It had felt like a dream at first. I was gliding through the water with angels as my guides. I remember thinking how odd their wings felt - clammy and callous against the waves. I thought nothing of it, instead welcomed the feeling of fresh water sweep across my face with all its cuts and bruises. It seemed to have a rejuvenating effect, and for a moment I believed I was being taken to Heaven. Oh, how wrong I was.
In one sweeping motion, I was placed on a rock. My eyes must have been failing me as all I could see was consistent darkness, the opening of what must have been a cave only lit by the moonlight shining through. It gave the cave an ominous look and I suddenly searched for the beings that took me here, panic settling in the pit of my abdomen. I was greeted with my own shallow breath, my body beginning to shiver against the concrete ground. My last thought was that of worry: that if I wasn't already dead, I would die from hypothermia. And what then, would the angels do?
It must have been some time since I became unconscious for when I awoke I thought I felt the sun's rays coat my body. I was proven wrong though as my eyes meet with the mere flames of fire that was attached to the wall of the cave. I sat up and immediately regretted the action but made to stay in the position for the time being.
If I'm completely honest, what happened next was a bit of a haze. He has that sort of effect, especially on newcomers. I'm certain he noticed me first, perhaps he was even waiting for me to awaken.
The initial shock of finding a boy accompany me was overridden with the encompassing feeling of hope. I was no longer alone. It was a while until I voiced these thoughts and I took the time to inspect the stranger. He was a lean boy, his back arched as his head began to dip ever closer to the burning flame. He seemed entranced by it, his eyes giving a fiery gleam that even I could notice from the distance between us. His features were highlighted by the blaze and he appeared almost ethereal with his pointed ears and copper coloured hair. He could not have been more than fourteen. I began to grow worried when he brought his hand nearer to the flame but was surprised when he lazily withdrew.
"Tink, you're my fairy, not my mother," he said with a tone of mixed annoyance and exasperation. I would have found the scene humorous if not for the choice of words and the sudden appearance of a glowing light beside the boy's ear. "Ah, you're awake," he said in my general direction on the floor.
"What is that?..." I responded, but not after staring intently at it myself. My voice sounded scratchy and I could tell that it had been hours since I used it.
"Oh, you mean Tink." He went to grab what I believe was her wings with an ease that made me think that this was not an uncommon action for him. She began to tinkle lightly, sort of like a bell chiming. I squinted to see that she poked her tongue out and the youth imitated her, all but ignoring me in the process.
"Tinker Bell. She's my fairy. And a nuisance at that." Despite his words, his tone gave me the impression that he was fond of this fairy and it did not take me long to find out that she was very much fond of him.
With this information, confusion made a nest in mind and I could feel it growing bigger the longer I dwelt on the existence of fairies. "Where am I? What is this place?" I asked, deciding to focus on the bigger problem.
"Oh excuse me. I'm Peter Pan and this is Neverland - my island," his chest had grown bigger at this declaration, his lips spreading wide, before settling into a thin line. "Though I'm not sure how a grown-up ended up here..." he mumbled with slight distaste. He looked at me and fixed me a gaze that I might have found intimidating if not for his age. "I'll tell you what," he said with a determined demeanour. "You can stay but only if you keep away from me and my boys. Only if," he repeated.
I wondered how he was so pleasant and nonchalant only moments before and now he was presenting me with threats. "Well yes, but I do not wish-"
"Good. I shan't see you for a while then." And with that, he flew out of the cave, fairy and all.
I was fortunate in having left Skull Rock better than I had arrived. I would later find out that others are not so lucky.
It appeared to be evening when my feet landed on Neverland's soil but it became increasingly hard to track down the time of day. The minutes seemed longer, the sunset lasting for what felt like hours. I walked along the coast, trying to spot the boy - anyone really. He had mentioned other boys but they must be the same age as him. Besides, he said I had to stay away from them and I wondered why he seemed so fierce about the subject. I was beginning to think that perhaps the adolescent was the only one on the island when I saw a woman in the ocean. I had only seen her head which quickly disappeared back into the water. My feet dragged me closer without much thought but I was to clumsily stop, toes clutching the sand when I saw her tail. It shimmered in the sunlight and it was an abrupt realisation that this was not my home. With the beaming sun alighting me a flame, my heart in my throat, I scurried back to the top of the cliff before I pondered what other creatures hid around the corner.
Determined to stay far from the coast I must have pushed myself into some woodland. It was only when I was surrounded by trees that I realised that I had walked a considerable distance from where I began. The forest smelled of pine and the air was crisp and for the first time since my arrival, I felt at peace. I let my pace slow down, confident that my exploration of the island was done for the day. I came to the biggest tree and felt the blood drain from my face. There were many holes and etchings in it as well as a rope tied to a branch, making a loop. The island was no doubt beautiful - its seas were clearer than any in England, it's forests had the most vibrant of greens - but with this mystic came a feeling of uneasiness and this tree was the proof to my suspicions that something was not right.
Ignoring the restlessness that settled in my stomach, I sat at the trunk of the tree. My eyes drifted to the sky and they widened in awe. Any drowsiness that I had felt left in an instant when my eyes met with the night sky - an unadulterated fringe of ocean blue, an innumerable amount of silver specks dotting the sky, and I could not help the slight gasp that escaped me - it was the most wondrous sight I had ever seen. I had never taken much notice of the stars when in London. The skies were always thick with fog, and who has the time for such frivolous activities in the modern world? But here... I couldn't take my eyes away from them. They seemed to have a certain glimmer to them, a certain spark, that I'm tempted to describe as abnormal. My eyes lingered on the brighter ones, the ones that I believe were glowing. One looked something like a heartbeat - glistening and then fading, glistening and then fading. I could feel my breath match its timing until it all but stopped. It was growing, no, they were growing in size and intensity, becoming something of a monstrosity. I began to feel my eyes swell with tears for their radiance was blinding yet I couldn't tear my gaze away. If it was not for my journey thus far I would have believed that I was a madman for they began to speak. It was a harsh whisper, their collective voices not meant to be heard by human ears. I strained to listen and felt my heart stutter when I had deciphered their message. "Leave! This island was not created to sustain the likes of both you and him. Heed our message and go." As their cry sounded into nothingness, so did their luminosity, leaving a darkness that spread over the forest.
I awoke to the sun's rays filtering through the forest. I let my eyes grow accustomed to the sight, the brightness a sure wake up call. Those first few minutes were... peaceful. I let my chest rise and fall in a slow pattern, the chirping of some foreign bird a lullaby that could very easily put me back to sleep. It wasn't until my mind recalled the events of the previous day did I remember that I was not in London. And then the ominous prophecy from last night reverberated through my skull. Leave! This island was not created to sustain the likes of both you and him. Heed our message and go. My heart grew heavy with each word. As if the uneasiness of the island was not enough, the stars thought it'd be nice to leave their wise words with me. Talking stars, mermaids, a boy who could fly... not to mention the fairy... had I been right to think I died in the shipwreck? Is this truly heaven? The idea of this continent being some sort of afterlife made my breath hitch, the thought a nightmare in of itself. Or I could have gone mad. The notion was not unbelievable though completely undesirable. Deciding against pondering the likeliness of my own brain rotting I made to start the day, at odds at what to do. I was surrounded by greenery, but when I looked towards the west the trees began to narrow. If I were to have any luck in finding others it would be in that direction.
It was not before wandering amongst the tree for the entirety of the day that I found some sort of civilisation. The sky was a hazy gold, and I had to wonder how my feet had carried me for such a journey. I had been beginning to think that my search was hopeless when I smelt campfire. I let myself be lead by the scent of burnt wood, my vision becoming accustomed to the natural beiges and soil browns, soon forgetting the dark green that surrounded me only moments before.
There was the sound of light chatter and raucous laughter which soon began to die down at my approach. It was replaced by the low murmur of strangers, the crackling of the firewood. Indians. Their eyes searched mine, a question deep-seated in their gaze. From the elderly to the newborns their people surrounded me. The light of the fire illuminated their faces, creating shadows before them. I swallowed the lump building in my throat, unsure of what to do among the unsmiling faces.
A girl, as quick as the wind itself, appeared before me. "Who are you?" I bristled at the sharpness of her voice, her eyes dark and consuming.
I straightened up, remembering my place. "I'm James. And you are?" I would not discuss my current position with just any girl.
Her head tilted slightly, her eyebrows raised. Her expression was a mix of amusement and disbelief, her eyes silently judging me.
Just as she was about to answer me, her companions started cheering and I followed their gaze to a kind looking man. With a hint of a smile on his face, he walked towards me from his tepee. "I am sorry about my daughter. She is all too eager to start commanding," he said, his voice light.
I looked towards the young girl again with her lips in a thin line, her brows knitted. She folded her arms against her chest, making no hint of moving.
"Tiger Lily," he said with a sigh through his voice held weight.
With one heavy look towards her father, the girl swiftly left us and sat beside a young man. I understood all too well how it felt to take orders from those above you but she still had much to learn.
"I am Shaka, chief of the Ka," he spoke with deliberate slowness as someone might if not used to the English tongue. He motioned to his people, his shawl swaying. "What brings you to Neverland?"
As I began to formulate an answer, at a loss at where to start my story, the sun was beginning to dip under the horizon, it's copper rays demanding to be felt and watched as it made its descent. A silence fell over the group as our eyes soaked up the beauty of the sight. I had never seen a sight more bewitching, though the others seemed to know that something was awry. At a rapid speed, the sky darkened. Rich oranges, heightened purples, and a navy blue so dark that it could have been mistaken for black, blanketed over us in a moment's notice.
Shaka murmured something, his voice so soft that I could barely hear what he had to say. With his lips pursed and his eyes narrowed, he repeated, "It is Pan. Something must have happened."
"Pan? As in the boy?" I asked, incredulous.
Shaka turned to me, his face painted with a tired sort of pain. "He controls more than you know."
I would have liked to know more, completely perplexed to how a boy could somehow affect whether the sunset early or not, but his tone suggested that he was done discussing the matter. I gave a slight nod, silencing my curiosity.
A dinner of sorts was divided amongst us and it wasn't until I held the meat between my fingertips that I realised how hungry I had been. Throughout my wanderings, I had picked some berries, my knowledge on the subject limited in a continent such as this. I tore a piece off from the bone and chewed. I could not help but crinkle my nose at the taste, it's consistency one like no other. I let it sit in my mouth before letting the tough piece slide down my dry throat. I did not have to wonder for long where the meat came from as the skinned skull of a crocodile rested against a tree opposite me.
"Thank you," I said, perhaps a bit too harshly. I still felt a little uneasy by the crocodile skull, my mouth parched and tight. I cleared my throat. "You weren't obligated in any way to help me. I appreciate your generosity."
I could feel their eyes shift between themselves and me, clearly taken aback by my words. I suppose it made sense. I couldn't imagine them receiving many visitors, let alone any English. I myself found it a bit hard to communicate with them."You are very welcome, James...Now tell me," Shaka leaned forward as he spoke, urgency clear in his voice. "Why is it exactly that you are here?"
I had just swallowed my last piece of crocodile (finishing it much faster than I had initially thought) when Shaka's words rang through me. I shifted uncomfortably, my mind darting from one event to the last. The last few days were so scattered and peculiar that I had to wonder if it was all a dream. Nonetheless, I told him what my memory would allow.
"You were on Skull Rock?" My reverie was broken as I was telling the story, my attention settling on a boy who could have been no more than six. His voice was but a harsh whisper, his eyes large with terror.
"If that is the name of the cave then yes, I was on Skull Rock." An uncomfortable silence fell upon us and I could not quite understand why. The Indians seemed to be looking at me in awe, and I wondered if this Skull Rock had a reputation that matched its name.
"Skull Rock is one of the most dangerous areas of the island." It was the Chief that broke the silence. "If you are left there without any boat... you are most certainly stranded."
My mind was flooded with the memory of the place, all darkness and cold, jutting rocks, the merciless waves that crashed onto it. I was half delirious at the time, the experience too surreal for comfort.
"There was a bird of sorts," I said abruptly, realisation dawning on me. "It had the appearance of a seagull, but much larger..."
Once again the others shared a knowing glance and I could not let my curiosity stay hidden. "What? You know what that thing is?"
"It was the Never bird." I swivelled around to Tiger Lily who seemed to have beaten her father to it. "It's somewhat a myth in these parts. You never hear about it, save for the tales that the mermaids tell about it every full moon or so. It's said to come to help those in danger."
"It is true," Shaka agreed. "The Never bird helps all who need it."
"I owe it my life then," I said with sincerity.
After another, somewhat uncomfortable silence, I asked the question I had been desperately wondering since I'd arrived.
"Do you know if it's possible if I can get back to London?"
As soon as the words were spoken the air between us thickened, a blanket of tense stillness laid over us. I watched as Shaka physically winced at my voice as if he were waiting for the words to hit him. He still said nothing and I looked over to Tiger Lily, hoping she would have the answers. Her eyes swivelled from me to the space next to me before settling on the ground.
"You are very far from London, James," Shaka began.
I waited for him to continue but he made no hint of saying more. "I know but there must be a way."
I let my eyes settle on his, a silent plead for him to say all he could.
With a heavy sigh, he said, "there is a way... Pan."
The boy. Again. "What does he have to do with this?"
"He has everything to do with it." There was something in his tone that made my skin crawl. It was the exact feeling I had felt when I spotted the mermaid or when my eyes beheld hangman's tree. It was in this moment that my desire to leave was greatest. "Pan is the ruler of Neverland. It is he that controls all matters here. The one who decides who stays and goes. He alone."
I swallowed as I processed the news. "A boy king? Are you all mad?" I asked, my voice raised.
"We do not ask for Peter to be leader," Tiger Lily answered fiercely. "He created Neverland and proclaimed himself ruler. The decision had nothing to do with us."
"But how can you stand for a- a child to lead the land? He is just a boy!"
"Peter does what he must, he is more than a-"
"That is enough Tiger Lily," Shaka said, but not before his words trembled. There was thunder underneath his voice and a storm in Tiger Lily's eyes.
"Are you saying," I cut in before father and daughter could say another word against each other. "That I must gain permission from this boy to leave the island?" My voice mocked me with its ridiculous words.
"I'm afraid so," Shaka replied. He glanced quickly at Tiger Lily, her gaze as violent as ever. He must be leaving something out since her scrutiny was unflinching as if to say add the rest. "We are on good terms with him ourselves but he can be... chaotic with other adults," he said delicately. Pan's earlier warning of staying away from his boys rang true as Shaka spoke. "I am not certain if it is possible for anyone to leave Neverland on their own accord. I do not believe it has been tried." My heartbeat pulsed violently before he continued. "But we will try to help."
I could not stop the muscles in my cheeks from aching as my face broke out into a smile. A wave of relief washed over me as if the chance of never returning to England was just a bad dream. I soon remembered myself and stilled my excitement, giving the chief a brief nod. A silent thank you.
Since night fell quicker than usual the tribe made preparations for sleep. The news of returning home made my mind leap from thought to thought, situations and reunions all playing out in my head as if I was looking into the future. I would be on London soil soon enough and would no longer have to rely on my own fantasies to conjure up images of its bustling streets or murky grey sky.
Be it as it may I could not resist wondering what had happened since my disappearance. While it only feels as though I've inhabited this peculiar island for... was it two days? It was becoming increasingly difficult to map out the time here. I dismissed the need to know the exact period I had been here for, uncomfortability and agitation weighing down my heart. Whatever the time, I cannot say for certain if it's been the same in England.
My feet led me outside the Indian camp and into a thicket of woodland. I swivelled around in the darkness, the scraping of branches against my arm, to make out where it was that I was standing. I had not meant to come here, my recollections taking me away.
"Are you lost?"
I give a slight gasp, my eyes scanning for the owner of the voice widely. I was only meet with forest greens painted in the dark. "Show yourself," I cried, worry drenched in my words. I would not put it past the island to have demons crawl on its soils.
A low chuckle erupted from behind me, my whole body contorting to see who spoke. My eyes strained to make out a figure in the moonlight before my eyes widened with realisation.
"No need for that," Pan said with amusement, his eyes travelling to my waist where my hand was ready to grasp a dagger that was no longer there. A nasty habit that I needed to be rid of.
I sighed, my shoulders slumping at the thought of not being with a beast. My heart rate began to slow, but not before my eyes wandered on the boy's silhouette. "What is that you want? I thought you didn't want anything to do with me."
"I didn't," he said simply. He let the silence between us stretch as he gazed at me with a look I could not decipher. With a step, he spoke. "That was until I heard that you wanted to leave." My heart plummeted once again. Was it possible that the chief and he had some sort of truce? How could he have spoken with him so quickly?
Never one for cowardice, I braced myself and squared my shoulders. "Yes. I have a life back at home. I was never meant to be here."
The boy hummed, walking a few feet ahead. I could hear nothing but him, the creatures silent, the wind still. I ignored the goosebumps that suddenly raised on my skin. "Yes, home," he said quietly, a strange sort of distance to his voice. I stared at him for some time, the silence eating at me. "Might I show you something? It'll just take a moment," he added, a sudden thrill shifted in his countenance. Before I could answer he was already flying forward, my feet clumsily trying to keep up.
He landed near the edge of the forest, the seashore greeting us. Flight didn't seem to exhaust him in any way, but the distance tired me a fair bit, my feet throbbing from my day's travels, no doubt. I could see him a little clearer here, his reflection opposite the water rippling. He stood tall and proud, looking as if he had just thought of something clever.
I turned my eyes to the water, it's ocean blue dark and quiet. He seemed to be anticipating something for his gaze was fiercely directed to its waves. Or more accurately, the lack of waves. Not a hint of movement came from the sea, the fluid seeming more like a blanket with its grim stillness.
"What is it exactly that we're looking at?" I tried to hide the fear in my voice, this island surprising me more and more with its peculiarities. Apart of me expected to see something akin to the mermaid I spotted earlier.
"Shh. You'll know it when you see it."
So I did as he said, my eyes beginning to hurt from looking at the darkness for so long. That was when I thought I saw something move, just underneath the water. My eyes squinted as I searched for the creature that lay underneath, bubbles following its movements. I could faintly hear the ticking of a clock but I soon dismissed this when the beast emerged.
There was no doubt in my mind of what this reptile was as it began to slither out of the water. The crocodile began to advance towards us, it's scales shimmering in the dim moonlight.
My first instinct was to run, every fibre in my being pulsed with the urge to be rid of the animal's presence. I made to leave but not before being caught by someone, their grip strong and unrelenting. I squirmed in their grasp, thrashing and kicking but felt no body against me. I turned my head to see a dark hand on my shoulder. My eyes travelled to its face, ebony and hollow, it's eyes piercing with sick delight. A ghost, no, a shadow, held me in its grasp and I choked at the discovery. My eyes found Peter's, and they pleaded with him to help me. He all but stood still, a wolfish grin contorting his face.
What happened next was a blur, a mix of searing pain and terror, screams and flesh being torn off. While I may not remember the finer details, I can completely remember the sensation of losing blood. Ever since I was a young boy I had feared the sight of my own blood, hating the crimson colour that pooled out of me, as if mocking my own mortality. This anxiety peaked as the crocodile mercilessly sunk its teeth into my hand, my blood pouring out onto the sand, mixing with the dull yellow. My entire being trembled at the sight, my eyes squeezed shut as tears threatened to fall. I muffled a cry, clamping my mouth shut as I heard the crocodile growl against me. I could feel myself slowly drifting away and I desperately tried to hold on. A delusional attempt, I'm afraid. My last moments of consciousness were tinged with the putrid breath of my tormenter, and the faraway sound of a clock.
Even with my eyes shut I could make out the morning sun that shone ahead. It was blinding, it's brightness scorching, adding to the dull throbbing in my head. My throat felt scratchy, even before I ever opened my mouth. I swallowed, only to emphasise the dryness of it. My eyes slowly opened, my sight blurry at first. I was welcomed with hazy blues, and the faces of strange men. They peered at me and I felt queasy as if I could not hold still.
"He's waking up," one of them said. His voice sounded far, distant.
"No shit, Noodler."
I attempted to sit up a bit further so as to see them more clearly, despite my body aching with every beat of my heart. It was only then did I gasp at the sight of the stump that greeted me instead of a hand. My heart pulsed violently, my lips holding back a scream. The memories of the night before came back to me, fragmented and in pieces. I looked up at the men, my eyes wide with questions.
They shared a hesitant glance with another, all twenty or so of them, searching for a possible candidate. A gruff looking man, around the same age as me, crossed his arms and spoke. "We found you like that on the shore last night... patched you up and kept you on board," his eyes searched mine with a twinge of uncertainty. "Do you remember what happened?"
His voice rang through my ears as I felt myself rock back and forth but not before noticing the same of the strangers. Onboard... I swivelled my head around to see the wood of a ship keeping us in, the endless blue just in the distance. I swallowed, his question just making it's way to my brain.
"I... There was a crocodile and... I kept hearing a clock, or something that ticked." A pause. "There was so much blood, it just wouldn't stop." And then I remembered his face. "The boy! He was there, just standing there."
The one that spoke shifted his eyes towards the others, his jaw tightening. "Pan. I knew you it," he said as he shook his head slightly.
"You know him? How hasn't he gotten to you?" I asked, my voice strained as soon as it dawned on me that these were men, adults.
"He has tried, of course. Countless threats on all our lives. We've settled on just living on the seas of this island. We don't come into contact with him - he doesn't threaten us," he said with a shrug.
My eyebrows creased as I took in his words. "But how do you stand it? A mere youth ruling over you!" I had not spoken with such rage since... well, since I arrived, surprisingly. I had not realised that my chest was heaving until I felt the pressure of a hand on my shoulder.
"That's enough questions for today," an older man had said, his gaze pointed at the rest of them. He turned to me, his face soft, his eyes kind. "Why don't you get some rest, hm." He wrapped his arm around me, pulling me up. He lead me to a spare cabin, leaving me to wonder why the boy left me alive at all.
The wind ruffled my hair as I stood on the edge of the deck. The bobbing of the ship against the waves used to make me feel uneasy, never once steady. Now, it calmed me. If I just focus on the motion of the ship, the roaring sound of the waves... it all goes away. Nothing else matters. Not me. Not him. Not even the world outside, if that even exists. The sea is my terrain - the one thing I control.
I opened my eyes to welcome the swirling pit of navy blue, it's arms reaching out to the Jolly Roger. It was getting restless. As was I. With a final breath, I brushed a long strand of hair behind my ear, my hook cold against my skin. That was something I still was getting used to. It glinted in the sun, and I was reminded. Reminded of what I was about to do. And why I was about to do it.
"Men," I called as I stepped onto the centre of the deck. Many of my crew immediately circled around, stopping their duties. The rest came up from below deck and looked at me with earnest eyes. "Today is no ordinary day," I began, always one for theatrics. "Everything we've been working towards, everything we've lost... it shall be respected and put to rest today." A pause as I looked at my men, scanning their faces, all impatient for the news. "Today is the day we kill Pan!" They all cried out, their ecstasy innumerable. I could not help the grin that slowly etched onto my lips.
Pan's hideout was no easy place to locate. He often moved it around the island, enjoying the hide-and-seek nature of our relationship. He knew we were looking for him as we knew he hid like a coward. But we found it all the same, the little tree home for Pan and his band of misfits.
I stood underneath the leaves of a tree just above the hideout, Smee and the rest of my crew close behind me. "Shall we ambush them, Captain?" He whispered.
"No, no," I spoke harshly. "We wait. He does love having the first move."
It wasn't long till numerous young boys started piling out of the tree's trunk, their chatter enough to reach all the island's inhabitants. I could feel the collective intake of breath from my men as we watched them, oblivious to our presence. We were so close.
It wasn't until I saw Pan at the very front of the line that I squinted my eyes in confusion. There was a small figure beside him clothed in a snow-white nightgown, his hand intertwined with theirs. A girl on the island? Well, that does make things interesting.