook’s lookout called the news down the length of the ship—
A longboat was duly dispatched to bring in the unfortunate. When the pirates reached their target, they hauled him unceremoniously into the boat.
“Oh, don’t neglect my belongings, gentlemen! I beseech you!” cried the skinny man in tones of deep distress.
“Shuddup you,” snarled Bill Jukes, shoving the man down with the point of a scimitar.
Despite their naturally contrary inclinations, there was such a scarcity of items upon Neverland that every part of the makeshift raft was brought in for examination.
Hook, resplendent in his velvet coat, stared down at the miserable specimen of humanity that was cast to its knees before him on the quarterdeck.
“And what be your name, bully?” Hook asked, blowing smoke out through his nostrils languorously.
“Well,” said the slender man, climbing to his feet nimbly, before Bill Jukes could force him down again, “I am Professor Basil Rathbone, shipwrecked philosopher, and let me say that I am deeply delighted to meet with human company again! You would not be that gentleman generally known as James Hook, would you?”
“Captain James Hook,” responded that person, his face darkening. “How, Professor, do you know who I am?”
“You have the most amazing blue eyes,” said Rathbone with frank admiration, “it must be a dominant gene in your family, for I’ve never seen it before.”
Against his will, Hook found himself intrigued, and carefully examined the figure, bronzed by the sun, the muscles lean and corded like a long distance runner. Professor Rathbone was a man of older middle years, his hair long and braided neatly behind him. His ragged garb and deep tan were a far cry from the imperious, be-robed figures that Hook associated with university alumni, but he bore himself with both dignity and vivacity.
Oddities of appearance aside, he was explaining himself neither quickly nor clearly enough for satisfaction. “Speak simply!”
Professor Basil Rathbone cleared his throat a little. “You yourself may not be aware of this, but there is a lady adrift out beyond the reaches of this isle. I am afraid that she declined to give me any other name than that of Niamh, but she must be a relation of some sort. You both have the same underlying structure in the face and hair, and the colour of your eyes is unique. It would be statistically unlikely if you were not related. Correct me if this deduction is incorrect.”
This declaration fairly electrified Hook, so that his afore-mentioned eyes seemed to blaze like two comets.
“Bring him to my quarters,” snapped Hook, and turned to stride thence himself. Two bulky pirates at once seized the castaway.
“I am quite capable of bearing myself whither you may ask me to go,” said Professor Basil Rathbone with quiet dignity.
Hook paused for an instant, then acknowledged his own rudeness with a brief nod. “Very well. This way, Professor.”
From amidst the crowd of gawking pirates, Smee glared, and rubbed his bulbous nose with back of one hand. He did not like anyone who might draw the Cap’n’s attention away from Smee, who himself fawned over the man when allowed. Hook’s every word and gesture were subjects of open admiration for Smee, who had once wished to be feared as cruel and vicious, but who was now content to worship in the shadow of such a man.
Conversely, this meant that anyone who might sway Hook’s actions towards kindness, manners, mercy or any other such weaknesses, was a threat, whom Smee must eliminate.
Within Hook’s chambers, Professor Basil Rathbone stopped and stared about him, suddenly paling, and seeming to sway in his tracks for a moment.
Hook watched him, like a snake might a small bird.
“Do you mind if I sit for a moment? It’s all rather overwhelming,” said Rathbone, who was looking pale.
“Take the quince-coloured one,” ordered Hook.
“Thank you. My apologies for the state of my clothes, but,” Professor Basil Rathbone laughed weakly, “I have not had access to enough freshwater to bathe for some time.”
They sat in silence for a time, Rathbone with his hand over his face, Hook examining him all the while.
“You spoke of a woman named Niamh,” Hook prompted, after Smee had come in on tiptoes, bringing a tray of tea implements and foul glares for the intruder.
Professor Basil Rathbone roused himself with difficulty. “Yes. A most curious woman, so very self-sufficient! I was very impressed with her ingenuity. Clearly, she had prepared for a long voyage, but still, the innovations that she had made humbled me. I thought I was getting along rather well, making use of squid ink, drying fish and storing fresh water, but it was nothing as to her cleverness. Your sister, you said?” Rathbone was a slightly weak-chinned man whose visage belied great personal courage and fortitude.
“I said no such thing,” Hook retorted, cuttingly, and declined to divulge any further information.
Though his sentences belittled his own achievements, Professor Basil Rathbone had calmly weathered the unexpected sinking of the ship that he had embarked upon to explore the world, nursing his research assistant (the only other survivor) until the young man had succumbed to injuries sustained in the tragedy. A full year had passed alone on the ocean waves, during which he had industriously and with unquenchable spirit maintained the connection between mind and body.
He had once been a contentedly fat gentleman. “But now, necessarily, I am quite restored to the physique of my rowing days.” He chuckled quietly, and took a little tea with a sigh of unrestrained gladness, ignoring the sound of Hook grating his claw across the arm of the chair, a noise which had intimidated many a lesser man.
Indeed, a lesser man would by now be dead; Hook would have killed him, frustrated by his continual evasion of the point that he wished most to know. Professor Rathbone, so long without companionship, ignored or did not notice the warning signs which would have sent Smee grovelling for cover on his belly.
“I am intrigued by your choice of vessel, Captain. I admire your faithfulness in keeping such an antique ship afloat, but I am surprised there does not appear to be a steam engine aboard somewhere, if only for convenience when becalmed.”
“She is a top of the line sailing ship,” snapped Hook, “and I ensured that she should bear every piece of contemporary equipment when last we left port!”
“Ah, an anachronist then,” nodded Professor Basil Rathbone wisely, quite missing the point.
“Tell me of my mother!” Hook snarled.
“My word yes, you must stop me when I charge ahead in conversation, otherwise I’ll never reach the point. Do try and keep me focussed my dear fellow. Your mother, you say?”
Basil sipped some more tea placidly, quite ignoring the fuming captain, terror of the seas, who hunched across from him, glaring threateningly.
“I don’t wish to insult your sense of filial pride, but have you seen the Lady Niamh recently?”
“Not since I was a boy,” Hook said through gritted teeth.
“Well… I don’t mean to be rude, in any sense, but she seems to be channelling the spirit of some earlier age in her general presentation. She’s a little er, unkempt. It’s odd, she doesn’t look much older than you yourself, your family must age very well—”
“Her appearance is not my concern,” Hook said, with sinister politeness. “One last time. She spoke to you. What did she say?”
Professor Rathbone wrinkled his forehead a little. “I am not certain, either, that she was fully in touch with reality when we spoke. Her only words to me, aside of her name and the request (more an order – is that also a family trait?) to find you, were that the Pan must be killed for her to return.”
Hook was struck silent by this revelation.
“Does that make any sense to you?” asked Rathbone, innocent of the import of his words.
“It makes very much sense, professor,” said Hook quietly. And for all Basil’s obliviousness to the world around him, he knew when to let a topic fall. The innocent castaway will be safe enough for now. He has excited Hook’s interest, but not to boiling point. Safe, for now.
Meanwhile, where are the Darling children? They are flying, and have been so for some time, though not long enough to be wearied with it.
At first Peter’s companions trusted him implicitly, with his orchestration of their daring escape from the stale nursery. They could fly, and heard the ring of command in his voice when he yelled for them to flee; it was enough. For Wendy, it was what she had been waiting for her entire life.
The children raced, Michael getting a head start.
They recalled with half-embarrassed contempt that not so long ago they had thought themselves fine fellows for being able to fly round a room.
Not long ago. But how long ago? They were flying over the sea before this thought began to prickle Wendy seriously. John thought it was their second ocean and their third night.
Sometimes it was dark and sometimes light, and now they were very cold and again too warm, but the sensation of time seemed to evade them, as did the other natural rhythms. Did they really feel hungry at times, or were they merely pretending, because Peter had fun ways of finding them a meal? His way was to pursue birds who had food in their mouths suitable for humans and snatch it from them; then the birds would follow and snatch it back; it was all a wonderful chase for the children that went on for miles, until eventually the hungry birds, cheated and angry, returned to easier pickings. But Wendy noticed with curiosity that Peter did not seem to know that this was rather an odd way of getting your bread and butter, nor even that there are other ways. She personally would have recommended stopping to ask a shop assistant if they might have something to eat, though they would have been turned away, having no money.
Certainly they did not pretend to be sleepy, they were sleepy; and that was a danger, for the moment they drifted off to sleep, the flying stopped and down they fell. The awful thing was that Peter thought this funny.
“There he goes again!” he would cry gleefully, as Michael suddenly dropped like a stone, dangling from one arm as Wendy clutched at him, bobbing and foundering awkwardly. Or sometimes they would simply drop off to sleep out of arms-reach, and then they would plummet.
“Save him!” shouted Wendy, looking with horror at the distantly glittering sea far below. Eventually Peter would bend into a steep dive through the air, and catch Michael just before he could strike the sea, and it was grand to see the way he did it; but he always waited till the very last moment, as it was his cleverness that interested him and not any concern for saving someone’s life.
Also he was fond of variety, and the sport that engrossed him one moment would suddenly cease to engage him, so there was always the possibility that the next time you fell he would let you go. Wendy watched him narrowly at these occasions, and would pat absently at her pouch, for the neglectful murder of a sibling would be a blooding offense at the very least.
He could sleep in the air without falling, by merely lying on his back and floating, but this was, partly at least, because he was so light that if you got behind him and blew he went faster.
“Do be more polite to him,” Wendy muttered to John, when they were playing “Follow my Leader.” It was some time after they had flown through and with a gigantic flock of butterflies, all tawny and dark-spotted. Normally you cannot hear a butterfly in flight, but with that many all together, the sound of their wings became a whispering flitter on the very edge of perception. If they had known how to interpret such sounds, they would have been able to foretell, with complete certainty, the weather on Earth for the next year.
“Then tell him to stop showing off,” said John grumpily. He was not nearly so graceful or capable in the air, and it irritated him. Through trial and error, he had also discovered that he could not think too closely about how it was that he was flying, or the magic would begin to splutter and not work. This was upsetting to logical John.
When playing Follow my Leader, Peter would fly close to the water and touch each shark’s tail in passing, just as in the street you may run your hand along an iron railing. The Darling children could not follow him in this with much success, which pleased him tremendously. Peter was rather proud of himself, and liked to crow whenever they missed a tail.
“You must be nice to him, at least until we reach Neverland,” Wendy impressed on her brothers. “What could we do if he were to leave us because you two were annoying him?”
“We could go back,” Michael said.
“How could we find our way back without him?”
“Well, then, we could go on,” said John.
“That is the thing, John. We should have to go on, for we don’t know how to stop, unless we fall asleep. So quit grizzling like Nana’s little pet, and go along with him.”
Truthfully, Peter had forgotten to show them how to stop, and there had not yet been any need for it.
John said that if the worst came to the worst, all they had to do was to go straight on, for the world was round, and so in time they must come back to their own window. Wendy and Michael were not so sure of this; after all, they had been flying in such strange directions that they did not think the spherical nature of the world was going to be a particularly helpful guide.
“And who is to get food for us while we fly home, John?”
“I nipped a bit out of that eagle’s mouth pretty neatly, Wendy.”
“After the twentieth try,” Wendy reminded him. She huffed a sigh, crossing her arms, which made her wobble a little in flight. If only her silly brothers had stayed at home! It would stop them from jeopardizing her chance to live in Neverland. Though, if they had stayed behind, she would have been alone in the sky, which might scare her in her less-brave moments.
Peter was not with them for the moment, and they felt rather lonely up there by themselves, cruising on aimlessly. He could go so much faster than they that he would suddenly zip off out of sight, to have some adventure in which they had no share. Then he would come down laughing over some fearfully funny trick he had played on a star, but he had already forgotten what it was, or he would come up with mermaid scales still sticking to him, and yet not be able to say for certain what occurred. It was really rather infuriating.
“And if he forgets them so quickly,” Wendy argued, “how can we expect that he will go on remembering us?”
Indeed, sometimes when he returned he did not remember them, at least not well. Wendy was sure of it. She saw recognition come into his eyes as he was about to nod at them in a friendly manner and go on alone; once even she had to call him by name.
“I’m Wendy, Wendy Moira Angela Darling,” she said agitatedly, grabbing at his hand.
He was very sorry. “I say, Wendy,” he whispered to her, “if you see me forgetting you, just keep on saying ‘I’m Wendy,’ and then I’ll remember. I don’t seem to have the habit of remembering things.”
Of course this was a rather unsatisfactory explanation, and a little unnerving to be told. However, to make amends he showed them how to lie out flat on a strong wind that was going their way, and they could sleep then without falling. Indeed they would have slept longer, but Peter tired quickly of the game of sleeping, and soon he would cry in his loud captain’s voice, “We get off here.”
So with occasional tiffs, but on the whole a good deal of fun (the sailors on that strange, purple-sailed junk could not believe a flock of children circled low overhead laughing, before disappearing into the distance, and reported it confusedly at port), they drew near the Neverland, despite Peter’s haphazard guidance.
“There it is,” said Peter calmly.
“Where all the arrows are pointing.”
Indeed it seemed like a million golden arrows were pointing it out to the children, for the fat, friendly sun was setting behind the island, and casting out honey-coloured light to guide them in.
Wendy and John and Michael stood on tiptoe in the air to get their first good look at the island. Despite its shape, quite different to their own, personal Neverlands, they all recognized it at once, and until the Fear fell upon them they hailed it, like a familiar friend to whom they were returning home for the holidays.
“John, look, there’s the lagoon. O, the mermaids will all be there!”
“Wendy, look at the leatherback turtles laying their eggs in the sand!”
“I say, John, I see your flamingo with the broken leg!”
“Look, Michael, there’s your cave!”
“John, what’s that in the brushwood?”
“It’s a wolf with her whelps. Wendy, I do believe that’s your little cub!”
“There’s my boat, John, with her sides stove in!”
“No, it isn’t. Why, we burned your boat.”
“That’s her, at any rate. I say, John, I see the smoke of the Haida settlement!”
“Where? Show me, and I’ll tell you by the amount of smoke rising whether they are out on the war-path or not.”
“There, just across the Mysterious River.”
“I see now. Yes, they are out on the war-path right enough – that’s the smoke of a banked fire, left unattended.”
Peter was a little annoyed with them for knowing so much, but if he wanted to lord it over them his opportunity was at hand, for have we not told you that very shortly that the Fear of darkness would consume them? It came as the last shafts of light were extinguished, leaving the island in a sudden gloom.
In the old days at home the Neverland had always begun to look a little dark and threatening by bedtime. Unexplored patches arose in it and spread, black shadows moved about in them. The old stone circle, homely and covered in moss by day, loomed menacingly. The roar of the beasts was quite different, and above all, children lost the certainty that they would win. It was easy to be brave and daring in daylight, but not when you unable to see what vast, dark threat was sneaking closer through the gloom. Then you were quite glad that the night-lights were on. You even liked Nana to say that this was just the mantelpiece over here, that the Neverland was all make-believe, and to stop being silly.
Of course the Neverland had been make-believe in those days. But they were here, and it was real now. There were no night-lights, it was getting darker every moment, and Nana was far away, left behind with their parents at Number 14.
They had been flying apart in a casual V formation, like a migrating flock, but they huddled close to Peter now. His careless manner had gone at last, his eyes were sparkling, and a tingle went through them every time they touched his body, as though something more electric than mere blood was circulating within him. They were now over the fearsome island, flying so low that sometimes a branch would grab at their feet. Nothing horrid was visible in the air, Tinker Bell’s swift revolutions were proof of that; yet their progress had become slow and laboured, as though they were pushing their way forward through hostile forces. Sometimes the children hung in the air until Peter had beaten on it with his fists and forced it to relent another foot.
“They don’t want us to land,” he explained.
“Who are they?” Wendy whispered, shuddering and clutching hard at little Michael’s hand, that he might not fall behind and be lost in the gloaming.
But he could not or would not say. Tinker Bell was roused to action and sent on in front, a sharp-eyed little sentry, glowing like a sulphur lamp.
Sometimes Peter poised himself in the air, listening intently, one hand cupped to his ear, and again he would stare down with eyes so bright that they seemed to bore through the darkness. Having done these things, he went on again, humming softly to himself. Peter found it all very good fun.
His courage was almost appalling. “Would you like an adventure now,” he asked Wendy casually, “or would you like to have your tea first?”
John said, “Tea first,” quickly, and Michael pressed her hand hard, but the braver Wendy hesitated.
“What kind of adventure?” she asked cautiously.
“There’s a pirate asleep in the trees just beneath us,” Peter told him. “If you like, we’ll go down and kill him.”
“I don’t see him,” John said after a long pause.
“I do. He’s there, just where the branches fork to the right.”
“Suppose,” Wendy said, a little huskily, “he was to wake up.”
Peter spoke indignantly. “You don’t think I would kill him while he was sleeping, do you?! I would wake him first, and then kill him. That’s the way I always do it. It’s not sporting otherwise.”
“I say! Do you kill many?”
Wendy said “How ripping,” but decided to have tea first. She asked if there were many pirates on the island just now, and Peter said he had never known so many, for when they got lost roaming on the seas of Earth, they would often wash up on the shores of Neverland, and be absorbed into the crew.
“Who is Captain now?”
“Hook,” answered Peter, and his face became very stern as he said that hated word, for they were sworn enemies. Peter was always sworn enemies with pirate captains; it made for the most fun.
“Captain James Hook?”
Then Michael began to cry, and even John could speak in gulps only, for they knew Hook’s reputation. He had been the most barbarous buccaneer known to humankind, until (it was assumed) his ship went down in a killing storm off the Horn of Africa. It was all very fun to read of his dastardly exploits in school… but now all that knowledge welled up inside them, more real than ever before. Captain James Hook was alive, here, on Neverland.
“He was Blackbeard’s bo’sun,” John whispered huskily. “He is the worst of them all. He is the only man of whom Barbecue was afraid.”
“That’s him,” said Peter.
“What is he like? Is he big?”
“He is not so big as he was.” There was satisfaction in Peter’s voice.
“How do you mean?”
“I cut off a bit of him.”
“You!” Exclaimed Wendy.
“Yes, me,” said Peter sharply.
“I wasn’t meaning to be disrespectful.”
“O, all right.”
“What bit did you cut off, Peter?”
“His right hand.”
“Then he can’t fight anymore?” John asked hopefully.
“O, can’t he just!”
There was a pause, then Wendy asked, “Left-handed?”
“He has an iron hook instead of a right hand, and he claws with it, while he flails a sword in the other.”
“Claws!” the three children gasped as one, recoiling.
“I say,” said Peter.
“Say, ‘Aye, aye, sir.’“
“Aye, aye, sir.”
“There is one thing,” Peter continued to them sternly, “Which every boy who serves under me has to promise, and so must you.”
John paled, but Wendy nodded once, stoically.
“It is this: if we meet Hook in open fight, you must leave him to me.”
“I promise,” John said loyally. Wendy murmured something under her breath that could have been interpreted as a promise, but could have been a wordless sound.
For the moment they were feeling less eerie, because Tink was flying with them, and in her light they could distinguish one other. Unfortunately she could not fly so slowly as they, and so she had to go round and round them in a circle in which they moved as in a halo. Wendy quite liked it, until Peter pointed out a major drawback.
“Tink tells me,” he said, “that the pirates sighted us before the darkness came, and got Long Tom out.”
“The big gun?”
“Yes. And of course they must see her light, and if they guess we are near it they are sure to let fly. At this range they’ll probably get pretty close.”
“Wendy!” wailed Michael.
“Tell her to go away at once, Peter,” the three cried simultaneously, but he refused.
“She thinks we have lost the way,” he replied stiffly, “and she is rather frightened. You don’t think I would send her away all by herself when she is scared!”
For a moment the circle of light was broken, and something gave Peter a loving little pinch.
“Then tell her,” Wendy begged, in an agony of fear, “to put out her light.”
“She can’t put it out. That is about the only thing fairies can’t do. It just goes out of itself when she falls asleep, same as the stars.”
“Then tell her to go to sleep at once,” John almost ordered.
“She can’t sleep except when she’s sleepy. It’s something else fairies can’t do.” Neither can people, for that matter; but this did not mollify John.
“Seems to me,” growled John, “these are the only two things worth doing.”
Here he got a pinch, but not a loving one.
“If only one of us had a pocket,” Peter said, “we could carry her in it.” However, they had set off in such a hurry that there was not a pocket between the four of them, and Tinker Bell refused absolutely to be stuffed into Wendy’s satchel.
He had a happy idea. John’s hat!
Tink agreed to travel by hat if it was carried in the hand. John carried it, though she had really intended for it to be carried by Peter. Presently Wendy took the hat, because John said it struck against his knee as he flew, a turn of events which was to lead to mischief.
In the black top hat Tink’s light was mostly hidden, and they flew on in silence. It was the stillest silence they had ever known, broken once by a distant lapping, which Peter explained was wild beasts drinking at the ford, and again by a rasping sound that might have been the branches of trees rubbing together, but which he claimed was the Haida sharpening their knives. Peter might have been teasing them a little.
Presently, even these noises ceased. To Michael the loneliness was dreadful. “If only something would make a sound!” he cried.
As if in answer to his request, the air was rent by the most tremendous crash he had ever heard. The pirates had fired Long Tom at them.
The roar of it echoed through the mountains, and the echoes seemed to cry savagely, “Where are they, where are they, where are they?”
Thus sharply did the terrified three learn the difference between an island of make-believe and the same island come true.
Down on the deck of the JOLLY ROGER, Professor Basil Rathbone started up, crying out, “For the love of Plato, what are you shooting at?”
“Take him away below,” Hook enunciated in a low growl, “and lock him in my cabin.”
Smee leapt to obey, hustling the castaway down the steps, banging him against every wall and post as they went. The force of the explosion was still ringing in the air like a struck bell.
When at last the heavens were steady again, John and Michael found themselves alone in the darkness, their ears clamouring with the percussion of that horrible blast. John was treading the air mechanically, and Michael without knowing how to float was floating, his legs curled up beneath him as though to shrink himself as a target.
“Are you shot?” John whispered tremulously.
“I haven’t tried yet,” Michael whispered back, too scared to move in case something fell off.
No one had been hit by the cannonball. Peter, however, had been carried by the wind of the shot far out to sea, while Wendy was blown upwards and whirled away with no companion but that of Tinker Bell.
It would have been well for Wendy if at that moment she had dropped the hat, to fly solo through the darkness.
It is unknown whether the idea came suddenly to Tink, or whether she had planned it on the way, but she at once popped out of the hat with a fizzle of her wings, and began to lure Wendy to her destruction.
Tink was not all bad; or, rather, she was all bad just now, but to be fair, sometimes she was all good, or more often, all mischievous. Fairies have to be one thing or the other, because being so small they only have space inside them to experience one emotion at a time. They are able to change their nature, but it must be a complete change. At present Tinker Bell was full of a violent and jealous dislike of Wendy. What she said in her lovely tinkle Wendy could not of course understand. Most of it was horrible abuse, but it sounded kind, and she fluttered back and forth in front of Wendy, pantomiming: “Follow me, and all will be well.”
What else could Wendy do? She shouted her loudest to Peter and John and Michael, and got only mocking echoes in reply, and from below the grunting cough of a lion. She did not yet know that Tink hated her with the fierce hatred of one defending her territory against all interlopers. And so, bewildered, ears ringing and now wavering unsteadily in her flight, she followed Tink to her doom.
Like reading? Like poetry? K.L. has recently published a collection of poems, along with a preview of her upcoming novel, The Fall of Peter Pan. Find it here.