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Peter & Emily, The Girl From New York

 

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Peter & Emily,

The Girl From New York

 

 

 

Thomas Hayes

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2016 Thomas Hayes

All rights reserved.

 

No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photography, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system without the prior written consent from the publisher and author, except in the instance of quotes for reviews. No part of this book may be uploaded without the permission of the publisher and author, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is originally published.

 

This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, actual events or locales is purely coincidental. Based on characters from Peter and Wendy, by J.M. Barrie.

 

To contact the author, please email:

 

[email protected]

Chapter One

As my dad turned the car onto our street, the only sound I could hear was the click-click-clicking of the turn signal. That’s how I knew he was really mad: the whole way home from the high school, he hadn’t even turned on the radio.

“I hope you’re happy,” he said, eyes staring at the road. “I hope that felt good, watching your team walk off the field like that.”

“You know it didn’t,” I said. “I feel horrible. So there’s no reason to keep talking about it.”

He shook his head. “I still can’t believe it. My daughter, sitting in the bleachers, with the whole town whispering about her.”

“All right. Stop, Dad. Please. I don’t want to talk about it anymore. Talking about it isn’t going to do anything. So just stop.”

As much as I didn’t want to talk about it, I knew exactly what he was talking about, of course. A week earlier, I had been caught at a high school party. Well, not caught, exactly, but pictures of me at the party had ended up on Instagram, which went around the school and eventually into the hands of the principal, resulting in me and a couple of the other girls getting kicked off the field hockey team. So, on the day that I was driving home with my dad, we had just sat and watched my team lose and get kicked out of the playoffs by a team we should have beaten.

“I should have been proud, Emily,” he said. “That’s the thing. I should have been proud, instead of sitting next to you while everyone whispers about why you aren’t playing.”

We both stopped talking for the rest of the ride home. Eventually, my dad turned his car into the parking garage underneath our apartment building. He was pretty rich, so we lived in a really nice apartment in the middle of New York City. I never really knew what my dad did for a job—all I knew was that he worked on Wall Street, he always wore a suit, and we went on really expensive vacations. Most people who were adopted like me probably would have thought I hit the lottery, being chosen from foster care by two ultra-rich New Yorkers, but as I got older, it became something that I was more and more uncomfortable with. When you’re in high school, anything that makes you stick out usually isn’t good, even if it’s because your dad is rich.

After taking the elevator up to our apartment on the 30th floor, my dad threw his keys onto the kitchen table and headed to his office. He passed by my mom, who was in the living room.

“I’m sorry, Emily,” she said. She was already dressed up for the big dinner her and my dad were going to that night with my dad’s boss. “Next year you’ll have to make up for it, okay? There’s always next season.”

“Nope, this was the year,” my dad said. “The team they had this year was the one to go all the way. She ruined it for them, and she’s gonna have to live with that for the rest of her life.”

I opened my mouth to say something, but then stopped. I was so angry, but I had nothing left to say. I honestly just felt like crying. It was all he had talked about all day. All week.

“All right, Brian,” my mom said. “That’s enough. We went over this already, and she knows what she did. We agreed we wouldn’t talk about it like this anymore.”

“That was before I had to sit there in front of the whole town, in front of everyone’s parents. You two need to always remember that they know us. They know who we are. Before this, they knew us because of the good we’ve done for the school. But now they know us because of this. And I’m not just gonna let that slide.”

“I don’t know what you want me to do, Dad,” I said, not able to hold it in any longer. Dammit, my voice cracked. I was getting upset. “I guess I’m just a screw-up, okay? I’m so sorry I tarnished your stupid freaking image.”

I went upstairs to my room. I heard my mom say, “Honey, wait,” but I closed the door. I didn’t want to talk to her. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. When I was little, my dad and I were buddies. We were so close. Hanging out all the time, going to Brooklyn for pizza or to water parks on the weekends, and watching TV at night. But now, we barely even spoke. It was like he didn’t know who I was anymore. And this all started way before I was caught at the stupid party. For the past year or so, it had been like he didn’t even know how to talk to me. It was like living with a stranger, or at least someone who looked at me like a stranger.

A few minutes later, as I lay on my bed texting my friends, my brother, Tim, stepped into my room. He was ten and still such a little kid, even younger somehow than the other kids in his grade. He still played with action figures and little matchbox cars, let’s put it that way, when most of his friends had moved onto sports and watching R-rated movies when their parents weren’t paying attention.

“So Dad is pretty pissed, huh?” he asked.

“Yeah, you could say that.”

“I still don’t get it. What’s the big deal? Was going to the party really that bad?”

I thought it over. “Yeah, kind of. I shouldn’t have been there, let’s put it that way.”

“What kind of party was it?”

“Just a regular stupid high school party. Same typical thing as always.”

“What happens at these parties, anyway?”

I laughed. “You’ll find out soon enough.”

“So you agree with Mom and Dad you shouldn’t have been there?”

“Yeah, of course. It was stupid to go. Especially during field hockey season. I should have just stayed home, but…” I shrugged.

“Did you tell Mom and Dad you agree with them?”

“Yeah.”

“Then why are they still grounding you after this weekend?”

“You got me.”

“I’m sure losing the game was bad enough.”

“Yeah, it was.” I thought of something. “Remember when you broke Grandma’s old China plate with your wiffle ball?”

“You didn’t need to bring it up, but yeah.”

I chuckled. “And you felt so bad about it that they didn’t need to ground you? Well, that’s what I was hoping for here. But I guess not.”

“I’m sorry you lost the game.”

“Yeah, it’s okay. It’s really not, but thanks.”

“What time are you leaving for the camping trip?”

I looked at my clock. “Around eight. I’m gonna take the subway to Jess’ and then she’s gonna drive us to the campsite.”

“I wish I was going camping. Instead I’m stuck here with stupid Miss Planton.”

I laughed. “She’s nice.”

“I know she’s nice, she’s just not someone I wanna be stuck in an apartment with for five hours. I wish you were staying here.”

I looked up at him, but he was flipping through a magazine on my shelf. I felt bad. I had noticed lately he was always eager to hang out and talk with me, and I think he missed me because I wasn’t at home as much anymore, since I was always out with my friends.

“Hey, I’ll tell you what,” I said. “When’s that video game convention coming up you’ve been telling me about? When it starts, we’ll go.”

He looked up. “Really? For real?”

“Yeah. It’ll be fun. I’ve always wanted to go to something like that.”

“Yeah, that would be awesome. Way better than listening to Miss Planton talk about meeting her husband in the 40’s for five hours or something.”

I laughed.

“Emily?” my mom called. “Tim? We’re leaving.”

“They’re leaving already?” I asked.

“I guess so,” Tim replied.

I walked downstairs, and sure enough, my parents were standing near the door. My dad was in his suit and checking his email on his phone while my mom stood next to him, beautiful in her orange dress, with her hair done up.

“Why are you guys leaving already?” I asked. “Miss Planton isn’t here yet.”

My mom turned to me, but then my dad interrupted her. “You’re babysitting tonight,” he said.

“What?” I felt my face getting red with anger. “No, I’m not. I’m going camping with the girls to celebrate the end of the season.”

“No, you aren’t,” my dad replied. He didn’t even look away from his phone. “Players who get kicked off the team don’t get to go to the end of the season celebration.”

“Says who?”

“Says me. And your mom.”

“No way. Mom?”

She shook her head. “Sorry, honey.”

“I’m going camping,” I said. “I’m already freaking packed and everything. I’m not staying here and babysitting.”

“Can we please stop calling it babysitting?” Tim said. “I’m ten years old. I’m starting to feel like I need a rattle or something.”

“Your dad and I talked about it, and we decided you should stay home this weekend, considering everything that happened.”

“What do you mean, everything that happened? We went over this already, for freaking days now. I thought this was all settled? I’m grounded for two months—after this weekend. Isn’t that what you said?”

My dad looked up. “Watch the language, first of all. Second of all, you really think I’m gonna let you go have a grand old time with your team when you didn’t even play today? Not to mention they lost because of you.”

“I’ve been looking forward to this for months! You’re gonna take that away from me? Don’t you think I’ve been punished enough? What am I supposed to say to Jess?”

“Does it look like I care?” my dad said. “Tell her whatever you want. You’re not going. The team lost today because their best player was sitting in the stands. Do you really think they feel like celebrating?”

“Okay, Brian, that’s enough,” my mom said. This perfectly summed up my parents’ dynamic: my mom punished us, but felt bad about it. My dad punished us and only grew more angry after we were punished, for some reason.

“I’m going,” I said. “You can think whatever you want, but I’m going. So you better call the babysitter right now and tell her you need her after all.”

My dad narrowed his eyes. “You’re staying here and you’re—”

“Listen,” my mom said. “Emily, what you did was unacceptable.”

“I know that.”

“I know you do, but you also need to know that your actions have consequences. When you were at that party, you knew it was the wrong thing, right?”

“Yes. We’ve talked about this.”

“And yet you still did it. You knew it was wrong, and you did it anyway. And now you have to pay the price. There will be other camping trips, Emily. But you won’t be going on this one.”

“There won’t be other trips like this! What am I supposed to do on Monday when it’s all anyone is talking about?”

“You can think about what you did,” my mom said. “And how if you made the right decision, you wouldn’t be in this situation.”

“That’s right,” my dad said. “And if you even think about leaving this house tonight, if your foot even touches the carpet out in the hallway, you have no idea what kind of trouble you’ll be in.” He turned to my mom. “Rebecca, let’s go. We’re gonna be late. You know Chris is probably already there.”

My mom held my face in her hands. “I’m sorry, honey. But this is what happens. You have to stay home tonight. Order some takeout and have fun with your brother.”

“Yeah, we’ll have fun,” Tim said. “It’ll be fun, Emily, like when we used to sleep over at Grandma’s. Netflix just added all the Back to the Future movies. We can stay up late and eat ice cream.”

I looked to my brother. Oh, boy. If he thought that held a candle to going camping with the girls, especially when a bunch of our guy friends were gonna meet up with us, he had another thing coming.

Without even saying a word, I went upstairs.

“Well,” my brother said, “I’ll be watching the movies, anyway. Want me to text you when I start Part Two?”

“Sure,” my mom laughed. “That’d be great, Tim.” I stopped at the top of the stairs and watched her lean down and kiss him on top of his head. “Have fun, and don’t stay up too late.”

“I won’t.”

“See you tomorrow, Tim,” my dad said. “And oh, I almost forgot—how do tickets to the Giants game sound on Sunday?”

“Really? That’s awesome! Sweet!”

“Goodnight, Tim,” my mom said.

“See you in the morning, buddy,” my dad told him.

“Okay, bye, guys!”

My parents closed the door, and Tim walked into the living room and sat down, playing his 3DS. After a while, he turned on the TV, and an old episode of Phineas and Ferb was on. Tim and I used to watch that back when Tim was in Kindergarten, so I thought for a second about going down and watching it with him, but I wasn’t really in the mood, so I stepped into my room and closed the door.

Chapter Two

At 10:30 that night, I lay on the couch in the living room, while Tim sat on the floor, watching Back to the Future Part II. Flinging my finger across my phone, I came across a picture on Instagram of all my friends hanging out by a big bonfire. Sure enough, the girls were having an amazing time. I even saw a picture of Jacob—a guy I had a crush on—with his arm around Jess, my best friend. So that felt great.

“Emily?” my brother said. “Can I go get your iPad from your room? I wanna look something up from the movie.”

“Yeah, sure. It’s on the bureau near my bed.”

Surprised that I was letting him use my iPad, Tim jumped up and ran to my room. He was only gone a few seconds when I heard him call my name.

“Em? Did you invite somebody over or something?”

“No. Why?”

“Because there’s somebody on your balcony.”

“What?”

Kinda freaking out—but mostly thinking Tim must be joking or seeing things—I quickly walked upstairs.

“What are you talking about, how could—”

When I reached my room, I saw that Tim was right. There was somebody out on the balcony outside my room, behind the closed glass doors.

It was a teenage boy—about my age, sixteen or seventeen, with curly, dirty blonde hair. He was wearing a bizarre, brown-and-green shirt that looked homemade; it was covered in patches, which were all different shades of green. On his lower half he wore brown pants, brown boots, and a belt that appeared to be made from leaves and twigs. In the belt there was a sword, resting in a sheath against his hip, like a pirate. I could see its silver blade shining.

I grabbed my brother and pulled him back towards the door. He seemed to be frozen in confusion.

“What the hell?” I whispered. Squinting, I made sure I wasn’t seeing things.

“How’d he get out there?” Tim wondered.

The boy in green knocked on the window. KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK.

“You know this guy?” Tim asked.

“No.”

The boy in green peered into the glass, with his hand cupped over his eyes, to see better. He was smiling.

Who the hell was this kid? He motioned for me to open the doors. I could hear his muffled voice.

“C’mon!” he said, waving his hand, like he was telling me to jump into a cold pool and join in on the fun.

I placed my hand on my brother’s shoulder and took a step forward.

“Who are you?” I shouted. “What are you doing out there?”

“My name’s Peter. And I know this is a little bizarre, but I need you to open the doors so I can tell you something.”

I looked at the boy. His hair was long and a little wild—thick and unkempt, curled around his ears. He stood with his hands on his hips and a big grin across his face. It might be weird that I noticed this—I know it is—but he was kind of cute. As freaked out as I was, I realized he reminded me of a certain type of guy from my school: the type of guy who, even though he was constantly cracking jokes from the back of the room, the teachers couldn’t help but like him, because he was always so funny and charming. Nothing about this particular guy was funny at the moment, however, seeing as how it appeared he was one step away from breaking into my house.

“I’m not letting you in,” I told him. “I’m calling the cops.”

I stepped toward the balcony, carefully, and looked outside. He must be some crazy idiot who jumped down from the apartment above mine, somehow. What a moron. His friends probably dared him to do it. He’s probably drunk. I listened to see if I could hear anyone else out there, or maybe above him, laughing from the balcony on the next floor.

“How the hell did you get out there?” I asked.

“I flew,” the boy replied. “Now let me in so I can tell you something even more amazing.”

He flew. Okay. He was definitely drunk.

“No way. I’m calling the cops.”

But, for some reason, I didn’t. I know it sounds insane, but I wasn’t really scared of the boy on the balcony. He wasn’t angry or yelling or anything. He looked my age, and just seemed to be some wacky kid playing a joke. Something about him made me curious. Mostly, I just wanted to find out how he got out there.

Then again, he did have a sword. Maybe I should have called the police.

“What, you don’t believe me?” he asked, smiling.

“Um, no. Bye. Leaving now.”

I grabbed my brother’s shoulder and pulled him toward the door.

“Well, how about this?”

The boy held out his arms, with his palms up. With a magical shimmer, a cloud of dust fell from his hands, drifting over his legs. When the dust hit the floor, he left his feet, floating into the air. He hovered there like a magician, with his hands on his hips.

“Well? What do you think now?”

“Whoa,” Tim said.

“What the…” I slowly walked toward the balcony. I didn’t want to get too close, but I leaned forward and peered up, checking to see if he had buddies up there pulling him on a rope. Nope. No buddies, no rope. He was literally floating in air.

Then, as if I had any doubt, he drifted backwards. Now he was floating hundreds of feet above the streets of Manhattan. It was impossible for him to be either standing on something or hanging from anything. There was only the night sky above him, and the city below.

“How about it?” he grinned. “Will you let me in? I’ve got amazing things to tell you.”

I thought it over, unable to stop my head from spinning. What on earth was happening? Was I dreaming? Did I hit my head? Was the Chinese food that Tim and I ate rotten or something?

“How are you…what…” I looked at the stars above the boy. I literally couldn’t finish a sentence.

“Let me in and I’ll show you how. I’ll show you how to fly.”

Without even realizing what I was doing, I reached for the balcony door and opened it. As soon as I did, the boy swooped into my room, landed on his feet, and stood up straight.

“There,” he said. “That’s much better. Thank you. It was getting bloody cold out there.”

I realized the boy had a slight British accent.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“My name’s Peter,” he replied. “And I know exactly who you are, Emily Beckett.”

Chapter Three

I looked at the boy standing in my bedroom. It dawned on me that I had just possibly let a crazy person into my house—a crazy person who had been standing on my balcony in the middle of the night. But still, he flew. I saw it with my own eyes, and so did my brother.

“How—how do you know my name?” I asked.

The boy walked around my room, inspecting everything. He picked up a jewelry box that my grandmother had given me and turned it over, a smirk across his face.

“I know your name because I’ve been watching you, Emily. I know a lot about you.” He picked up my iPad and shook it, then pressed it against his ear. “This plays stories, doesn’t it? How does it work?”

“Emily, who is this guy?” Tim asked.

“I told you, my name’s Peter. And I know you, too, Tim. How were those fantastic stories earlier on the television?”

“Um…good.”

“Great. I’d love to watch some of those. I haven’t seen those moving picture stories before.”

I shook my head. “Look, whoever you are, you gotta get out of here. Or explain yourself, or something. How’d you get out there? How’d you get on the balcony?”

“I flew, remember? Showed you a little while ago? I went all shiny and popped up into the air? Or maybe you weren’t paying attention?”

“Oh, I was paying attention, all right. I just don’t believe it. How’d you do that?”

“With fairy dust. That’s the only way you can do it, really. Everybody knows that.” He looked to me. “Well, almost everybody, I guess.”

“Fairy dust?”

“Yes. Do I need to spell it out for you? F-A-Y…no, wait. F-A…umm…R? E? Look, I’m not the best at spelling. Just believe me, okay? It was fairy dust.”

“Fairy dust.”

“Yes, from a fairy. Or, as some of them prefer, a pixie. They are getting more and more sensitive lately. Believe me, you don’t want to mess with a testy fairy.”

I laughed. This was getting insane.

“Okay. I don’t know how you did that. I have no idea. But, now that you’re in here, why don’t you do it again?”

“Okay.”

Flipping through a book from my shelf, he floated into the air, very nonchalantly.

“See?” he said, without looking at me. “I did it again. Now, can you show me how that moving picture machine works? Does this book have pictures that move? Or is it just a normal book?”

It was official. There was a floating boy in my room.

“Come down,” I said. “I’m starting to freak out.”

“You asked me to do it.”

“I know, but…just stop.”

He landed on his feet. “You really do have so much fascinating stuff in here. And so much of it. Your whole room is filled with wonderful junk.”

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I needed to figure out what was happening. I knew there had to be a rational explanation.

“Okay, tell me who you are. Or else I’ll call the cops, whether you can fly or not.”

“My name’s Peter Pan.” He walked around my room. “I came here from a place called Never Land. It’s a different world than yours that you don’t know about.”

“A different world?”

“Yes.”

“And you flew here?” Tim asked. He had been quiet, but now he seemed more comfortable, like he had decided this kid wasn’t here to hurt us. I hoped he was right.

“Yes. It’s really not all that far, actually, if you know the way. It’s not the first time, either—I’ve been coming here for a few weeks now. That’s how I know your sister.”

“You don’t know me.”

The boy laughed. “I know all about you. For some time now, I’ve been looking for someone just like you, and now I found you. I need someone like you.”

“You need someone like me?”

“Yes, definitely.”

“For what?”

He turned to me and grinned. “For an adventure.”

I shook my head and laughed.

“Okay, thanks. Look, time to go. You’re freaking us out.”

“I’m not freaked out,” Tim said. “I think it’s cool. Is that a real sword?”

The boy in green pulled the sword from his belt. “It sure is. I stole it from a pirate. Wanna cut something with it?”

“Yeah!”

“Here, try those curtains.”

The boy handed Tim the sword, but I jumped in between them.

“No! There will be no cutting of anything. You—Peter, whoever you are—need to go. I’m still trying to figure out what to do about all this, but in the meantime, I just want you to get out of here. If you’re lucky, I’ll forget all this happened.” I shooed him with my hands like he was a stray cat. “Go on. And, if you ever come back, my dad will be waiting.”

I walked to the balcony and opened it.

“Look,” he laughed. “I know this is nuts. I know you’ve never seen anything like it. But isn’t that fun? Isn’t that what makes it exciting? Don’t you want to know more?”

“No, I don’t.”

Peter walked to me.

“I know you, Emily Beckett. I know you’re bored with your little high school life, all the parties and the dances and the ridiculous fighting and arguments between friends. Don’t you want more?”

I didn’t answer. For the first time since he arrived, he was talking seriously.

“I just flew into your window.” He motioned to the balcony. “A boy was just flying over the buildings of New York City. Don’t you want to see more? Don’t you want to see where I came from?”

A silence.

“I do!” Tim shouted.

“Yes, that’s the spirit!” Peter walked to Tim and put a hand on his shoulder. “And how about you, Emily? Do you want to know more? See more? Or have you already grown up too much?”

I thought it over.

“You’re exactly right,” I said. “I have grown up too much. I’m so grown up, in fact, that I realize it’s incredibly stupid to let strangers into your house. So get out of here.”

Peter laughed through his nose. “I should have known.” He placed his arm on Tim’s head, pretending to lean on him. I noticed he was at least six feet tall. “I should have known I could count on this guy.” He pointed to Tim. “He’s still got life in him. But you? I don’t know what’s happened to you.”

“Nothing’s happened to me. He’s impressed with your BS and your tricks. I’m not. He’s a child, I’m an adult.”

The boy pretended like he was stabbed in the heart. “No, don’t say it. Don’t say the ‘A’ word. That’s the worst word in all of the English language.”

He stumbled around my room, holding an invisible knife in his chest. I watched him. I was officially over this.

“Was I wrong?” he said. “I can’t be, can I? All this time, I thought you were the right one. You had to be. But, the way you’re talking, maybe I was wrong. I don’t want an adult. I want someone who is alive.”

“I’m seventeen years old. I’m perfectly fine the way I am. And I’m old enough to see something bizarre is going on here.”

“Take it from me, Emily. There is absolutely nothing fine about being an adult. I’ve been around a long time, and I know that for sure. All this stuff, all this stuff you love about your life? Your friends, and fun memories? Gone, taken away from you, once you grow up. All growing up means is that all the fun is gone from your life, and you have to live every moment doing what other people want. Does that sound like something you want to do?”

He stared me in the eyes. Soon, he was only inches away.

“What if I told you about a place,” he said. “A place where you don’t have to worry about any of that. A place where you can do whatever you want, all the time. A place filled with wonder, and creatures, and sailing ships, and mermaids, and adventure. A place where you don’t have to grow up. A place where you can truly enjoy being alive. Wouldn’t you want that? Don’t you want adventure?”

“Yes!” Tim said. “I like this guy.”

Peter pointed at him. “Yes, thank you! I like you, too!” He turned back to me. “What do you say, Em? Come on. Prove to me that I was right about you. Prove to me that I made the right choice. Prove to me you’re still alive somewhere in there. All you have to do is say ‘yes.’”

I thought it over. I looked at him, studied his face. He was smiling, and the stars from the windows behind me were reflected in his eyes.

“One simple word. And then, you’ll be off to a place where—”

There was a horrible SCREECH!, like the sound of an attacking, wild animal, and Peter was tackled to the ground, knocking over a lamp. As its bulb burst, I ducked, covering my ears, and looked to Peter. He was now wrestling on the floor with someone dressed all in black. Peter was trying to reach for his sword, but whoever he was fighting had taken him by surprise. I couldn’t see well because of the darkness, but the person in black had long, sharp fingers, and they were slicing at Peter. As he desperately tried to push the person off of him, his face was bleeding from the vicious attacks.

Terrified, I grabbed Tim and pulled him close. He was also covering his ears, and crying. Realizing the attacker had jumped in through the balcony, I turned around to close the door.

But that’s when I realized the person in black wasn’t a someone. It was a something.

Out on the balcony, there were five more black creatures, perched on the railing. In the moonlight, I could see them more clearly; with their arms resting on their crouched knees, they looked like living shadows—but these shadows had blue eyes, slim noses, and emotionless mouths. Their hands ended in fingers that were long, sharp, and pointed.

One by one, the shadow creatures hopped off the railing and walked toward the open door.

They were coming into my room, and heading straight for me.

Chapter Four

“Tim!” I yelled. “Run! Get out of the apartment!”

My brother turned, but as soon as he did, one of the shadow creatures leapt into the air, flew over his head, and landed in front of him. It was now only a few feet away, blocking the way out of the room.

“Emily!” Tim shouted. “Help!”

Peter kicked off the shadow creature that was on top of him and jumped to his feet. Free from its grasp, he pulled his sword, swung it mightily, and sliced right through the shadow creature. The being screamed and then disappeared, evaporating into streaks of smoke.

“Emily, Tim! Time to get out of here! You’ll need to follow me!”

Gritting his teeth, Peter ran by me and directly at the shadow creatures that had come in through the balcony. With an angry battle cry, he engaged them with his sword, fighting all four of them at once. His pirate sword CLANGED! off their bladed arms as they defended themselves from his rapid swings.

“How do you expect us to follow you?” I yelled. I ran to Tim and pulled him near. The shadow creature blocking the hallway was coming toward us, so I backed away, looking for a hiding spot.

“By flying,” Peter replied. He jabbed his sword in front of him like a fencer and stabbed a creature through its chest. With a scream, it was gone. “It’s going to be our only way out of here now. Unfortunately, you no longer have a choice—now you’ll have to come with me to Never Land.”

“Whatever,” I said. The shadow creature came slowly near me, as Tim and I backed against the wall. “Just get us out of here. But we can’t fly like you.”

“Yes, you can, with this.”

Peter threw something my way. I caught it and looked it over; it was a small brown sack, tied with a piece of string. It felt like a bag of sand.

“What’s this?”

“Fairy dust,” Peter said. He jumped into the air, soared to the ceiling, and then flew back down again. As he did, he held his sword out in front of him and lanced one of the creatures. “Pour some of that on you, and we’ll be on our way. But I’d hurry up if I were you.”

I knew everything Peter was saying was insane, but, if there was even a 1% chance it would get us away from these things, I ’d try it. “Just pour it on us? That’s it?”

“Yup. And think happy thoughts.”

The shadow creature in front of Tim and I lunged forward, swinging its arms. I grabbed my field hockey stick from under my bed and swung it back at him, as hard as I could. I didn’t hit it, but it backed off for a second.

“Thinking happy thoughts isn’t going to be very easy right now,” I told Peter.

“Just literally think of anything that makes you happy,” Peter shouted over the CLANGS! and CRASHES! as he fought off the last two shadow creatures near the balcony. “All you need is something that would make you happy.”

With my hands shaking, I untied the bag and poured it into my hand. Amazingly, the most incredible dust poured out—like rainbow-colored sand, twinkling in the dark room. It ran through my fingers, drifted past my legs, and onto the floor. As quick as I could, I turned around and threw the rest of the dust into my brother’s face.

Then, I thought of what would make me happiest at that moment: getting the hell out of my room.

Instantly, my feet left the floor. I could swear I heard the sparkling dust twinkle as I went up into the air.

“Oh my god!” I yelled, floating toward the ceiling. “Oh my god!” It was as if I had been thrown and had no control of my body—weightless, my legs went wild, searching for the ground. I tumbled, like an astronaut in space.

“Emily!” my brother yelled. “How are you doing that?”

“Just think happy thoughts!”

Terrified, and very much in danger, Tim closed his eyes and clenched his fists. Then, without thinking for too long, he yelled the thing that made him happiest in the world.

“Big boobs!”

With that, Tim shot up into the air like a rocket, the sparkling dust shimmering over his body. Now, he was up in the air like me, spinning and flipping. You would think flying would be fun—but no. It’s more like someone has spun you around a million times, kicked you off your feet, and then somehow stuck you in the air.

“That’s it!” Peter yelled. He slashed his sword and defeated a lunging shadow creature. Now there were only two left: the one near the balcony, and one near the hallway. “Now we can get out of here! Follow me, both of you!”

“Um…” I spun around. Soon, I was upside down, looking at the shadow creature. It floated up toward me. “I’m not sure we can do that. We can’t follow you—we can barely move.”

“It’s just like swimming!” Peter shot up into the air. “Come on, kick your legs and head toward the window! More of these things might be coming any minute!”

More of these things? I grabbed Tim’s arm, kicked my legs, and hoped for the best. Just as Peter said, I shot across the room toward the balcony. It really was just like swimming—except it took place in the middle of the air.

“Perfect!” Peter yelled. “Outside, quickly, while I take care of this last one here!” Floating, he swung his sword downward, taking off the head of the shadow creature. “Let’s go!”

Peter shot toward me, grabbed my hand, and then pivoted in mid-air. At what felt like 60 miles an hour, all three of us flew out the open balcony, with Peter pulling me and me pulling Tim.

I felt a rush of cold, autumn air, and then looked down. My ten-year-old brother and I were floating 30 stories above the streets of New York City.

“Peter!” I shouted. I felt my stomach fly into my throat. I was dizzy, and the lights of the city were spinning. “Help!”

“Just relax!” Peter pulled me near. “You won’t fall—that fairy dust lasts a long time. All you gotta do is keep swimming, till you get control of your body. Then, it’ll just come naturally.”

I tried to do what Peter said. Eventually, I calmed down, trusting that I would just float there. Surprisingly, it worked. Focusing, I grabbed Tim’s hand. He wasn’t panicking and flailing like I had been; he was simply staring down at the street, with eyes as big as basketballs.

“Emily,” he said. “We’re flying.”

“Yes.” I tried to keep my balance. “Please don’t remind me.”

“Congratulations,” Peter said. “You’re one step closer to Never Land. But we do have one more thing to worry about.”

“What’s that?”

The last shadow creature flew out from my bedroom and straight at Peter, its bladed-arms extended. Peter ducked, let the creature zoom over him, and then spun around, throwing his sword. The second the shadow creature turned, the sword flew through it like a dart. The creature opened its mouth to scream, but it was too late. The last shadow creature was gone.

Now, though, Peter’s sword was plummeting toward the streets of New York. As if it was no big deal, he flew down underneath it, waited for it, and then plucked the blade from the air.

“There,” he said, flying back toward us. “Not how I planned it, but successful enough. We can be on our way now. Sorry about all that—they must have followed me.”

“Yeah, no problem,” I said angrily. “Did you say there might be more of them? Where can we go that’s safe?”

“To the place I’ve been telling you about since the beginning. Never Land.”

“And how do we get there?” Tim asked.

“Ah, that’s a wonderful question. I can see you’re the smart one of the siblings, Tim.” Peter turned and pointed to a far-away star, shining bigger and brighter than the rest. Somehow, I had never noticed this star before.

“It’s simple, once you know the secret,” Peter said. He smiled. “Second to the right, and straight on till morning.”

Chapter Five

“What’d you mean, straight on till morning?” I asked, floating. “It’s the middle of the night.”

Peter waved his hand. “Come on. Trust me. You’ll see.”

“Emily,” Tim said, “I hate to bring this up, but I think people are starting to notice us.”

I looked at the nearest building. Many of the lights were on, and I could see a woman staring. Below, crowds of people were pointing.

“All the more reason for us to get going,” Peter said. “We don’t want too many people taking photographs of us, after all. Come on, Emily. Grab my hand, and Tim, you grab Emily’s.”

Unsure, I took Peter’s hand. Then, reaching out and kicking my legs, I grabbed Tim.

“Emily,” he said. “I know I was all about this five minutes ago, but are we sure this is a good idea?”

“It’s a great idea,” Peter answered. “You’re gonna love this more than anyone, Tim. Now hold on, both of you. Our speed is about to pick up dramatically.”

Extending his arm, Peter pointed toward the far-off star.

“Here we go! Back to Never Land!”

With a sudden WHOOSH!, we were flying—soaring faster than I could believe through the buildings of New York City, and bulletting upwards.

“Peter!” I yelled. My hair flew all over the place. “Slow down! Where are you taking us?”

“This is awesome!” Tim yelled. “I’m flying! And I’m gonna puke! This is awesome!”

“We’re headed right where we need to be!” Peter said. “Just hold on tight and don’t let go! We’ll be there in the blink of an eye!”

Squinting, I looked ahead. The light from the star was getting brighter and brighter. It was almost like it was growing, even though I knew that was impossible.

“Just a few more seconds now!” Peter squeezed my hand. “Brace yourselves—this part can be a little jarring to rookies.”

The star was so bright now it seemed to light up the whole sky, with infinite arms stretching across the horizon, filling my vision. Soon, it was so bright I had to close my eyes.

“Never Land, here we come!” Peter yelled. “Yup, I see the afternoon sun up ahead—you see, what did I tell you? You can trust old Peter Pan!”

In a flash, the blinding starlight went away, and through my closed eyes, I could tell it was completely dark. But, the darkness only lasted a second, and as our bodies slowed, it became bright again. However, it wasn’t blindingly bright this time; I had my eyes shut, but I could tell it was simple daytime sunlight. It was also very warm—almost tropical.

“Emily,” Tim said. “Em, open your eyes. I don’t know what happened, but you gotta open your eyes.”

“I can’t. I don’t want to. What did he do?”

“I have no idea. But you’re not gonna believe it. We aren’t home anymore.”

I felt our bodies drifting downward, nice and slowly. The warm air blew up around me.

“Careful now,” Peter said. “Those of us with our eyes open know we’re heading for the shore.”

I stiffened my legs, waiting to feel the ground underneath me. Soon enough, I did, and slowly and nervously, I opened my eyes. With my arms outstretched, I listened to myself breathing. My body felt so strange, as if I had just been on the world’s fastest, most intense rollercoaster. My legs were wobbly, and I felt sick to my stomach. Suddenly, I grew angry.

“What the hell?” I slapped Peter’s arm. He jumped back, but he was laughing. “What did you do? How did you do that? What did you do to us?”

“I told you,” Peter said, enjoying himself. “I told you I was going to bring you to Never Land, and I did. That’s exactly where we are—Never Land. This is where I come from.”

“Whatever. Take us back.” I stepped forward, fists clenched. “Take us back, now, before I really flip out.”

“Em,” Tim said. He looked in the opposite direction as me. “Em, turn around.”

“No. Not until this weirdo explains himself. You may have scared us with those shadow things, but I’m not falling for this anymore. Did you bring them there to scare us, so we’d follow you to this, this…island?” I looked around. We were standing on sand, and the lapping waves of the ocean were only a few feet away. There were palm trees where the sand met the forest. “What is this? How did we—how did we travel so far?”

“If you want to start understanding things,” Peter said, “the best thing you can do is listen to your brother.”

Peter motioned for me to turn around.

“Yeah,” Tim said. I realized how shocked he sounded. “Listen to your brother. Turn around.”

I did, and looked where Tim was looking.

There was an island, floating in the air. On its grassy top, I could see tall palm trees, and little houses—they looked like gingerbread houses.

I looked down. Underneath the island, ahead of me in the sand, there was a lagoon. Women were swimming in it, sitting on large rocks and singing, with a waterfall behind them. They were giggling and having a grand time, jumping into the water and then popping up again. Each of them was stunningly beautiful—one had brown hair, one was blonde, one had freckles, one had hair that was purple, one had skin that was the color of caramel. They also had green, glistening flippers instead of legs. Mermaids. They were mermaids.

I turned and looked out into the ocean. There were half a dozen, giant wooden ships, bobbing in the water. Each had a different flag above their massive sails, but it was clear they were all pirate ships. On the one nearest to me, I could see a crew of bandanna-wearing, sword-wielding, grunting men, raising their ship’s mast so they could head out into the sea.

I turned back to Peter.

“Yup,” he said with a grin. “Floating islands, mermaids, and pirates. But you ain’t seen nothing yet. Come on, follow me. I’ll show you where I live.”

In silence, I followed Peter across the sand and toward the forest. Tim walked behind me, but he was looking toward the lagoon.

“Can we go see the mermaids first?” he asked, his voice monotone. “Their singing is so beautiful. I want to…I want to get closer. Plus I think one of them had their top off…”

“Oh, no,” Peter laughed. “You don’t want to get closer to that set of mermaids, Timmy boy. Those beauties may look like fun, but they’re nothing but trouble. That’s a good lesson, actually: a pretty girl may look like fun, but she’ll turn your life right upside down.”

“But their song. They’re singing to me.”

“They sure are. They can see a boy like you coming from a mile away. Ten, eleven years old—that’s when girls really start getting in your head. But, you keep listening to their song, if you get any closer, they’ll never let you leave. You’ll be stuck in that lagoon forever.”

“That’s okay. I wouldn’t mind.”

Deeper and deeper, we walked into the woods. The sand and palm trees eventually turned into grass, patches of briars, and tall oak trees, reaching into the sky.

“This is where you live?” I asked. “In this forest?”

“Yes, just up ahead here. You’ll see.”

“Peter, I don’t understand what’s going on. We were in New York and now we’re here. Where is this place? What is this place? How can this be real?”

Peter laughed. “I don’t know, but it is. We really aren’t that far from where you’re from, actually. Never Land is a place you can only come to if you believe. If you’re still able to believe in wonder and adventure and fun, in excitement and wonderful things. If you’re still able to have fun—pure, true, laughing-till-you-cry fun—then you can come here. I must have caught you just in time. I wasn’t worried about Tim, but if I had waited a few more weeks, you mighta been too grown up.”

“Too grown up for what?”

“For adventure. To believe that anything is possible. Once you grow up, the world takes all the magic out of you. You start worrying, and getting mean, and angry, and rushing around everywhere, never stopping for adventure. You start not having fun, because they take the fun from you. But, before that, before your wonder goes away, before your childhood stops, you can come here. To Never Land. All kids are welcome in Never Land. That’s the beauty of it. As long as you believe.”

“I’m not sure that I do. I’m not sure if I believe any of this.”

He laughed. “Ah, but you obviously do. Or else you wouldn’t have been able to make the trip. You might think you’ve grown up, Emily, you might think being seventeen and in high school makes you a mature, intellectual, boring, mean adult, but it doesn’t. You’ve got a couple more years of wonder left in you. You still believe in adventure, even if you don’t realize it. I’m just glad I was able to get you here in time.”

“But why? Why did you bring us here?”

“You’ll see. But first…” He held out his hand. “Welcome to the village of the Lost Boys.”

I looked past Peter. We had made it to some kind of settlement in the middle of the woods. But, rather than a village like Peter had said, it looked more like a series of clubhouses, made from wood and palm leaves and tree branches. There were houses up in the trees, multi-level huts on the ground, and bicycles driving around the dirt paths that criss-crossed through the village. Most of the bicycles were made from bamboo, and obviously homemade, but some of them were metal, old and run-down—like they were made in the 1930’s or 40’s, and not taken care of much since then.

There were also boys everywhere—not a girl in sight, and no adults. It seemed the entire village of clubhouses was populated with hundreds of boys, ranging from six to 11 years old. Only little kids lived here—and each of them wore homemade clothes, like Peter’s, all different shades of brown and green. They were also filthy, with dirt-streaked faces, greasy hair that stuck up all over their heads, and shoes that were either caked in mud or stained green with grass (many of them didn’t wear shoes at all). Besides their brown and green clothes, many of them had splashes of color—an orange baseball cap, a blue belt that criss-crossed their chest like an ‘X,’ or a even stripes of yellow face paint under their eyes, like they were some kind of warrior.

It was also incredibly loud—all of these boys were hooting and hollering and screaming with laughter as they made their way through the village. Crashing into each other as they jousted on their bikes with tree branches, playing some kind of basketball game in the corner of town with a coconut, or literally wrestling in the dirt, while other boys cheered and bet on the outcome with candy bars—it was like a middle school teacher’s ultimate nightmare, come to life.

“This is…” I said, looking around. “This is bizarre.”

There was a buzzing sound above us, and I looked up to see a boy zip-lining down from his clubhouse. When he hit the ground, he immediately joined a picnic table of boys who were chowing down on a spread of junk food—pizza, ice cream, and soda.

“This isn’t bizarre,” Tim said. “This is heaven.”

Chapter Six

“Feel free to help yourself,” Peter said, motioning to the table of food. “All of this stuff is free for anyone to enjoy, so go ahead and—”

“Free for anyone to enjoy?” someone said. I looked up. Standing in front of us was a whole gaggle of filthy, homemade-clothes-wearing boys. At the head of the pack was a short kid, not much taller than four feet. He had freckles under his eyes and wore a faded red baseball cap, with jagged edges of red hair sticking out from underneath. The bill of his cap was so worn, you could see the edge of the plastic brim.

“Look at this kid, giving away our stuff,” the boy said, looking at Peter with a sneering smirk. “It’s like he thinks he actually has a say around here or something.”

Peter shook his head, annoyed. I noticed he was at least five years older than most of these kids. He was 16 or 17, while they were all around 11, with some looking like they could be kindergartners.

“I wasn’t giving away our stuff,” Peter explained. “I was just—”

“That’s what it looked like to me!” the boy said with a laugh. The boys behind him nodded, staring at Peter like he was an uninvited guest who had showed up at the party anyway. “Where the hell did you go? We weren’t sure if you were coming back this time. We never know with you.”

“I went to the World of the Grown-Ups,” Peter said. “I went to see if I could get someone to help us with—”

“Who are they?” the boy asked, turning to Tim and me. It was like he wouldn’t let Peter finish a sentence.

“They’re who I went to get from the World of the Grown-Ups. I think they can help us.”

“Them?” The boy stood in front of me, eyebrows furrowed, inspecting me. I was at least a foot taller than him. My guess was he was around 10 years old.

“You brought another girl here?” he said. “You ain’t ever gonna learn, Peter, are you? ‘Cuz that went so well the last time.”

Peter didn’t answer.

“What’s your name?” the boy in the cap asked.

“Emily.”

“Not you. I don’t care what your name is. What’s your name?”

He pointed at Tim. I could tell Tim was nervous. This little punk in a red cap acted like some kind of no-nonsense Irish mob boss. A four-foot-tall Irish mob boss, but still.

“Me?”

“Yeah, you.”

“Tim.”

“How old are you, Tim?”

“Ten.”

“You got a girlfriend?”

“No.”

“All right, you’re in.” The boy stuck out his hand. “Welcome to the Lost Boys. My name’s Mike. Help yourself to any food, games, whatever. Change out of those stupid-looking clothes, if you want.”

Tim looked up at me, as if to say, “What the heck do I do now?” I looked to Peter, since I didn’t know.

“It’s okay,” Peter said. “They’re harmless. To us, anyway. He’ll have the time of his life, and probably won’t want to ever do anything else ever again.”

“Go ahead,” I said to Tim. “Go get something to eat, I guess.”

“Want some firecrackers?” Mike asked.

“Yeah!” Tim replied.

Mike handed him four red firecrackers.

“Here, go over there and throw them at those ostrich eggs.”

Not far away, I saw a group of Lost Boys lighting firecrackers and flinging them at a pile of giant, brown eggs. Every time the eggs exploded in a burst of yellow, gooey yolk, the kids laughed and high-fived each other, before beginning another barrage of firecrackers.

Tim ran to the boys with a big smile. They greeted him like an old friend, slapping him on the back and making space for him to take the next throw. As nervous as he was, I could tell he was also excited, and wanted to run amok with the other boys.

“You,” Mike said, pointing a finger in my face. “You stay with Peter. None of us want you here, you got it? If this moron does, that’s his business. Just know that you aren’t our guest. None of this is yours unless you ask.”

I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to give this little kid a piece of my mind, but he had about 12 other mangy-looking boys standing with him, and I didn’t know what they were capable of. I still had no idea what Tim and I had gotten into, or what was happening.

“She’s all right,” Peter said. “She’ll stick with me. She won’t even be here that long. She’s all right.”

“Of course you think she’s all right,” Mike said. “She’s a skirt. You think anything in a skirt is all right.”

“I’m not even wearing a skirt.”

“You know what I mean. It’s a figment of expression. Just stay with him and don’t talk to us. Now get out of my face.”

Mike and the other boys walked away.

“You hear that, Mike?” one of them asked. “Peter said she won’t be here that long. You think he’s telling the truth?”

“Yeah, I heard that one before. Next thing I knew we had a damn babysitter living with us.”

I watched the mini-gang of elementary school kids reach the picnic table of junk food, then turned to Peter. “Really welcoming bunch, aren’t they?”

“Sorry about that,” Peter said. At my house and on the way here, he had been so cocky and sure of himself, but now that we were in the village, it was like he was out of his element and didn’t fit in. Not because of anything he did, but because it was clear everybody here didn’t want him around. “C’mon,” he finished. “We can go up to my place. We’ll talk up there without them bothering us.”

Following Peter across the village, I started to worry about leaving Tim behind, but I couldn’t worry too much, since I had to concentrate on avoiding the masses of rampaging boys running around us, none of whom seemed capable of moving less than 20 miles an hour. After almost getting trampled by a group of them throwing an old football, I climbed up a ladder with Peter. It went up the tallest tree in the village—up and up and up—and soon I was getting dizzy. Just as I was about to ask Peter if this ladder went on for eternity, we reached the underside of a wooden floor. There was a square door in it, and after Peter pushed it open, I followed him inside.

It was like the world’s greatest treehouse—every 11-year-old boy’s dream. There were faded couches, a table of torn candy wrappers, movie posters on the wall from every decade, sports equipment on the ground, and even a 1980’s TV set, with what looked like a VHS machine and a car battery hooked up to it. It was clear this wasn’t just a treehouse—Peter lived here. This was his house.

I walked around, inspecting the space. We were in what seemed like the main room, but there were also three other rooms shooting off from it; in those rooms, I saw beds and bamboo bureaus, with framed photographs and knick-knacks on top. One of the rooms had girls’ clothes hanging in a closet—I could see black shoes and a few dresses, most of which looked like something my grandmother would have worn when she was young.

There were also several maps on the walls, and they looked old—faded and turned up at the corners. They showed a series of islands, all marked with different locations. Maybe this could give me a clue about how far away we were, and how to get home.

“Are these islands…?”

“Never Land? Yup, those maps show a little bit of Never Land. But just a little. Never Land is a massive place, and I could never have all of it on my wall at once. There isn’t a big enough map. Some areas of Never Land haven’t even been discovered yet, and some people say Never Land goes on forever, with no ending.”

I looked at the maps. None of this was making any sense. These things couldn’t happen in real life. Not in my life, not in anybody’s life.

“What kind of place is this?” I asked. From a window, I watched as a group of boys rode their bikes off a steep ramp and into a lake. They celebrated as if it was the greatest thing they had ever done in their life. “Seriously, this is where you live?”

“Yup. We all do. There’s…about 200 of us now, I guess. I forget. I’m starting to lose count.”

“And there’s only boys?”

“Yup. The Lost Boys.”

“No girls?”

Peter chuckled. “Nope. That’s kinda the point. Well, there’s one girl, anyway. You’re probably only the fourth or fifth girl whose ever even stepped foot in this village.”

I looked down and watched Tim throw a firecracker at the ostrich eggs.

“And no grown-ups.”

“Nope. Not a one. That’s a very important rule. Even more important than no girls.”

“How the heck do you all live here without any adults to watch you? Take care of you? Even these little kids?”

“I don’t know. We just do. Most of us, we haven’t had anyone to watch us or take care of us our whole lives, so why start now? We get along just fine, believe me.”

Near the eggs, Tim laughed with the boy in the red baseball cap. “Where did all these boys come from?”

“Your world. Every last one of them. Orphans. Kids living on the street. Or just kids whose parents didn’t want them. They all ended up here one way or another, either from a fairy, another one of the Lost Boys finding them, whatever. Whoever they are, they’re better off here.”

I thought a moment, then turned to Peter. He stood on the other side of the room.

“And you say no one here grows up?”

“Nope. Not even you. As long as you and Tim are here, you won’t age a second. It’s bloody wonderful, isn’t it?”

I squinted. “But you look older than the rest.”

“Yeah, I am. Unfortunately.”

“All of them are, what? 10? Some even younger?”

“Yeah.”

“And they don’t like you very much.”

“No, they don’t.”

“Why?”

“For the same reason why I’m older than them. Because I left.”

“You left here?”

“Yes. Many years ago, when I was about eleven. I was gone for six years, and when I came back, I looked like this. And they weren’t too happy about it. Or the fact that I left them.”

I thought it over. “Where’d you go?”

“To your world, with some friends. And I stayed there. For six years. I don’t think the guys here will ever forgive me, to be honest.”

“I don’t get why you’d leave. You seem to love it here.”

“Well, that actually has a lot to do with why you’re here. Do you want me to tell you now?”

Before I could answer, an ear-splitting horn erupted. I jumped, startled, and turned to the window. One of the boys was standing on top of a hut and blowing a massive brass horn, while a herd of very large, bull-like animals stampeded through the village. The boys down below me—running for their lives—thought it was hilarious, of course. I looked to Tim, and thankfully saw he was at least somewhat safe, standing on top of the picnic table of junk food.

“Yes, why don’t you tell me now,” I said. “Before either me or my brother ends up dead.”

Peter paced, chewing his lip. “Where should I start? Hmm. I never thought about what I should start with.” A moment passed. “Did you see those rooms? The ones connected to this one?”

“Yes.”

“Those are my friends’ rooms. Wendy, John, and Michael. They live here, with me. They’re from your world. Well, I mean, they used to live on your world, before they met me. They weren’t orphans like the rest of us. They came here with me many years ago—I can’t even remember how long. We had a grand adventure. But, when it was time for them to go home, I didn’t want them to. I didn’t want them to leave. I especially didn’t want Wendy to leave. That had never happened before.”

“So what’d you do?”

“Nothing, at first. I watched them go. And I stayed here. But, after only a few months, I couldn’t take it anymore. I followed them to the World of the Grown-Ups. I left here in secret, went to your world, and I planned on never coming back.”

“You left to go find them?”

“Yes. I loved the world they talked about, in London. I loved the world they said they had with their mum and dad and their big old dog Nana. It sounded wonderful. I wanted to see what that life was like. I had never had a life like that. None of us here ever had.”

Peter walked toward the girl’s room and looked inside.

“Wendy had said that I could live with them, if I wanted, if I ever wanted to leave Never Land. So, I went to their house, knocked on the door, and asked. Her parents were pretty confused at first, but eventually—very quickly, actually—they agreed, and let me live with them.” Peter smiled. “And they were just as wonderful as Wendy had told me. Even more wonderful. And Nana, too. I loved that old dog. I had barely ever seen a dog before, and now I had one.”

Peter laughed through his nose, as if the memory had taken him back someplace.

“But then…” He stopped. The smile left his face, and he was quiet. “Then Wendy’s mum and dad died. In an automobile accident.” A silence. “They didn’t have seat belts back then.”

I didn’t say anything. I wasn’t expecting his story to turn out this way.

“Then all the sudden we didn’t have anything. Me, Wendy, Michael, John—now we were alone. It was just us. I was seventeen and Wendy was eighteen, and we had this big house in London that was perfectly fine, and we had Nana, but they wouldn’t let us live there. They wanted us to go live with some weird old aunt Wendy hadn’t even ever met before. We didn’t want to go there, so we came back here. All four of us. We had nothing left for us in your world, so…we came back to Never Land. Where we didn’t have to deal with the horrible things in your world like automobile accidents and rainy days and people dying just because their damn car drove through a big puddle.”

I watched Peter. He was so sad and so angry, all at once. As crazy as this whole world around him was, it was suddenly clear he was just a teenage boy, like any of my guy friends back home.

“But the Lost Boys here, they didn’t welcome you back?”

“No.” Peter laughed. “With me, looking like this? A foot taller than when I left? And with me bringing a girl back? Who was even older than me, at that. And two boys, who had also grown up. The Lost Boys hate grown-ups, but they don’t like teenagers much more, either.”

I looked around the treehouse. I thought about the old movie posters on the wall, and the way Peter had talked about automobiles. And the way he had looked at my iPad back home. I assumed he had left this place many years ago—back in the 1920’s? Maybe even the 1910’s? And he and the others had come back to Never Land not long after that. So, he had been living here, out of place and pretty much shunned by the other boys, for practically 100 years. I thought about him and the other kids he spoke about—Wendy, John, and Michael. Four teenagers, living up in this treehouse, with all those lunatic boys living down below them.

“Where are your friends?” I asked. “The girl, and the other two boys who live here?”

Peter grew angry.

“They aren’t here,” he said. “That’s why I need your help. I need your help to get them back.”

“Why? What happened to them?”

Peter looked up. I could see fire in his eyes.

“Hook. Hook got them.”

Chapter Seven

Five minutes later, I followed Peter and walked briskly through the woods surrounding the Lost Boys’ village.

“Where are we going?” I asked, pushing a tree branch out of my way. “And who is this Hook?”

“I’m about to show you.” Peter adjusted the satchel criss-crossing his chest. Before we had left his treehouse, he had grabbed the satchel and a few other supplies—including two swords. The fact that he felt the need to take two swords especially made me nervous.

“Here,” he said. He pointed at a tree. It had a large, square sign nailed to it, with a warning written in red paint:

 

LOST BOY TERITOREY ENDS HERE.

DO NOT PASS THIS SIGN WITHOUT PERMISHON FROM MIKE.

 

Underneath the sign, there was another one, just a little bit smaller than the first. This one had an etching of a bearded man on it, scowling and wearing a large pirate hat. In red letters underneath the drawing, it said:

 

ANY SIGN OF HOOK, REPORT TO MIKE IMEEDEETLY.

 

“That’s him,” Peter said. “Captain Hook. The worst, most insane, most deranged pirate in all of Never Land.”

I stepped forward and looked closer at the drawing. This bearded pirate had a thick scar running down the middle of his face, and one of his eyes was pure white, without any pupil. It also seemed as if a piece of his jawbone was exposed, and his shoulder was made of metal armor. Whoever this guy was, I could only guess he had been mangled in some kind of accident.

“This is a pirate?” I asked. “He looks…strange.”

Peter retrieved a photograph from his satchel.

“Hook and I have been fighting each other for…I don’t even know how many years. A while back, right before I left Never Land, I thought I had finally beat him—in our most epic battle, on the deck of his ship, I landed the blow I had been waiting for my whole life, and sent him falling into the ocean. Waiting for him there was a crocodile who had been waiting just as long as me to finish the job and get rid of Hook for good.”

Peter handed me the photo. It was black and white, slightly blurry, and obviously taken with an old camera. It looked like pictures my mom had of my grandparents, from the 1960’s. Still, I could make out this Hook person, and see him in more detail than the sign. He had a mangy, black beard; long, black hair; and was dressed in an elaborate jacket, decorated with metals and large shoulder pads. There was a sword on his belt, similar to Peter’s, and on top of his head there was a three-cornered, black hat. He looked exactly like a pirate from a storybook or TV show, except he was standing—oddly enough—in front of a train.

But the train wasn’t the oddest thing about the photo—not even close. The scar on Hook’s face ran down from the center of his forehead, across his nose, and diagonally across his left cheek. It basically split his face into two sections: the larger section looked relatively normal, but the other part was made out of dingy, tarnished metal. The metal made up an entire cheek, half of his jawbone on the left side, his left eye socket, and half his forehead. The eye inside the metal part was clearly not his real eye—I could tell it was made of metal, and glowing with some sort of light.

Worst of all, whoever had done this work on his face clearly didn’t know what they were doing, or didn’t have the right tools. The area on his face where the skin met the metal was burnt and covered in blisters—infected, obviously, and painfully bubbled, as if the job of fusing the metal to his skin had only been half-finished.

“When he fell into the water and the croc got him, we all thought he was finally gone for good,” Peter said. “But obviously he wasn’t. Somehow, after we sailed away, his first mate—a weasly little mongrel named Smee—jumped in the water and saved him. None of us saw it, and we don’t know how, but Smee fought off the croc and managed to get the half-dead Captain Hook to shore.”

Peter shook his head, angry.

“Fat little pig,” he said. “First time in his life the little bugger showed any courage.”

I looked at the gruesome photo, my stomach turning. Looking away from Hook’s face, I realized one of his hands was, well, a hook. His other arm, though, was completely made out of the same metal as his face, as were both of his legs.

“He survived being attacked by a crocodile?” I asked. “How on earth could someone survive that, if he looked like this afterward?”

“Not sure,” Peter said. “From what we’ve heard, Smee and Hook’s pirates used every last ounce of technology they could get their hands on. But, that wasn’t the most important part—they also used magic, too. A witch helped them, from a faraway land. She helped them replace his limbs, half his face, and even, I’ve been told, some of his organs. He runs on steam, now—practically his entire body is steam-powered, like a train, or riverboat.”

I narrowed my eyes. Hook’s legs were even more mechanical than the rest of him. They were covered in gears and cogs, all interlocking with each other. The machinery looked mismatched and in different shapes and sizes, like they were cobbled together from several different sources.

“So he’s basically a machine.”

“Yes. That’s exactly what I’d call it. Except the only thing they couldn’t fix was his brain. He’s more insane than ever. Which is saying something. He was already loony as a mad dog before. Now that he’s barely human, there’s no controlling him.”

I looked away from the picture. All of this was so bizarre, I could barely get my thoughts straight. Peter bringing us here—flying, seeing the floating islands, and the Lost Boys’ village—had been too much, and now I was supposed to listen to this mechanical pirate crazy talk, too?

I handed the photo to Peter. “And what does any of this have to do with me and my brother?”

“I need you to help me.”

“You need me to help you?”

“Yes. Specifically you.”

“With what?”

“Against Hook.”

I laughed at the stupidity of his answer. “You can fly. You fought off some kind of shadow demons with a sword. You live in a village with a few dozen seemingly insane boys who look ready to fight anything that comes near them. And I’m supposed to help you? How on earth could I help you?”

Peter looked down, embarrassed. “Hook’s…not what he used to be. Fighting him all these years, it was kind of fun, to be honest. Sometimes he and his pirates would win, most of the time I would win, and then we’d just do it all over again. He’d come up with some ridiculous scheme, I would stop him, and Never Land would celebrate. It was almost like a game.

“But now, since he returned…I can’t stop him. No one can. He’s too powerful, he’s no longer simply a man. I’ve tried and tried, and fought him over and over, but I can’t win. He wins every time. And when he does, he tries to kill me.”

Peter lifted his shirt. His chest was covered in scars and wounds, including one that was so fresh, the blood showed through the white bandage.

“Oh my god,” I said, covering my mouth.

“He’s insane,” Peter said. “And even more powerful than he is insane. Whatever Smee and the witch did to him, it’s made him—he has powers. Special powers, that he never had before. There’s magic involved now, magic that no one on Never Land knows how to deal with. Before this, I was the only one who could beat him, but now…no one can.”

Peter stared at the ground, waiting for me to answer. But I had no idea what to say. I had no reason to believe him—no reason to believe anything he said was real. I could be dreaming, the cafeteria food I had for lunch could have been tainted with E. coli or something—there were a million reasons to doubt everything I was seeing and hearing. But, yet, Peter looked so sad. So desperate. As he talked about this Hook person, he just looked defeated.

“Hook has my friends,” he said, not looking at me. “He’s had them for a few weeks now. I can’t save them. I can’t do anything. I need your help. I’ve tried everything. I wouldn’t do this—I wouldn’t do this unless I thought it was absolutely necessary. And it is.”

I thought it over, watching Peter. “But why me?”

He looked up. “Because I’ve been watching you. On your world, I see the fire in your eyes—the same fire I used to have. The fire to fight and fight and win, when you really want something. I’ve seen how you are on the field during your hockey games—you do not stop until you win. You carry your whole team on your back and you inspire them to victory. You’re like me. That’s how I am. Or, at least, how I used to be, before all this.”

I laughed. “You think because I’m good at field hockey, because I’m basically obsessed with winning, that I can help you fight a pirate.”

“Yes. Exactly.”

“Playing field hockey and swinging a sword are a little bit more different than I think you realize.”

Peter stepped toward me. “No. It’s not about the game. It’s about the fire, the look that comes over your face when you’re faced with overwhelming odds. The look on your face when you know it’s time to either bring your team to victory or go home. I used to have that fire in me, too, but I lost it. I don’t know when, but I lost it, and I need you to help me get it back.”

I laughed and furrowed my brow. “You’re crazy. You’re a crazy person. You flew me to another world because you want me to use my field hockey skills in a pirate war? You’re a crazy person. Look, I’m not the person you need, I’m not.”

Peter stepped closer, his eyes locked on me. “You’re exactly the person I need. Whenever I go into adventure, I always have someone like you with me. I haven’t had that in a long time, and I think it’s what I’ve been missing. Whenever I go on adventures, I need someone like you.”

“What? A hockey player?”

“No. I need a…girl.”

The last word was so quiet I could barely hear it.

“What was that?”

“A girl. I need a girl.”

“A what?”

He looked up and laughed. “A girl, okay? I need a girl. To go on adventures with me. That’s what makes it fun—it’s not fun anymore. I think it’s what I’ve been missing, truly. I always have a girl with me—a girl like you, or like Wendy—whenever I face Hook. So I think if you help me, we will win.”

I wanted to go home. I would have rather been pretty much anywhere in the world than standing there in the woods with this bizarre boy dressed in brown and green.

“Look, I’m not gonna be able to help you. I’m not sure—I don’t think you realize, the world I’m from, it’s not like this one. I’m not like you people. I’m just a normal, high school girl. I don’t face the things you do, or fight pirates or live in the woods or whatever the hell else you do. You got the wrong person, and I think you should probably just take me and Tim home. Honestly. This isn’t—whatever you think is gonna happen, isn’t gonna happen.”

Peter held his hands up. “I get it. I do. But I’m desperate. I need to save my friends, and I’m willing to do anything. So, give me one last shot. Just come with me for ten minutes. I know where Hook is right now, and I know where he’s heading. Come with me, leave the village, and let me show you him in person. After that, if you still don’t wanna help, I’ll take you home, I promise.”

“You want me to go looking for this guy? What about Tim?”

“He’ll stay here with the Lost Boys. It’s the safest place for him, to be honest. Even us standing this far from the village, out in the open, is kind of stupid. We should either get moving, or head back. So what do you say?”

I thought it over.

“I just want to save my friends,” Peter said. “That’s all. I haven’t seen them in weeks. And I don’t know what’s happened to them, or what will happen to them. If you can help me, if you’re what I need…then I need to try again, with you.”

I sighed. “You promise I won’t be in any danger?”

He stood up straight and help up his hand. “I absolutely swear. I promise on the Lost Boys. As long as you stay with me, I’ll take you to see Hook, and we’ll never be in danger. Not once. Neither him or his pirates will even see us. We’ll go there for ten minutes, come back here, and then you can decide on what you want to do. Okay?”

I thought about it, then answered. Even as I said it, I couldn’t believe the word was coming out of my mouth.

“Okay.”

Peter clapped his hands and rubbed them together, a grin across his face.

“Yes!” he exclaimed. “Hot damn, I was hoping you were gonna say that! Let’s go on a bloody adventure. Yes!” He laughed loudly. “This is going to be bloody brilliant.”

“If you say so, but I swear, if we get into any trouble, or if anything happens to Tim, you’re gonna see that fire in my eyes you talked about. And it will be directed at you.”

“Nothing’s gonna happen,” Peter said, already heading into the woods. “Come on, we gotta make sure we’re on time. The train is passing through this way in just a few minutes.”

“The train?” I asked. As I walked deeper into the woods, I grew more unsure with every step that I had made the right decision to follow Peter. In fact, I had never been so unsure of anything in my entire life.

Chapter Eight

After walking through the woods for a short while, Peter and I came upon a set of train tracks. They cut through the dark forest and went on for miles in each direction.

“Here we are,” Peter said. “Now, we just follow this till we reach the bridge.”

“What’s with the train tracks?” I asked. “I thought we were after pirates. What are pirates doing in the middle of the woods?”

“Well, they still call themselves pirates, even though they aren’t anymore. They’ve moved on to robbing trains. They really should call themselves train robbers, but old habits die hard, I guess.”

“So they’re gonna be on land, then.”

“Yes. They can’t sail anymore. Can’t even go near the ocean. Because of all of Hook’s mechanical parts. The salt water, the salt in the air—it causes him to go cla-fooey. He can’t even function. So, they’ve stopped sailing the seas, and now they’re stuck on land. But they’ve learned that robbing trains is even more lucrative than robbing ships.”

I heard a train whistle in the air, close by.

“Shoot,” Peter said. “Come on, we gotta pick it up. Our hiding spot is up ahead.”

Peter ran through the woods, so I did, too, and soon we reached a train bridge, running from the edge of the forest, across a wide chasm, and over a river. Peter looked around, nervous, and then ducked behind a massive wall of briars, right before the first plank of the bridge.

I did the same as Peter—because what the heck else was I gonna do—and hid behind the brush. As I looked to my left, my stomach turned; the steep cliff was only a few feet away. One wrong step, and I could tumble off the edge and into the water, hundreds of feet below.

“Peter,” I said, dizzy. “Can we maybe move away from the bridge? Like a few feet back from the horrible cliff and certain death?”

“Hold on,” Peter said. “Look.”

On the other side of the bridge, the train tracks curved off into another forest. After a few seconds, I heard the sound of a whistle again, and then saw a bright train headlight emerge from the trees. It was moving quickly, and in no time at all, it was halfway across the bridge, heading toward us.

“That train is going pretty fast,” I said. “There’s no way it’s going to be stopping any time soon.”

“It’s gonna have to stop,” Peter said, “if the tip I got from my friend is correct.”

The train whistle blew again, louder, and then over and over, like the conductor was trying to tell someone—or something—to get out of his way.

“Duck,” Peter said, whispering. “Get down. They’re here.”

As Peter pulled me further behind the briars, I looked toward where he and I had come from. Standing on the train tracks, only fifty feet away from us, there was a whole crew of pirates, waiting in the night.

There must have been fifteen of them, of all various shapes and sizes. I could only see a faint glimpse of them because of the darkness, but then the train’s headlight shone on them. They were standing in silence, directly in the train’s path.

The train conductor blew his whistle even louder now, holding it down for seconds at a time, trying to get the pirates to move. But they stood tall and as still as statues, their hands on their hips, some of them brandishing swords.

“What are they doing?” I whispered. “Are they nuts?”

“Yes, very much so,” Peter replied.

Because the train’s whistle was so loud now, I had to cover my ears, and soon the noise grew unbearable as the train barreled past Peter and I. With only moments to spare, the train’s brakes finally kicked in, and the vehicle came to a screeching stop, its wheels sending up sparks.

When the vehicle was finally motionless, the pirates stepped forward and approached the train. As they got closer, I could see them clearly— filthy faces; unkempt beards; jackets and pants smeared with dirt and grease; faded pirate hats; some of them even had eye patches. Most of them were missing over 75% of their teeth.

One of the pirates—the tallest of the group—made his way through the lot and stomped toward the train. All of the other pirates moved out of his way and let him pass, as if he was very important, and soon he was standing directly in the front of the pack, with the others following him. I recognized him instantly from the picture.

“That’s Hook.”

“Shhhh,” Peter said, pulling me into the woods.

Frightened, I peered through the briars. Hook was even more bizarre-looking in person— a man that was more machine than anything else. The only part of him that I was 100% sure was human was the right half of his face; the rest of him was either covered by his black-and-red jacket, or made out of dull, dented metal. One of his arms —the one that didn’t end in a hook—was completely exposed, and also completely mechanical. It had round hinges at the elbows and wrist, and his bicep and shoulder were made from what looked like hundreds of metal pipes. When he moved the arm, the pipes moved in all different directions, and steam whistled from the joints. He was part man, part machine, all right—but the part that was machine looked primitive, like it was something a scientist would have made in the 1800’s.

“Smee,” Hook said. He turned toward the other pirates, and I could see his red, robotic eye shining in the dark. “Bring me my blade.”

Another pirate pushed his way through the crowd. He was short—maybe five feet tall—and round as a beach ball. He had a head of messy, brown hair, a belt that kept falling off his waist, and a pirate jacket that was five sizes too small for him. He looked more like someone who would own a cupcake bakery than a pirate.

“Here you go, sir,” Smee said, handing Hook a sword. “Would you like your pistol, too?”

“No, this’ll do fine. But have yours at the ready, and blast the conductor at the first sign of a move.” He looked toward the rest of the pirates. “Five of you, come with me. The rest, wait out here for my word. And be on the lookout for the coward in green.”

“Still no sign of Peter anywhere, Captain,” Smee said. “Not since you ran him through last time. We hear you might have finally done him in.”

“It’s possible, Smee,” Hook said, adjusting his robotic arm. “But even though Peter isn’t half the warrior he used to be, I’m trying to stay optimistic.”

Hook stomped up the train’s stairs, his metallic feet clanging. He ripped open the side door, stepped inside, and immediately shouted. “Ladies and gentlemen, Captain Hook is here! Aren’t you the lucky ones!” The passengers inside the train screamed.

“Hold my hand,” Peter said. He must have noticed how much it was shaking. “It’s okay. Don’t be afraid. I promised you wouldn’t get hurt, remember?”

I looked back at the pirates on the tracks. Even though five of them plus Smee had entered the train, there were still at least ten standing in the darkness, brandishing their weapons.

“Well, I’m starting to not believe you, let’s put it that way. In fact, I’m starting to think this was the worst decision I ever made in my life.”

“I always keep my word.” Peter said, bringing his satchel to the front and rifling through it. “Especially to pretty girls.”

Ignoring Peter’s line, I watched as he retrieved something from the satchel. It looked like a thin stick, made of wood and painted black, but glistening as if it was covered by stars.

“What’s that?”

“A magic wand. Lent to me by a witch.”

“A witch?”

“Yes, but a good witch, don’t worry. Magic is usually very hard to come by in Never Land—the closest thing we have to it are the fairies. But not lately—lately, the place is infested with witches and wizards, some of whom are traveling here from a faraway land. But that’s a story for another time. If the witch taught me right and I use this thing correctly, we should be just fine.”

Peter outstretched his arm and waved the wand over our heads, as if he was drawing a giant half circle. Then, there was a soft tingling sound, followed by my vision going wavy. When I blinked and opened my eyes again, everything seemed normal.

“Look at that,” Peter said. “The bloody thing worked.”

“What worked?”

Peter held my hand and walked out of our hiding spot, pulling me with him. We were now in sight of the pirates.

“Peter, what are you doing? You’re going to get us—”

“Look at our reflection.”

Bracing myself for the attacking pirates, I looked at the windows on the train. Amazingly, there wasn’t anybody in the reflection—all I could see was the forest behind us. It was like Peter and I were invisible.

“Guess I should have been more trustworthy of the witch,” Peter said. “We’re in a bubble right now—a magic bubble. As long as we stay inside, and stay together, no one will be able to see us. Now, come with me and let me show you what Hook is up to.”

Hesitant, I followed Peter up the train’s stairs and ducked my head as we entered the passenger car.

Once we were inside, I realized how small the train was. It wasn’t built for people the size of Peter and me—the ceilings were low, and the red-cushioned chairs were tiny. When I looked around, I discovered why—every single one of the passengers was about three feet tall. They were full-grown adults, dressed in hand-stitched clothes that made them look like they were from a fairytale. A few of them stood in the aisle, and the tallest was barely higher than my waist.

I also noticed how scared they were, and for good reason. Toward the front of the car, Hook stood with a smile across his face. Smee was with him, looking around with a sneer.

“Don’t you worry,” Hook shouted. “We won’t hurt you—as long as you do as we say. We aren’t here for any reason other than stealing all of your pretty little things.”

Hook leaned down and used his hook to rip a necklace off a woman. She shrieked and turned away.

“Have at it, men!” Hook laughed. Everything he said—loud and in a thick, British accent—made him sound like a villain from a terrible Broadway play. I would have laughed if he wasn’t so terrifying. “Take everything they’ve got, and if anyone even dares to look at you funny, take their damn head off.”

“Why are they doing this?” I asked, as the pirates made their way through the train, taking the wallets, pocketbooks, and jewelry of each passenger.

“Because it’s an opportunity to get even richer,” Peter replied. “This train is coming from the Island of the Babbles—the floating island you saw when we arrived. It was heading for a mermaid lagoon. Hook knew it would be full of people.”

“Where is the conductor?” Hook shouted, walking down the aisle. “I must speak to him, and tell him where to take us next.” He began calling out in a sing-songy voice. “Conductooooooor? Oh, Mr. Conductoooooor?”

The door at the front of the car opened, and the conductor walked in. Like the rest of the Babbles, he was no taller than three feet.

“Yes,” he said nervously. “I’m the conductor.”

“Ah, perfect.” Hook spun toward him. “Bring this train ahead, but do not go toward the mermaid lagoon. Instead, bring this train straight to the Island of the Pirates.” Hook looked back toward the passengers. “Now, where is your crew? They must be among here—we’ll have to take care of them and detain them, so they don’t try anything tricky.”

Hook waited for an answer, but none came. He turned back to the conductor.

“Well? Where is your crew?”

“Right there.”

“Where?”

“There.”

At the front of the passenger car, practically huddled in the corner, three small men stood, wearing the same uniform as the conductor. Two of them had long beards, but the other was around twenty years old, and about ready to pass out.

“This is your crew?”

“Yes.”

Hook stared at the crew a moment, and then his shoulders drooped. The smile disappeared from his face, and he hung his head. He lowered his sword.

“What’s the matter, Captain?” Smee asked.

“They don’t even have a crew, Smee. They don’t even have a crew. This isn’t fun anymore.”

Hook shook his head.

“Finish up,” he said, without looking. “Take whatever else they have and let’s get out of here.”

Quickly, and with much less glee, Hook’s pirates walked up and down the aisle, taking the rest of the valuables from the passengers. The pirates seemed to be taking a cue from their leader—he wasn’t enjoying himself anymore, so they weren’t, either. I watched as Hook stared at the ground, tapping his hook hand against his robotic hand. This was too easy for him; he wanted a challenge.

It was eerily quiet on the train for a few moments, as all that could be heard was the sounds of money and jewels being tossed into the pirates’ sacks. As I was about to ask Peter when we were going to get out of there and make our escape, there was a commotion.

At the back of the train, a pirate was struggling with a woman, trying to take off her bracelet. As she resisted, the rest of the train’s passengers and the pirates looked that way.

“Listen, you little twerp!” the pirate said. “Give me the damn bracelet before I cut your wrist off!”

The woman turned away and freed her arm, but the pirate grabbed her wrist again. Before he could take hold of the bracelet, though, the woman’s husband reached for a dinner knife in front of him and jabbed it into the pirate’s hand.

“Aaarrggghh!” he screamed, stumbling into the aisle. He held up his hand, the knife still sticking in it, blood dripping. He hunched over, trying to rip out the blade.

The other passengers began to panic, as the pirates dashed down the aisle. But, after only a few seconds, Hook spoke.

“Stop,” he said, watching the commotion. He deliberately made his way down the aisle. I knew what was about to happen: he was going to take out his anger over the disappointing robbery on the one person who dared to fight back.

“What is your name?” Hook asked.

“F-Frank,” the man said.

“And who are you, Frank, to think you can stand up to Captain Hook and his men?”

The man didn’t answer. He sat there, terrified, gripping his wife’s hand.

“I said,” Hook shouted, “who are you?” He reached down with his hook and looped it through one of the man’s suspenders.

“I’m not,” the man said. “I wasn’t…”

“You weren’t what?” Hook lifted the man out of his seat as if he weighed nothing. The man’s feet kicked in the air. “You weren’t fighting back? It sure looked an awful lot like he was fighting back to me, didn’t it, Mrs. Frank?”

The man’s wife didn’t answer. She looked up at her husband, fear over her face.

“We better do something,” I said to Peter. “You better do something.”

“I can’t,” Peter replied. “There’s nothing I can do. Hook’s unstoppable.”

“Unstoppable? Then why the hell did we—”

“Stop!” the man hanging from the hook shouted. “Stop! Please!”

I spun back to Hook. With the man dangling from his hand, he walked down the aisle toward his pirates. They were all brandishing their swords and grinning.

“What shall we do with him, men?” Hook bellowed. “How do we show Mr. Frank here what it’s like to tangle with the crew of Captain Hook? He wants to be a fighter—let’s see how much fight he’s got in him.”

The man kicked and screamed, trying to free himself, but he couldn’t remove the hook from his suspenders.

“We have to do something!” I said. “He’s going to kill that man!”

“No, he won’t,” Peter said. “That’s not like Hook. He’s only after me. He won’t hurt him.”

The pirates taunted the poor man with their swords.

“How do you know?” I asked. “You said yourself Hook’s insane—how do you know he won’t hurt him? You need to get out there and do something.”

“I can’t. No one can. Hook’s not a man that can be beaten. Not anymore.”

“You said you used to beat him all the time!”

“Yes—I used to. But, now, I can’t do anything. Not with his magic.”

Hook opened one of the train’s windows. “Maybe we should let some of the boys outside have some fun with Mr. Frank, eh? What do you say?”

The pirates cheered. Hook extended his hand and let Frank dangle out the window, while Frank frantically tried to free himself.

“Peter,” I said. “You have to get out there. Isn’t that why you came here?”

“No, it’s not. I came here so I could show you what Hook is capable of. And now that I have, we’re leaving. I promised you I wouldn’t let you get hurt, remember? And I’m keeping that promise. Let’s go.”

Peter stepped toward the door, holding my hand.

“You’re just going to let that man get hurt?”

“They won’t do anything to him, they just want to frighten him. It’s what they do.”

“Are you willing to take that chance?”

Peter didn’t answer. I turned back to the man dangling out the window.

“Because I’m not.”

“No, Emily, you can’t—!”

But it was too late. I walked out of the bubble and into the train.

“Hey!” I shouted. The entire train gasped—shocked, I assumed, at the 17-year-old girl who had just appeared out of thin air.

“What is this?” Hook said softly. He turned toward me. “What on earth is this?”

I took a step forward and kept my eyes pinned on Hook. Slowly, reality started to hit me, but I did my best to pretend I wasn’t scared out of my mind.

“You got what you came for,” I said. “Now go. There’s no need for you to hurt these people.”

“No, you’re right,” Hook said with a grin. He pulled his hook back into the train and let Frank drop. “But I very much have a need to speak to you.”

All of Hook’s attention was now on me. He walked closer, smirking.

“You finished your robbery,” I said. “Get out of here. Before we call the police.”

“An American,” Hook said with a chuckle. “Well, that’s interesting.”

I thought about how Hook had been so disappointed with the crew.

“Are you really gonna use your pirates to beat up a bunch of people barely up to your waist? Isn’t that beneath you?”

Hook laughed. “Yes, it is. You’re absolutely right, young lady. Very much so. But, these days, I take what I can get, you know? A man’s got to get his thrills somewhere.”

“Well, get them somewhere else. There’s nothing left for you here.”

“Or else what?” Hook asked. He stopped only a few feet from me. “Are you going to do something about it, young lady?”

I looked up. Hook must have been six foot five—a whole foot taller than me. More and more, my adrenaline wore off. What was I thinking?

“Wherever did you come from, young lady?” Hook studied me, squinting. Then, he laughed through his nose and brought his hook-hand to my face, moving the hair away from my eyes. “Have you been on this train the entire time? If you had, we didn’t see you. I didn’t see you. And that could only mean one thing…”

Hook looked over my shoulder.

“Magic.”

Hook stepped around me and toward the bubble. I couldn’t see it, but I knew exactly where it was, and I knew Peter was still inside it. He hadn’t even come out to help me.

Hook stood in front of the bubble, waving his hand back and forth, feeling for it.

“And if there’s magic,” Hook said, “I know exactly why. I have a good sense for these things, you know, young lady. It’s part of who I am. And because of that, it’s fairly easy for me to suss it out.”

Hook thrust his hand forward. It disappeared into thin air—straight into the bubble. The passengers gasped.

“Oh, Peter,” Hook said, singing his name. He waved his arm around, reaching inside. “Come out, come out, wherever you are. Why don’t you introduce me to your new friend? I can’t believe you would bring her all the way here from America and not want to introduce me.”

Hook reached around some more, but then pulled his hand back.

“Okay, that’s fine. I know you aren’t the warrior you once were. I understand. What’s the name everyone is calling you now? ‘The Coward Peter Pan?’ I didn’t want to believe it, I didn’t want to believe that was true, that my greatest adversary was now a coward, but if you’re going to endanger innocent people…”

Hook grabbed my wrist, pulling me close. I shouted and tried to get away, but his grip was too strong.

“If you’re going to bring new friends here and put their lives in danger without even doing anything about it,” Hook said, “then you really must be a coward.”

Hook waited. Nobody on the train said anything—I’m not sure if anyone was even breathing. I know I wasn’t. I tried to ignore my fear, and especially the pain in my wrist from Hook’s metal fingers. It was so silent, the only sound I could hear was the gears inside his arm and the steam sputtering out. It was rhythmic and metallic, like the inside of a factory.

Then, the air in front of us rippled, and Peter stepped out of the bubble. The passengers gasped again, and so did I—not because I was surprised to see Peter, but because of how afraid he looked. He was trying to hide it, but I could tell he was nervous. Suddenly, I wasn’t very confident in my rescuer.

Hook, however, was thrilled. “Oh, it is him! The Coward Peter Pan, ladies and gentlemen! He’s here! Why, I was starting to believe the rumors that you’d left Never Land again! Or that I’d finally finished you off!”

Hook let go of me and stomped toward Peter. Clearly, I wasn’t of any concern anymore. The only person on the train the pirates cared about was Peter.

“Let her go,” Peter said, his voice wavering. “It’s not her you want. It’s me.”

Hook thought it over for a second. “Okay.” He turned toward me. “You’re free to go. Step off the train. I’ll make sure none of my men hurt you. I can even have one of them walk you to the nearest village if you’d like. Because he’s right. It’s not you I want.”

He turned back to Peter.

“It’s the Coward Peter Pan. I just have to find out if what they say about you is true. I just have to find out if my old friend Peter Pan is no longer up for our little sparring matches.”

Peter stared at Hook, but he talked to me. “Get out of here, Emily. Go. Get back to the village of the Lost Boys the way we came. I’ll deal with this.”

For reasons I’m still not sure, I stayed put. I didn’t move. I stood there behind Hook, watching the confrontation.

“Are you using magic now, Peter?” Hook asked. “I mean, I know I have embraced Never Land’s newfound magic, and it’s wonderful, but I never thought you would embrace witchcraft. You must be even less confident than I thought.”

Peter kept his eyes on Hook. “Are you staying, Emily?” he asked. “You don’t have to. You can leave. But are you staying?”

I didn’t answer.

“Okay then.” Peter smirked. Suddenly, he became more confident. Whether or not he was faking it, I don’t know. But there was a definite change in him once he realized I wasn’t leaving.

“I’m only dabbling in magic,” Peter said. “Here and there. I use these invisible bubbles to spy on the mermaids, that kind of thing. But I don’t need it to fight old, broken-down goats like you.”

“Oh, really?” Hook said. “I think you might.” His robotic eye flashed red, and then a blast of red energy burst from his hook. It smashed into Peter and sent him flying backwards across the train.

“You see, magic is truly a wonderful gift, Peter,” Hook said, stomping toward him. “It can even make age-old things like our little fights feel brand new again. Suddenly, you aren’t the only one who can fly and perform amazing, unexplainable feats.”

Hook unsheathed his pirate sword.

“But then again…a good, old-fashioned sword can be a lot of fun, too.”

I watched Peter—he gripped the armrest of a chair and tried to stand, but then fell, still stunned. Realizing he was in no shape to take another blast, I looked around for some way I could help.

There was a tray of food to the right of me. Without giving it a second thought, I grabbed a bottle of wine, gripped it in my hand, and flung it at Hook. It CLANGED! against his metallic back and shattered, sending wine and broken glass flying.

Hook turned around, confused. He cocked an eyebrow.

“Was that you, young lady? Are you not what you seem? Are you not just a scared girl from America? Because I can revert you back to that, very quickly, if you need me to.”

Before I could answer, Hook screamed and stumbled forward. I saw Peter standing behind him, brandishing his sword. He was now cocky and ready for action. It seemed like he was no longer afraid. I hoped he wasn’t, for my sake.

“All that mechanical doo-hickery inside you,” Peter said, “and you’re still as dumb as ever. Turning your back on me? Really, Hook? Maybe that witch and your little buddy Smee should have replaced your brain when they gave you your latest tune-up.”

Hook stood tall, holding his side. I realized Peter had slashed him in one of the few places that was still flesh.

“This is the Never Land I know,” Hook said, his mouth curling into a smile. “Oh, how happy I am that you’ve come to see me again, Peter. You can’t know how boring it has been without you.”

Hook screamed and brought his hook-hand slashing down, but Peter blocked it, sparks flying as the two weapons clashed. Hook then swung his sword with his other hand, but Peter hopped over it like it was a jump rope.

“Emily!” he shouted. “You can go now! Get out of here, as far away as you can!”

“Oh, no,” Hook said. “She’s got herself involved now, Peter. She’s decided she’ll be a part of our little story. And when you get involved with Captain Hook, as you well know, you are involved for life.”

I looked toward the door, but it was blocked by pirates.

“Men,” Hook said, ducking from a swing of Peter’s sword. “Grab her and make sure she doesn’t leave. I think I’ll show her around, after I get rid of the Coward Peter Pan.”

Smee and another pirate grabbed me, each one holding an arm. I was trapped, with no escape. I could smell the horrible stench of their clothes and their warm breath.

“Conductor!” Peter shouted, jumping onto a food cart. “Why don’t you get your passengers out of here? There’s a switch near you, isn’t there?”

The conductor looked to his right. There was a door there, along with an emergency alarm. He lunged forward and pulled it, and a shrieking siren blared through the train. At the same time, all of the doors flung open.

“Now’s our chance!” a Babble yelled. All at once, the passengers jumped up and stampeded down the aisle, rushing for the doors. The crowd overwhelmed Smee and the other pirate holding me, and they were forced to let go.

“Emily!” Peter yelled. He reached to his belt, grabbing the other sword that was hanging there. “Here!”

He threw the sword toward me and it tumbled through the air. I caught it, miraculously not gripping the blade. I held it in front of me.

“Now what?”

“Swing it and hopefully hit some pirates,” Peter replied.

I stared at the three pirates across from me.

“But I don’t know how to use a sword.”

“Well, you better learn.”

Chapter Nine

Before I had the chance to comprehend that Peter was telling me to fight off pirates, three of them charged me, down the aisle. Knowing it was my only chance, I swung my sword as hard as I could. Surprisingly, they backed off—turns out, even if you don’t know how to use a sword, if you swing it crazily enough, people will keep their distance. Throwing all common sense to the wind, I ran at the pirates, slashing my sword and yelling. They looked to each other, shocked. Little did they know I was almost passing out from fear—but hey, I had them fooled for a moment.

“Emily!” Peter shouted. “Behind you!”

I turned and saw Smee running at me, brandishing his sword. I looked to my left, spotting an oil lamp on the wall. Taking a chance, I ripped it off and threw it to the ground, shattering it. Oil flew everywhere, drenching the carpet. When Smee reached me, I quickly snatched a candle from a table and threw it where the lamp had shattered. Immediately, a burst of fire erupted, thanks to the oil. Smee stumbled back, shielding himself from the flames.

“Get out, Emily!” Peter yelled. “Hurry! As fast as you can!”

I looked to the door. Thanks to the fire, the pirates had stepped away from it. They were confused, unprepared for this turn of events.

“Oh, Peter,” Hook said, shaking his head. “You were right, you know—you should have stayed in your little bubble.”

He swung his sword and landed a blow on Peter’s arm, sending him to the floor.

“This isn’t our little game anymore,” Hook said. “I’m not the Captain you once knew.” He held out his glowing hook. “I have to answer to the witch now. And I can’t stop until everyone is gone from here.” He thought a moment. “That even includes you, dear Peter. I’m sorry. She says you have to go from this place.”

Another burst of energy erupted from Hook, blasting Peter. He was thrown by the red flash and crashed through the back door of the passenger car and into the next car, which was pitch black. Suddenly, he was gone.

Hook climbed through the door and followed Peter, leaving me with the pirates. The fire from the oil had grown more intense, and even though I didn’t want to leave Peter, I knew I had to get out. I looked to the door I came through, and with the violent heat all around me, I ran towards it and jumped out, instantly feeling the air change from hot to cool as I tumbled to the ground. I had barely gotten to my feet when I heard someone shout.

“There she is! Get her!”

I turned and saw the pirates outside the train sprinting toward me. I tried to run but stumbled, dazed from my jump.

“No, leave her to me!” one of the pirates yelled. “She’s all mine!”

A pirate dressed in black broke to the front of the pack, his arms pumping. He wore a black bandana on his head, a patch over his left eye, and black gloves on his hands. When he was only a few feet away from me, I snapped out of it and ran towards the forest, hoping I could escape into the dark trees, but I was so weak and discombobulated from all the insanity that I couldn’t get my legs to function. Soon, I tripped, crashing to the ground, and when I rolled over, I saw the pirate had caught up with me. He grabbed both of my arms and yanked me up.

“I’ve got you now, you little brat!” he said. “The Captain doesn’t care much for children like you who interrupt our robberies!”

I tried to fight him off, but he held me tighter, pulling me close. He brought his face to mine.

“Listen,” he whispered. “Stop fighting me. Stop. I’m a friend of Peter’s.”

His voice was completely different than the one he had been using before. I stopped struggling and looked at his face. I was shocked to see his skin was green.

“We don’t have much time,” he said. “The other pirates aren’t going to buy this much longer.”

I looked to the other pirates. They watched us from afar, near the train. They hooted and hollered.

“Bring her back here, Bart! Show the Captain what you’ve found!”

“Aye, Bill!” the green-skinned pirate shouted. “I’ve got a live one here!” He whispered to me. “Listen, you don’t have time to do anything but trust me. Just know that I’m a friend of Peter’s—I’m here to help you. So, you need to punch me, as hard as you can, in the stomach. I’m gonna fall and let you get away. Then, you’re gonna run to the middle of the bridge, and jump.”

“Jump?” I still didn’t know if I should trust him, but he clearly was in disguise—he used two totally different voices, and his eye-patch was pretty fake, now that I could see it up close. He also looked much younger than the other pirates—18, 19 years old. The black hair under his bandana was cut short, not long and mangy.

“Yes, jump,” he said. “Into the water. Remember what I said about not having time to do anything but trust me? Well, this is what I was talking about. Because if you don’t, we’ll both be dead. Got it?”

I nodded, even though I didn’t.

“Now punch me, and make it look real. Don’t hold back and—”

I reared my knee back and swung it forward, as hard as I could. Unfortunately for the pirate, I missed his stomach and hit him a little lower. He shouted out and dropped to the ground, curling into a ball. Like he told me to, I ran, in a full sprint, to the bridge, hearing nothing but my panting breath and the wind rushing past my ears. When I was on the middle of the bridge, I looked back to the train.

The other pirates ran at me, across the bridge.

“Get her!” Smee yelled. “Don’t let her get away! Get her, by any means necessary!”

I watched as one of the train’s windows shattered. Peter flew out, followed by Hook. Peter spun around in the air and swung his sword at Hook, but it was clear he was losing, flying much slower than before, and only narrowly escaping Hook’s magical energy blasts.

I looked to the pirates. They stampeded toward me, full of rage. One of them lifted his pistol and took aim, followed by a red flash and a BOOM! in the night. A bullet whizzed past me, barely missing my ear and PINGING! off a steel girder behind me.

“Fire again!” Smee bellowed. “Hook will have our heads if she gets away! Stop her, now!”

Two of the pirates raised their pistols. But, in about five seconds, I knew they wouldn’t need them anymore—they’d reach me, and there would be nothing I could do. I didn’t even have my sword anymore.

Knowing it was my only chance, I closed my eyes, stepped forward, and leapt off the black, steel bridge.

Chapter Ten

The cold water rushed around me as I plunged into the river. Feeling the impact of my fall pulling me down, I opened my eyes and looked up; I could see nothing but black, swirling water. I had survived, but my jump had caused me to dive down so deep that I couldn’t see the surface. Trying to stop myself from screaming and taking a breath, I swam as hard as I could, the ice-cold temperature numbing my legs. The more I swam, the more the shock from my fall wore off, but that might have been a bad thing—the clearer I could think, the more I realized I might have just jumped to my death.

Finally breaching the surface, my body burst into the cold night air. Gasping, kicking my legs, I tried to calm myself down, looking at the stars above me. But, even the few seconds I thought I had to catch my breath were taken away—the water erupted all around me, in rapid, bursting flashes; I was being fired on from above.

I looked up at the bridge—all of Hook’s pirates, including Smee, were pointing their pistols at me.

“Get her!” Hook shouted, from the edge of the bridge. He was the only one still standing in the forest. “Don’t let her get away! Any friend of Peter’s will meet the same fate as the rest!”

The pirates fired on me at once, their bullets hitting the water all around me. With no other escape, I took a deep breath and swam down, praying none of the bullets would hit their target.

I swam forward underneath the water, hearing the bullets break the surface above me and then slice down, and eventually the current picked up. It was going so fast now that I let it carry me, and thanks to its speed, I knew it wouldn’t be long until I was free from the pirates. Swimming to the top of the water, I broke the surface and looked back.

The bridge was far away now, and I was out of the pirates’ range. Giving up, they ran in a group down the bridge, back toward the train and into the forest. Somehow, someway, I had escaped. Now, I just needed to find a way out of this freezing cold, increasingly rapid river.

Luckily, considering my arms were about to fall off, I saw a small boat up ahead: a wooden canoe with a yellow stripe across it. A girl was sitting in it, manning the oars, and when I got closer, she held out an oar for me.

“Grab it!” she shouted.

I did, and she pulled me in, lifting me by my shoulders. I fell to the bottom of the boat, soaking wet and breathing harder than I ever had in my life. Rolling over, I looked up to see who it was that had rescued me.

It was a girl, younger than me, thirteen or fourteen years old. She had long, black hair, braided into a ponytail, and a vibrantly colored headband, in different shades of yellow, brown, and orange. She was pretty, with dark skin and dark eyes.

“How are you?” she asked. “Are you okay?”

I nodded, though “okay” was as far away from what I was feeling as possible. However, I was alive, and I hadn’t been hit by any of the pirates’ fire, which is what I figured she was asking. I tried to talk to her, but I couldn’t through my gasps for air.

“It’s okay,” she said. “Rest and catch your breath. I know who you are. Here, lay there and take this.”

She handed me a blanket and helped me lay it across my body. I pulled it up under my chin and looked at it. It was homemade and beautiful, with images of buffaloes and running horses sewn into it. The way the blanket looked—along with the girl’s brown tunic, decorated with flowers and sunsets—made me wonder if she was somehow Native American.

“There,” she said. “The most important thing now is keeping you warm until we get to shore.” She smiled. “I thought I was going to be pulling Wes from the water, I didn’t expect to see you.”

I looked over the girl’s shoulder. Peter flew toward us, coming in for a landing. He was holding the green-skinned pirate by his armpits.

“How are you feeling, Em?” Peter asked, his feet hitting the boat.

“That was quite the dive,” the green pirate said. “I’d give it an 8.5. Not bad for a beginner. But what happened—I thought Peter said you could fly?”

The pirate smirked. I didn’t know how to answer him. He obviously couldn’t read my face, if he thought I would think this was the least bit funny.

“Just let her rest,” Peter said. “She’s not used to this kind of thing where she comes from.” He looked to me with an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry, Emily. But remember, you can’t be mad at me—I promised you’d be safe if you stayed near me. You didn’t, so this is all your fault.”

Even in my freezing, close-to-hypothermia shock, I felt my face get red with anger. Earlier in the night, I thought I was starting to like Peter. Now, he had just given me a million reasons to dislike him even more.

“Are you really going to tease her right now?” the girl said. “You really will never stop being an idiot, will you? This is just proof.” She turned to me. “Sorry, just learn to ignore him. I have. It’s the only way you’ll stay sane.”

She held out her hand and smiled.

“I’m Tiger Lily, by the way. I’m a friend of Peter’s. Kind of.”

I shook her hand.

“Don’t worry about answering. We’ll be at my village in just a few seconds. Then we can talk more.”

I closed my eyes, feeling my body warm up underneath the blanket. Peter, Tiger Lily, and the green pirate talked at the front of the boat, but I couldn’t hear them. I was simply trying to calm myself down, going over everything that had happened. What had I done? What was I thinking, agreeing to come here with Peter? Why had I let him convince me to leave my room in the first place? Even worse, I had brought Tim with me, into this insanity. And, to complete the dumbest thing I had ever done, I had left him back at the village of the Lost Boys, just to go on a little adventure with Peter. Now, I didn’t even know where he was, or how far away I was from him. I had left my little brother, alone, in a village full of insane orphans. I was the worst person ever.

Just as I was coming to terms with how incredibly awful I was, the boat jutted forward and stopped. We had hit land.

“Here we are,” Tiger Lily said. “Wes, help Emily up while I tie the canoe.”

“I’ve got her,” Peter said. “After all, it’s my fault she’s in this mess.”

Peter held out his hand. I grabbed it and stood, my legs wobbly.

“There you go,” Peter said. “Just take it slow. And keep this around you.” He lifted the blanket and helped me wrap it around my shoulders. I was shivering so much I could barely keep my grip on it. “As soon as we get to the village, we’ll get you some warm clothes and let you rest.”

“Where are we going?” I asked, speaking for the first time since I had jumped off the bridge.

“Welcome to the Island of the Natives,” a voice said—it was a deep, booming voice that echoed in the night. I looked to the shore, and saw a tall man standing there, along with a dozen or so men and women on either side of him. He was dressed similarly to Tiger Lily, in a brown tunic and pants, and he wore a tremendous feather headdress. He stood over six feet tall.

“Make yourself at home, Emily,” he continued. “We’ve been waiting for you.”

Chapter Eleven

Stepping onto the muddy shore, I followed Peter, Tiger Lily, and the green-skinned pirate (who was apparently named Wes and not at all a pirate) toward the people waiting for us. Like Tiger Lily and the tall man in the headdress, they were dressed in brown-and-yellow tunics, with vibrant splashes of color either in their headbands, belts, or sewn onto their sleeves. Behind them, I could see a large village of teepees and clay buildings, with a fire burning in the middle of it. As cold as I was, the village and the potential for warmth looked like heaven.

“Tiger Lily, take her to our house,” the tall man said. “Get her new clothes, and then let’s meet in the village center. We must progress quickly, and make a decision on our next move tonight.”

“Okay, Father,” Tiger Lily said. “We’ll be there in fifteen minutes.” She took me by my hand. “C’mon, Emily. You can wear some of my clothes. Hopefully they’ll fit.” She smiled. “Though they may not be as fancy as your New York clothes.”

A short while later, I stood behind a curtain in Tiger Lily’s room. There were many tee-pees throughout the village of the Natives—which again made me wonder if they were somehow Native American—but there were also several large, two-floored, tan buildings, made out of clay. Tiger Lily’s home was one of these structures, and even though her father and mother were apparently the Chief and Chieftess of the village, their home was no more grand or extravagant than any of the others. All of the houses, including Tiger Lily’s, were lit by candle-light.

“I think these will be the best fit,” Tiger Lily said, sticking her hand through the curtain and holding a brown tunic. “We’re probably around the same size, though you might be a little taller.”

“Thank you. Believe me, as long as it’s dry and warm, that’s all I care about. It could be a tuxedo and I’d still wear it.”

Tiger Lily chuckled. “I’m not sure what a tuxedo is, but I understand. You can leave your wet clothes here in my room and I’ll be sure they get dry before you leave.”

“Thanks so much,” I said, taking off my wet shirt. I hung it on a string in front of a fireplace. “Though as long as I get out of here alive, I’ll be happy. The clothes I can leave behind.”

“I’m guessing this all must be very frightening to you?”

“Yes. That doesn’t even begin to explain it.” I warmed myself in front of the fire. “I can’t wait for it all to be over, to be honest, so I can go home and forget all about it.”

Tiger Lily was silent.

“You’re going to be going home soon, then?”

“Yes.” I thought it over. What exactly had Peter said about taking me home? “Peter wants me to help him against that Hook person. Though I’m not sure what he expects me to do. He needs to be a little more selective in who he thinks can fight off pirates.”

“Hmm,” Tiger Lily replied. “You’ll be going home right away, then? After this is done?”

“Of course,” I replied. “I’ve already been through enough. I need to get back to my brother and get out of here.”

“We’re so happy you came here, though, truly. Your help would make a big difference. But I understand completely if this is all too much for you.”

I took off my shoes. “Wait—you want me to help, too?”

“Yes. I mean, I know it’s a lot to ask.” Tiger Lily was embarrassed. “It’s just that we don’t know what else to do. I’m sorry, I know it’s an insane thing to even get you to come here, never mind ask you this.”

“No, don’t be sorry.” I felt bad for making her uncomfortable. “What do you need help with?”

“Hook has taken our people, too. He’s already delivered many of my tribe to the witch.”

“The witch? The witch who gave Hook his powers?”

“Yes. He’s bringing them to her in the faraway land, so they can be cursed into being her soldiers.”

“Something tells me this witch and Hook are up to more than what Peter has let on.”

“It’s been terrible. Never Land used to be such a wonderful place. But now…I don’t know if life will ever go back to normal.”

“I’m sorry. I would be happy to help you guys, in any way that I could, but there’s really nothing I can do. I don’t know what you guys think the world is like where I’m from, but it’s nothing like this. I have literally no experience with any of this.”

“I understand.” She sounded so sad. “I really do. If I were you, I’d be getting out of here as fast as I could, too. So I get it.”

There was a knock at the door.

“Tiger Lily?” Peter said. “Can I talk to Emily alone a minute?”

“Sure. If either of you need me, I’ll be right outside.”

Peter waited for her to leave before he spoke.

“I’m sorry for all this. I know you must be worried about Tim.”

“Yes, I am! How am I supposed to know if he’s safe, in that place with all those lunatic friends of yours?”

“He is safe, I promise. No one is going to be able to get to him there. Nobody’s looking for him, anyway. Nobody knows that he’s here.”

“No, but Captain Hook sure knows that I’m here, doesn’t he? I could tell by all the bullets whizzing by my head.”

“I’m sorry. I never thought—I didn’t expect for any of that to happen.”

“You didn’t? We snuck onto a train, literally in the middle of it being robbed. What did you think was gonna happen?”

“We were never supposed to have been seen. I assumed by now we’d be back at the Island of the Lost Boys, no worse for the wear.”

“And we were just gonna leave those poor people to get hurt?”

“That’s why Wes was there. Undercover. The second anything got too out of hand, he was gonna handle it. Or at least cause enough of a commotion to stop it.”

I tied the brown pants Tiger Lily had given me around my waist. “And you were just gonna stand there? Why weren’t you gonna do anything?”

Peter sighed. “I told you, I can’t beat Hook. Not anymore. The only reason we were there is so I could show you what we’re up against.”

“Well, you accomplished that, I can assure you.” I turned to the curtain. I could see Peter’s silhouette on the other side. He was looking at the floor.

“I just want you to know I didn’t want this to happen. I didn’t want you to go through all of that. I had planned on all of this going much differently.”

“I get it,” I said. “Thanks.” I didn’t really forgive him; I was just sick of him apologizing at this point. “When can we go back to the Island of the Lost Boys so I can get Tim and you can take us home?”

“Right after this,” Peter replied. “We just need to speak to the Chief and Chieftess first, and square things away with Wes for what he should do next.”

“Okay.” I stepped out from behind the curtain, tying my still-wet hair back into a ponytail. “Let’s get that over with then.”

Peter stared at me, smiling.

“What?” I looked down at my new outfit, which basically looked like a copy of Tiger Lily’s. “Are you going to make fun of my clothes now, too?”

Peter chuckled. “No, not at all. It’s just that you look…different. In our clothes. Clothes from Never Land, I mean. Rather than your clothes from New York.”

“Well, borrowing clothes from essentially a complete stranger will do that.”

“And with your hair pulled back like that.” Peter laughed through his nose. “You look different, that’s all.”

I walked past Peter and out the door. “Okay, Mr. Compliments. I’m not sure where you’re going with this, but I can assure you it’s not gonna help your case. I’m gonna go listen to the Chief and Chieftess, and then we’re getting out of here. Okay?”

“Sure, anything you say. You’re the one in charge, after all. Are you always this bossy?”

I thought it over. “I’m not sure. But right now, I feel like I have to be, considering I’ve been surrounded by almost exclusively complete lunatics for the past two hours.”

With Peter walking behind me, I stepped out of Tiger Lily’s house and into the village. Not far from us, there was a huge fire, and many of the members of Tiger Lily’s tribe were gathered there. Addressing them was Tiger Lily’s father and a stunning woman with black hair, who I assumed was Tiger Lily’s mother. Also near them, off to the side, were Tiger Lily and Wes.

I slowed down, letting Peter take the lead, and we walked to the front of the group.

“Ah, thank you, Peter,” the Chief said. “Thank you, Emily. Let us begin, though I know it’s not a topic any of us want to talk about.”

The Chieftess addressed the crowd.

“It has become apparent that we can no longer keep Hook at bay, as we have for so many years. Since his allegiance with the witch, he has become completely out of control. We cannot allow one more day to pass where he and his crew are able to commit their crimes across Never Land. To be blunt, we have already waited too long, hoping this problem would go away. It hasn’t, and it will not.”

“Has there been any word from your sister?” a man in the crowd asked.

The Chieftess shook her head. “No. There hasn’t been any word from any of our people that have been captured by Hook. And no word from Wendy, John, or Michael from the Island of the Lost Boys, either.”

I turned to Peter. He looked ahead, angry.

“How many of your tribe have been taken?” I whispered to Tiger Lily.

“Too many to count. When Hook returned, with his new powers and madder than ever, my people took it upon themselves to stop his attacks on the islands of Never Land. But it has cost us dearly.”

“Which is why it is now clear,” the Chieftess said, “that we must make our final stand. We do not even know if our people are still on Never Land, and that is unacceptable. We must find them, and bring them back to us. However, it is just as clear that Hook cannot be defeated. Not by anyone here. Not even by Peter. Hook’s newfound magic has made him seemingly immortal.”

Peter looked down and took a deep breath.

“I was hoping I’d be able to help with that,” Wes said, “since the magic he’s using is from my land. But the spells used to enchant him are unlike any I have ever seen. All of my attempts to find a spell that would undo his magic have failed. Not a single wizard or witch from my land has any answers or counter-spells that can combat his enchantments.”

“Which is why defeating Hook is now out of the question,” the Chieftess said. “We can no longer wait, hoping that the next time we face him, one of us will be able to humiliate him, and beat him into hiding. The old methods of defeating Hook no longer work. Not with this new, mechanical, twisted version of himself. He can longer be demoralized, or attacked until he temporarily admits defeat. He has changed, and we must change how we approach him.”

“Our only hope now is to drive him out of Never Land,” the Chief said. “Physically remove him, bring him to another place, and ensure he never comes back. Attempting to fight him off or get him to retreat to his island will not accomplish anything except more people being captured by him and his men.”

“Exile is the only solution,” the Chieftess said. “Of course, that is easier said than done. Exiling a mad man who possesses unknown and uncontrollable powers is not exactly a solution any of us know how to accomplish.”

“That is our number one priority now,” the Chief said, “finding a way to remove Hook from Never Land. Methods have been suggested that include poisoning him somehow, and then quickly transporting him to another one of the worlds—a world he can’t return from. But all that would accomplish is spreading his insanity to another place where he could attack others. The only world that would be acceptable is one that is barren, and uninhabited. That is the only place it would be acceptable for us to bring Hook—an uninhabited world.”

“We must find a way to exile Hook from Never Land,” the Chieftess said. “And quickly.”

The Chief and Chieftess waited for someone to speak, but everybody was silent. At first, I thought they were silent because they were trying to think of a solution, but then I realized they were simply exhausted. Like they had given up. They had all resigned themselves to the fact that there was no ridding themselves of Hook.

I started thinking, racking my brain for any idea I could offer. Honestly, I was doing this for completely selfish reasons. The faster this get-together was over, the faster I could get back to Tim. These weird people—for some weird reason—wanted my help to get rid of Hook, so I would give it to them. If for no other reason than maybe they’d leave me alone and let me leave this place.

I thought back, to my encounter with Hook. His appearance was so disturbing, with half of his face and more than half of his body made from that twisted metal. I especially couldn’t stop thinking about the scar down the center of his face, where the skin was still raw and blistered. Then I thought about what Peter had told me—how Hook and his men used to sail the seas and explore Never Land, all while robbing other ships. But now they couldn’t, because of the way the salt water and ocean air affected Hook’s mechanisms. It had been one of the most striking things I had noticed about Hook—he had actually appeared disappointed, almost embarrassed, that he was robbing that train full of tiny people who couldn’t fight back.

“What if you somehow got him out to sea?” I offered, feeling strange to be suggesting an idea. “Peter, you told me he couldn’t sail the ocean any longer, correct? Because of his mechanical parts?”

Peter stood up straight, considering my idea.

“That’s right. He hasn’t sailed or even been near the ocean since his rescue from the croc. Since Smee and the witch gave him his new body.”

“Because he can’t, or he would basically die?”

“Pretty much,” Wes said. “Or at least stiffen up and freeze like a statue, because of his mechanical half shutting down.”

“He didn’t seem all that thrilled with playing the part of a train robber,” I said. “I don’t know Hook all that well, obviously, but he looked like someone living a lie. He’s a pirate, right? That’s what he used to be?”

“That’s all he ever cared about,” the Chieftess said. “For years, he was a pirate, adventuring across the high seas. That was his entire identity. When he could no longer sail and go near the ocean, that’s exactly when he finally lost control.”

“Well, give that back to him, then,” I said. They were eating this plan up. Now was the time to really push it, so we could get back to the Island of the Lost Boys. “Give him back his identity. Get him out to sea. It’ll most likely kill him, or at least permanently disable him, and he’ll no longer be a threat. He’ll be so tempted by his old life, he won’t be able to resist.”

A silence.

“What do you think, Peter?” the Chief said.

Peter looked into the distance, smiling. “I think it’s the best bloody plan anyone has come up with in months. And it just might bloody work.”

“Is he that obsessed with pirating?” Wes asked. “That obsessed with sailing? That he would willingly head back to the sea, knowing it will kill him?”

“It’s possible,” Peter said. “Maybe not likely, but possible. Even before he completely lost his mind, Hook was irrational. Quick to act, without thinking. If we make it tempting enough, and make him remember how much he misses his old life, he might take the opportunity.” He laughed. “Dammit, Emily, you might have just figured this out. The way to get rid of Hook is to play right into his insanity—give him exactly what he wants. His greed, and his selfishness, will be what does him in.”

“He’ll insist on getting what he wants,” Wes said. “Even if it means catastrophic harm to himself.”

“Exactly.” Peter clapped his hands together. “See? I knew bringing Emily here was what we needed. She’s the one to rescue us, like I always knew she would be.” He looked to me and put his hand on my shoulder. “I told you coming here was a good idea.”

I didn’t have the heart to tell Peter I still considered it the stupidest thing I had ever done.

“Let’s not start celebrating,” the Chief said. “The general idea is good, but the chances of it succeeding are still slim. Never mind thinking he’ll be selfish enough to head back to sea—to get to that point, we would still have to face him, arrange this somehow, and possibly enter his territory. That alone would be putting all of our people in danger.”

“We’ll worry about that when the time comes,” the Chieftess said. “Because Peter’s right: this is the best plan we’ve had yet. And we are running out of time. We will likely have to face Hook again, yes, but that is still far off. Before we concern ourselves with that, we need to first figure out exactly how we would get him back to sea, if we had the opportunity. How could we bait him out there?”

I heard Tiger Lily laugh.

“It’s so obvious,” she said. “I’ve been thinking about it since Emily brought up the idea. What’s the one thing—literally the one thing in the world—that Hook likes more than himself?”

The group thought it over.

“His ship,” Peter replied.

“That’s right,” Tiger Lily said. “The Jolly Roger. For all of Hook’s existence—as long as I’ve known, anyway—he has only cared about two things: himself, and that ship. He took care of that ship like it was a living being. Peter, when you and Wendy carved your names into its hull, he nearly killed everyone on the ship, just because they were there when it happened. He won’t risk his life and head to sea for just any ship. Even he’s not that insane. It would have to be the Jolly Roger—the only thing he loves more than himself.”

“He hasn’t seen it since he returned,” the Chief said. “At the very least, just the sight of it might distract him enough so that one of us could try another tactic to take him out.”

“All right,” I said. “Great. Glad I could help. So where is this ship? Seems like Hook doesn’t have it anymore. Where is it?”

“It’s not far from here,” Peter said. “After my battle with Hook—the one where I thought he was finally gone for good—I gave it to the fairies, to thank them for helping us. They have control of it now. It’s at the Island of the Fairies.”

“Some of them actually live in it now,” Tiger Lily explained.

“Great,” I said. “So let’s go ask them if we can borrow it. Would it be that easy?”

“We’d have to travel to the Island of the Fairies,” the Chief said.

“Okay,” I replied.

“Would you be okay with that?”

“Sure,” I shrugged. I looked to Peter, since I knew nothing about fairies, but he wasn’t looking at me. “I’d be happy to go with you. Really, at this point, I just need to get back to my brother. Can we go to the Island of the Lost Boys after we talk to the fairies?”

“Of course,” the Chieftess said. “After we—hopefully—convince them to give us the ship, we’ll make sure you’re safely returned to your brother. Thank you for your help and willingness to do this, Emily. I’m very impressed with your bravery.”

“Especially the fact that you’re willing to go to the Island of the Fairies,” Tiger Lily added.

“Sure,” I said. “What, are they dangerous or something?”

“Well,” the Chief said with a laugh. “Maybe, since Peter will be with you.”

I looked to Peter. He shrugged.

“We don’t exactly have the best relationship,” he said. “The fairies don’t care for me much.”

“Why am I surprised,” I said. “I get the feeling you must get that a lot.”

Peter chuckled.

“All right, then, it’s settled,” the Chieftess said. “We’ll head to the Island of the Fairies to ask them to give us the Jolly Roger. I believe it’ll be best if only a few of us go. We don’t want to make them nervous or suspicious by having too many people head there unannounced.”

“Just the four of us should go,” Tiger Lily said. “Peter, Wes, Emily, and myself. They’re most familiar with us, anyway. They’ll be more likely to hear us out. And then we can bring Emily back to the Lost Boys right after.”

“Good thinking,” the Chief said. “We don’t want to waste much time. Should you head there at sunrise?”

“I say we go now,” Wes said. “No sense in waiting. The more time we lose, the more time Hook will have to attempt another attack, or something even worse.”

“I agree,” I replied. “Let’s go now. I’m too nervous to sleep, anyway.”

The Chief laughed. “All right. Gather your things and travel there on Wes’ flying machine. Peter, will you be able to captain the Jolly Roger back to your island?”

“Sure,” Peter said. “It won’t be the first time. I brought the ship there, I can bring it back.”

“Let’s get going,” Tiger Lily said. “I’m ready. But one more thing. Peter?”

“Yeah?”

“Let me do all the talking, okay?”

“You got it. I might even just stay in the flying machine.”

“Good idea,” Wes said. “We’ll probably be safer that way. I was there the last time the fairies saw you. It wasn’t pretty. I didn’t know things that small could be so vicious.”

“They’re usually very playful and gentle,” Tiger Lily said. “It’s only Peter that makes them angry.”

I looked to Peter. “You ever think maybe you need to approach people a little differently?”

Peter smirked. “Hey, I am who I am. I can’t change that.”

“No, but it’d be so nice if you could,” Tiger Lily sighed.

Chapter Twelve

Twenty minutes after the Chief and Chieftess’ meeting broke up, and after Peter and Tiger Lily gathered supplies, we took off in Wes’ flying machine. At any other time in my life, I would have been shocked by such a vehicle, but at this point, it wasn’t any more bizarre than anything else I had seen in Never Land. It reminded me of a blimp, but with several propellers lining both sides of the balloon, to propel it forward at great speed. Attached to the bottom of the balloon was essentially a ship like the other pirate ships of Never Land—except this was a ship that flew through the air.

As I stood at the railing and watched the Island of the Natives become smaller on the horizon, it struck me that I could have simply stayed there with the Natives, and waited for the others to return. But, really, I would have just gone crazy with worry, anyway, sitting there and counting down the minutes until I could get back to Tim. Plus, we were heading for a place called “The Island of the Fairies.” There was no way that could be dangerous. I hoped, anyway.

As a biting, howling wind whipped across the deck, I sat down and reached for a blanket, wrapping it around my shoulders. It was cold, and the night sky grew more raw and frigid the higher we went. At the front of the blimp, Tiger Lily stood with Peter, looking over a map and pointing to the north. Peter was arguing with her, insisting he knew the quickest way to the island. I shook my head. Whatever. As long as we got there and got back with Hook’s ship, that was all I cared about.

“Hey, Emily,” Wes said. “Mind if I sit with you?”

“Yeah, sure, go ahead.”

Wes sat down and let out a sigh.

“So, this is exhausting, huh?” he asked.

“Yeah. You can say that again. I’m trying not to think about it too much. I just need to get back to my brother and go home.”

“I hear you.” He thought a moment. “You know, it might not seem like it, but I’m a lot more like you than I am like them.”

He motioned to Peter and Tiger Lily.

“Why? Because you’re from another world?”

“Yeah. I find this place just as alien—and frustrating—as you.”

I thought back to what Wes had said at the Island of the Natives. “You’re from the same world as the witch who gave Hook his powers?”

“Yeah. Unfortunately, I haven’t been there in a long time, but that’s where I’m from. Then again, the shape my home is in now, maybe it’s best that I’m here and not there.”

“Why are you here? Why are you helping Peter?”

“The witch that’s aligned with Hook, she’s ruling over my land. And effectively destroying it, just as she’s always wanted. But now, she’s also spreading her rule to other worlds, and giving people in other lands magical powers, like Hook. I’ve been tracking these people down, traveling to the different worlds, to try and figure out why she’s doing this. As far as I can tell, it’s simply so she can effectively rule all of the worlds, using people like Hook to do her dirty work.”

“But that doesn’t explain why you’re helping them. Helping defend a place you don’t even know.”

Wes shrugged. “What else am I gonna do, leave them to face Hook alone? They aren’t prepared for that. Nobody on this place has ever seen magic before. They have no way of knowing how to face him.”

“You do?”

Wes laughed. “No, I don’t, actually. But, I figure I should probably help them find out.” He looked to the front of the blimp. “They’re good people, Tiger Lily and the Natives. Most of the Lost Boys, too. Peter, not so much.” He smirked. “But, the others are worth saving, at least.”

I laughed.

“I’m joking,” Wes said. “Mostly.”

As he looked off across the ocean, I studied him a moment. I figured he was only a few years older than Peter and me, but it made all the difference; he obviously had seen more, explored more, and knew a lot more about the world. He was still wearing the black pirate jacket he had been wearing at the train, and I wondered if that was his normal clothes, or part of his disguise.

“So the land you’ve been living in, New York,” he said. “What’s it like? It’s a large city, I understand?”

I looked at him, confused.

“What?” he asked.

“Is this you talking to me and trying to distract me from remembering how I’m in an insane place where my life is constantly at risk?”

He laughed. “Maybe. A little. But, I also want to know more about you. I’m wondering why you are here, just like you were wondering the same about me. You made a pretty interesting decision.”

“I only came here because I had to. Some creatures attacked my apartment, and I had no choice but to follow Peter to get away. But, thank you for trying to distract me. Basically nothing you say will work, but thank you.”

He laughed. “It really is remarkable, you know.”

“What?”

“That you’re so willing to dive in and help. When you know nothing about this world. It’s even more remarkable considering all you’ve been through.”

“Well, I don’t know it’s all that remarkable. I’m just trying to survive. That’s all I can do at this point.”

“That’s true. But, you could have just freaked out and lost your mind and demanded to go home. That’s what most people would have done, if they saw the things you saw, and were told the things you were told.”

“I came pretty close, believe me. And I still haven’t given up the idea of doing just that.”

“But you haven’t yet, and that’s what counts.” He patted my back and then stood up. “I’m glad you’re here, Emily. I’m glad you’re part of the team. And I know the others are, too.”

He headed toward the front of the blimp. It was strangest of all talking to him and Tiger Lily, because they seemed so normal. Much more normal than Peter.

“Hey, Wes.”

He turned around.

“When are you going home?”

He shrugged. “When the job is done, I guess. Honestly, I don’t have much of a home to go to, so I’m more useful to these people, anyway. How about you? When are you going home?”

“As soon as I can. I can’t—I’ll never forgive myself if something happens to my brother while we’re here.”

He nodded. “Do you think you’ll ever come back here, when this is done?”

I looked at him like he was crazy. “No. Why would I ever do that? This place is nuts. I’m going home and never looking back.”

He nodded. “Well, I’m glad you’re here for a little bit, then, at least. And I’m glad I finally got to meet you, after hearing so much about you.”

I watched as Wes walked to Peter and stood with him and Tiger Lily, looking over the map. He had heard so much about me? What had Peter been telling these people? And how long had Peter been watching me?

The more and more I thought about it, the more I realized that Peter was a creep.

Chapter Thirteen

Soon, Wes brought his blimp down—with the propellers slowing and the balloon releasing air—and we landed in the waves of the ocean. From there, we hopped in a boat and rowed to an island. This one was smaller than the others; as I looked left and right, I could see where the coast of the landmass curved. It also had a different geography: other than a thin band of sand, the dominant area of the island was covered in thick palm trees, so thick that I couldn’t see into the forest. Then, in the center of the landmass, a tall plateau rose into the air. I could see the top of it, and while there were sparse palm trees up there, the forest was much less dense, and it seemed to be covered in mostly tall, waving grass.

“Here we are,” Tiger Lily said. “Hopefully they aren’t too surprised to see us.”

I followed Peter and the others off the shore and into the thick, tropical trees. Oddly enough, there weren’t any walking paths, and it appeared the ground was completely untouched. This made walking difficult, as I was constantly having to step over giant rocks or make my way through big thickets of briars.

“They don’t make it very easy for people to get there, do they?” I said.

“Well, they’re fairies,” Peter replied. “They fly wherever they go, so they don’t have a need for paths or roads or anything.”

“Oh, right.”

After traveling through the tropical forest, we came to an incline, which led to the top of the plateau. Happily, I discovered the incline was less covered with briars, so that made walking a little easier, but it was quite the hike since we were going uphill. It wasn’t long until I was out of breath.

“So first you bring me to a train that’s being robbed,” I said. “Then you make me jump in a freezing cold river. And now I’m climbing a small mountain in the middle of the night. Any other terrible activity you want to expose me to before you take me home?”

Peter laughed. “Aw, c’mon, it’s not that bad. We’re almost there.”

Finally, we reached the top of the plateau. The grassy land flattened off, and I realized we were at the highest point of the island—all around, I could see the ocean spreading out for miles. Since it was so dark, I made a note to stay clear of the edge, knowing it would be easy to accidentally walk right off it.

As I scanned the quiet area, there wasn’t much there except the tall grass, but then I noticed something directly in the center of the plateau: a thick grouping of palm trees in a circle, as if they were planted that way on purpose. In the middle of the ring of trees, I could see faint lights, flickering and bouncing around.

“Is that where the fairies live?”

“Yes,” Wes replied. He, Peter, and Tiger Lily were standing still, looking into the ring. “I’m surprised they haven’t seen us yet.”

Then, perhaps hearing Wes’ voice, all of the lights inside the trees stopped fluttering and dashing. They froze, floating there in place, dozens of them, looking out at us. They were all shades of yellow, pink, blue, orange, purple, and green.

“What do we do?” Peter whispered. “Should we run?”

“Run?” I asked. “Why are you guys acting like you’re afraid of these things?”

“Because Peter’s with us,” Tiger Lily replied. “You never know how they’re going to react to Peter.”

“But I thought you were friends with them?”

“I was,” Peter replied. “Now…not so much.”

“They’re fairies. What could they possibly do that—”

Suddenly, every last one of the lights dashed out of the trees, flying toward us. They were traveling so fast, I could barely see them.

“Oh, bollocks!” Peter shouted. “Brace yourself, they might be—”

Wes and Tiger Lily ducked for cover, so I did, too, covering my face with my hands.

“Aaaaaaaaahhhh!” I screamed, not knowing what it would feel like to be attacked by a horde of pissed-off fairies. Would it be like getting stung by dozens of giant, furious bees? Either way, I was about to find out.

But then, bizarrely, as I hid behind my arms, I realized it was silent. I opened my eyes, and looking downward, I saw that the ground underneath me was glowing with all the colorful shades of bright, twinkling light. Only the area around me was illuminated. Peter, Tiger Lily, and Wes were still standing in darkness.

I moved my arm away from my face and raised my head. All of the glowing balls of light were fluttering around me—every last one of them. The dozens of them were dancing around playfully, as if they were inspecting me. Every few seconds, one of them would fly close, and then dart away. Several of them fluttered around my arms and waist.

“Um, what’s happening?” I asked.

Wes grinned. “I think they like you.”

“Which is good for us,” Tiger Lily said. “I was worried there for a second.”

I looked closely at the dancing balls of light. One of them flew up to my face, and I was shocked to see it was a young girl—a teenager. She was no bigger than six inches tall, and wearing a bright blue dress. Her dark hair was cut into a pixie cut, and she had beautiful, rainbow-colored wings on her back. Her face was pretty, and she was looking into my eyes, and smiling.

Feeling a little more comfortable, I raised my arms and held them out. All of the colorful fairies gathered around, fluttering up and down my arms and dashing through my fingers. They were flying quickly now, as if they were excited. I couldn’t make out their faces, but every once in a while, one of them would fly up to me, and I could see that it was smiling. I could also hear a twinkling sound, similar to when I poured the fairy dust on myself in my room.

I looked at the others. Wes and Tiger Lily were quite amused, but Peter wasn’t smiling. He was hunched over with his arms across his stomach, like he was nervous, an uneasy look on his face.

“Why are they only around me?” I asked. “Why are they ignoring you guys?”

“They must recognize you,” Wes said.

“Why would they recognize me?”

The smile disappeared from Wes’ face. He looked at Tiger Lily, then turned to Peter.

“You didn’t tell her?” Wes said angrily.

“I didn’t…” Peter stammered. “I didn’t know what to say.”

“Unbelievable,” Tiger Lily said, throwing her arms up and walking away.

“All this time!” Wes shouted. “All this time, and she hasn’t even known? No wonder why she’s been so confused!”

“I was going to tell her,” Peter said. “I was just waiting for the right moment. It wasn’t right yet.”

“So now it has to happen here?” Wes said. “Here, of all places? You couldn’t have told her back at the village of the Lost Boys, before all this started?”

“I was going to, but then I thought she had been through too much. I thought I should wait. And then Hook—”

“No, you were just too chicken,” Tiger Lily said. “As usual.”

“I was trying to protect her,” Peter said.

Wes shook his head. “I can’t believe this. This is making a lot more sense now, why she wants to go home so bad.” He looked at me. “I’m sorry, Emily. I really am. We thought you knew.”

All of the fairies fluttered around me, but they were silent now, looking at Peter. Most of them had landed on my outstretched arms.

“Um,” I said, “can someone please tell me what is going on?”

I looked to Wes, but he stared at Peter, waiting for him to talk.

“You,” Peter finally said, looking at the ground. “You’re from Never Land.”

“What?”

Peter looked up. He was so sad.

“You used to live here,” he said. “With us.”

I looked to Wes and Tiger Lily. Tiger Lily had tears in her eyes. She smiled, swallowing a lump in her throat.

I glanced at my arms. The fairies looked up, their eyes pinned on me.

“What are you…” My mind was racing. “What are you saying?”

“You’re from this world,” Peter said. “You used to be a fairy.”

He stepped toward me.

“Your name was Tinker Bell.”

Chapter Fourteen

I looked away from Peter. My eyes darted over the grass, my mind trying to catch up with itself.

“What? What are you talking about?”

“Your name was Tinker Bell,” Peter said. “You used to live here, with us, in Never Land. You actually lived here sometimes, and sometimes in the village of the Lost Boys, and—”

“No,” I said. I walked away. I had finally heard too much. Peter had finally gone too far. I could deal with him bringing me here, I could deal with him putting me in danger. I could deal with his crazy stories about pirates. But now? Now he was lying to me. “No.” I waved my arms as I walked. The fairies fluttered off, frightened. “I’m not going to listen to this.”

“It’s the truth,” Peter said. “I was supposed to…I should have told you earlier.”

“Stop it,” I said. “Just stop it.” I walked toward the edge of the plateau. I didn’t know where I was going; I just knew I didn’t want to be anywhere near Peter or the others.

As I walked by Wes, he touched my arm. “Emily, I’m sorry. I didn’t know. That wasn’t how—”

I held up my hand. I kept walking. I walked into a small grouping of trees and left the others behind.

“You better go talk to her,” Wes said.

“No,” Tiger Lily replied. “Leave her be for a moment.”

Away from the fairy village, away from the others, I reached the plateau’s edge—essentially a cliff. It was quiet there, looking over the ocean. The moonlight shone off the water, and the only sound I could hear was the waves lapping against the shore below me.

I sat down in the grass. My entire body was shaking. I took a deep breath. Where was I? What was this place? How was any of this possible? It was like Peter’s lies had fully shook me back to reality. What had I done? Were my parents looking for us? Were they worried? Did they know we were gone? How were Tim and I going to get home? How long were we stuck here?

Why was Peter lying to me? Why were all of them lying to me? It was all so stupid. It was all so…

I broke down and cried. I sat on the cliff, with my face in my hands. I hadn’t cried like that in a long time, not since my grandmother died. But now, it was all too much. I could handle it before, and it was actually weirdly fun, in a scary kind of way, because I thought I was with people who would protect me. But now, they were lying to me. I realized how much danger I had put Tim and myself in, just by coming here.

Catching my breath—or at least attempting to—I knew I needed to get it together. The only way Tim and I were going to get home was by me taking control and getting back to the village of the Lost Boys. As much as my head was spinning, I needed to get back to Tim, by myself if I had to, so we could get out of this place.

Who could help me? Who could help me get back to the Lost Boys? Tell me the way? The fairies. After all, I was the only one they had gathered around. If I went back to their village, and told them I needed help, I bet they would…

But wait. Why had they only gathered around me? Why had they flew so fast out of their village? They seemed so…happy.

I heard a noise behind me. Three of the fairies—a blue one, a red one, and a green one—fluttered in place near a couple of trees. They were close enough so I could see their faces. They were watching me, but when they noticed I had seen them, they looked away. The red one flew back toward the fairy village.

“No, wait,” I said. I remembered how I had batted them away. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t angry at you.”

The blue fairy flew toward me. The others still kept their distance.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean to frighten you. I shouldn’t have done that.”

The three fairies looked at each other, then flew over to me in a group. When they got closer, I heard the twinkling again. It was quite a pretty sound.

The green fairy and red fairy landed softly—and nervously—on my right shoulder. The blue fairy flew around and hovered in front of my face. I realized it was the one I had seen up close earlier. Holding out my hand, I offered it as a place for her to land. But when I moved, she flew backwards, and the two on my shoulder jumped, startled.

“No,” I laughed. “I’m not going to hurt you. I was just a little scared. But I’m not anymore. I was just mad at Peter.”

The green and red fairies settled on my shoulder again and the blue one flew closer.

“I know you were just trying to greet me,” I said. “I wasn’t a very grateful guest.”

The blue fairy chuckled. She shrugged as if to say, “It’s okay.”

The two fairies on my shoulder whispered to each other. I couldn’t understand them; it almost sounded like musical notes.

The blue fairy hovered in front of me.

“Do you know me?” I asked.

She nodded, smiling.

“How?” I still didn’t believe Peter’s story, but maybe these fairies could shed some light on the situation.

The blue fairy rubbed her chin, thinking. Then she reached to her belt, pulling out a small scroll tucked there. She quickly drew on it with a little pencil. When she was done, she showed it to me; she had drawn a circular clock. She pointed at me, then at the clock, waving her arm back and forth in big motions.

“You knew me a long time ago?” I asked.

The blue fairy nodded excitedly. The other fairies on my shoulder laughed. This was just too weird.

“How long ago?” I asked.

The blue fairy thought, then drew on the scroll again. It took her a moment, and she looked at the paper for a few seconds, making sure it was what she wanted to show me. Then, she turned it toward me.

It was a pencil drawing of a tiny, blonde-haired fairy with a long ponytail, sitting on the bow of a pirate ship. She wore a sundress with flowers on it.

She looked just like me.

I heard another noise, and turned to see Peter emerging from the same trees the fairies had.

“Were they able to tell you anything?” he asked. “They insisted on coming to see you.”

I didn’t look at him. “Sit down. Start talking. I can’t promise I’m going to believe you, but start talking.”

Peter sat. He never looked at me; he simply stared at the dirt and nervously played with a twig in his hands. It took him a long time before he spoke.

“You used to live here,” he said. “You were a fairy, and you lived on this island with the rest of the fairies. Your name was Tinker Bell. You were their leader, really—everyone knew that Tinker Bell was the bravest and strongest of all the fairies, and the one to go see if you needed anything. All of the fairies looked up to you. Many people in Never Land looked up to you.

“And you and I…we were best friends. We were best friends for as long as I can remember. From the very first day I came to Never Land, you found me and we became best friends.”

I looked to Peter, shocked.

“We were constant companions. Everywhere you went, I went, and everywhere I went, there you were. Everyone knew we were a team. Together—you and I—we fought off Hook so many times, I can’t even count. I can’t even remember how many times you and I saved Never Land.” He chuckled. “I think towards the end, Hook was even more scared of you than he was of me. He knew you were the one not to mess with.”

I thought back to the train, when I had first encountered Hook. He hadn’t recognized me, so that didn’t make sense. Yet, I kept listening. I didn’t want Peter to stop talking.

“But then, you had a way of…” Peter thought a moment. “You had a way of getting jealous. Of other people I hung around with. Like girls.”

I laughed through my nose. This was taking yet another ridiculous turn.

“I’m not saying you were—well, I guess you were. I don’t know. I had no idea. I was bloody eleven most of the time I knew you. And you were a fairy. But at first, it was Tiger Lily. You tolerated her, but you could get feisty sometimes. Then the real trouble started when Wendy came to Never Land.”

Wendy. The girl I was there to supposedly help Peter save. I thought back to Peter’s treehouse. There was definitely a room there for a girl, so I figured this Wendy was a real person, at least.

“You hated her right from the beginning. Really hated her. I had never seen you like that. When she was living with us in the village of the Lost Boys, you were almost uncontrollable, because you were so angry. Your jealousy got us in a lot of trouble, to be honest.

“And then, when I left to go live with Wendy in the World of the Grown-Ups, I never told you. I didn’t tell anyone, but I especially didn’t want to tell you. I didn’t want you to find out I was leaving. I know that’s a terrible thing, because we were best friends. It’s an awful thing. The most awful thing I ever did. No one should ever do something like that and not tell their best friend. But I was eleven. I didn’t know any better. And I was awfully afraid of you.”

“I wish you still were afraid of me,” I said. “Then maybe you wouldn’t have gotten me wrapped up in this mess.”

Peter laughed. He finally looked at me. “Oh, believe me, I’m still afraid of you. I’m more afraid of you now than ever. You’re my size. You used to slap me around back when we got in arguments when you were a fairy, I don’t even want to know how bad you’d beat me up now.”

I shook my head. Peter noticed the look on my face.

“Are you believing anything I’m telling you?”

“I don’t know. I honestly have no idea. Just when I thought this couldn’t get any more bizarre. And just when I thought you were done telling me crazy stories.”

“I know, but it’s all true. I don’t know how I can prove it to you. You’re not believing me at all?”

“Well, I want you to keep talking, if that means anything. Let’s say any of this is real—is that why you brought me here?”

“Yes. I knew we needed you back here. To face Hook.”

There was one thing Peter hadn’t explained; the one thing that made the least sense out of any of this.

“But if this is true, how did I end up living in New York?”

Peter looked to the dirt again.

“Well, you know how I left Never Land for a few years? To go live with Wendy and her family?”

“Yes.”

“When I came back, no one wanted to talk to me. No one wanted to look at me. Everyone hated me. I had left without telling anyone, and when I came back, I was a teenager. And I had brought other teenagers back with me. I didn’t blame everyone for being mad, but I honestly didn’t think they would be that mad.

“It took a long time, but eventually the Lost Boys at least let me live with them again. You, though? You refused to ever speak to me. You told anyone that would listen—you had a fairy bring this message to the Lost Boys—that if you ever saw me again, it would be a war. The fairies would go to war with the Lost Boys. You barred me from ever stepping foot on the Island of the Fairies, and as many times as I tried to send you messages or ask you to meet me, you wouldn’t hear it. For years and years, I never saw you, or heard from you. You made it very clear you didn’t want to be friends again, to say the least.”

A moment passed.

“Years went on. Eventually, there was almost no contact between the Lost Boys and the fairies. You and the others secluded yourselves from almost everyone, living in Hook’s old ship. It was like because I had betrayed you, you would never trust anyone again, except for other fairies.

“But, every once in a while, Mike—the leader of the Lost Boys—was allowed to make a trip to the Island of the Fairies to trade for fairy dust, when we needed it. Because you guys needed stuff we had, too. That was the only time any Lost Boy ever saw a fairy. And, on one of those trips, 17 years ago, when Mike went to trade with the fairies, they were in a panic.

“They let Mike onto the island, and they explained what had happened. A witch had visited them, from another land—the same witch that later gave Hook his powers. This witch went to the island, and asked specifically for you.

“She told you she could make you human. So that you could finally be the same as me. The same size as me, and human like me. So that we wouldn’t be different anymore. For nothing in return, she said she would grant you that wish, if you wanted it. She told you she knew for years and years that you were…”

“I was what?”

“In love with me. And she also knew it could never be, because you were a fairy. But, if you wanted, she said, she could make you human, just like that.” Peter snapped his fingers. “She said she could do it, right there. So maybe you and I could be together.”

I was in love with him? I opened my mouth to say that was foolish, but then I stopped. Really, why was this any different from anything Peter had told me, and shown me, in Never Land? And the way he was telling his story—he had never paused, or faltered, once. If he was making this up, he was doing a damn good job, that’s for sure.

“But it was a trick,” Peter said. “If you or the other fairies knew what the witch was capable of, you never would have listened to her. But at the time, nobody knew. The witch hadn’t made herself known yet in Never Land, she hadn’t given Hook his powers. As far as you and the fairies knew, she was telling the truth.

“So, you said yes. You didn’t even really need to think about it. It was what you always wanted. And, just like that, she made you human. In an instant and a puff of smoke, you were no longer a fairy. But…”

“What was the trick?”

“She turned you human. But you were a baby. An infant. No more than 6 months old. And then, with a laugh, the witch left. Took off, and left the fairies with a baby.

“The fairies went into a panic. Not only did they not know how to take care of a baby, but you were their leader. You were everything to them, you were the one who they looked to for guidance. Now you were gone, with a quick spell, all of a sudden.

“Mike from the Lost Boys showed up only a couple hours after the witch turned you human. Normally, the fairies would have never let a Lost Boy that far onto their island, but they didn’t know what else to do. They told him what happened, and with no other choice, they told him to go get me.

“He came back to the village of the Lost Boys, and I went with him to the fairies. They led us through the trees, and into your house. Sure enough, there you were, lying in a little bed of leaves and moss that the fairies had made for you. A six-month-old baby, happy as a clam.

“I knew it was you. As soon as you smiled at me and Mike, I knew it was you. I knew from your smile. It was the saddest thing I ever saw. My best friend Tink, turned into a baby, who couldn’t talk back to me or laugh with me or go on any more adventures with me. It was the saddest thing I ever saw.”

Peter stopped talking. I watched him carefully. There were tears in his eyes.

“So what…” I didn’t know what to say. “What did you do?”

“I knew right away what I had to do. There was no undoing the spell. Not anytime soon, anyway. No one on Never Land knew any magic. The witch had left. And we couldn’t wait around to see if she would come back or something. You were a little baby; at the moment you were happy, but I knew at least a little about babies. I knew you would need food—food that we didn’t have. You would need a real bed and diapers and someone to take care of you and love you. You needed an adult. You needed a mother.

“So, I flew with you to the World of the Grown-Ups. I went to America. New York. I’m not sure why. I had too much history with London, I guess. I took you there, and I walked right into the first hospital I found. I told them I had a baby that needed to be adopted. They looked at me like I was crazy, obviously, because a seventeen-year-old kid had just walked in holding this little baby. Before they could ask too many questions, I ran out. I ran out, and flew up onto the rooftops.

“Later that night, when I was sure not too many people were around, I went back into the hospital. I looked around until I found the nursery, and there you were, with a few other babies. You had new pajamas on, and you were nice and warm, in a little crib. You were safe, and there were grown-ups around. So I knew I had done the right thing.”

I thought it over. I ran through the details in my head. I knew I had been adopted when I was around six months old. I knew the adoption agency had no idea who my parents were. I knew that someone mysterious had dropped me off at the hospital. I knew it had been a minor story in the New York papers and on the Internet at the time, that a mystery baby had been found in New York. I shivered, goosebumps running down my arms. Most of what Peter was saying…most of it lined up with what I knew about my adoption.

“After only a little while, you got adopted, and it was by a really rich couple who I knew would take care of you. I would have made sure, though. I would have made sure, with everything I had, that whoever adopted you was good people—people who would love you the most. I would have done that for you. I would have done anything for you.”

A silence. I was having a hard time breathing. Could any of this be true? I hadn’t believed a word of it before, not even when the fairy had made the pencil drawing of me. But now, with what Peter had told me…why couldn’t it be true? I felt light-headed, and my heart was pounding. I knew Never Land was a real place; I had been there long enough to know that. And I knew there were mermaids and a half-mechanical pirate and floating islands. And I knew it was fairly easy to travel to Never Land from New York. What was freaking me out most of all, though, was that I knew there were fairies. I had just seen a few dozen. Heck, I had just talked with one of them.

Why couldn’t Peter’s story be true? There was a chance—a good chance—that he was telling the truth.

“I stopped going to New York after that,” Peter said, “because I knew you were being taken care of. And you were, that was the best part. Your mom and dad were the greatest. You had the best life. It had been many years since I went to New York, but then, when Hook returned and started capturing the people of Never Land, I knew I—”

“Peter!” someone shouted. I spun around. Tiger Lily burst through the forest and onto the cliff. Her eyes were wide.

“What is it?” Peter asked.

“He’s done it,” Tiger Lily said. “He’s finally done it. Hook’s attacked the Island of the Lost Boys.”

Chapter Fifteen

Seconds later, Peter and I were running down the plateau incline with Tiger Lily. Peter was filled with anger, spitting out his words. I was sick to my stomach, and shaking. Tim was still on the Island of the Lost Boys.

“How could he have done that?” Peter shouted. “He hasn’t had the guts in years to step foot on the Island of the Lost Boys. He knows how outnumbered he is.”

“I don’t know,” Tiger Lily replied. “A bunch of the Lost Boys that escaped just came here. They went to my village first, looking for you, then came here with my parents.”

“Is my brother with them?” I yelled. “Is my brother with them?”

“I don’t know,” Tiger Lily replied. “I don’t know, I—”

“Where are they?” Peter growled. It was a side of Peter I had never seen before. Gone was the boy I had known for the past afternoon and night. This was the warrior I had heard people talk about.

“They’re here on the shore,” Tiger Lily said. “Waiting for you.”

We ran out of the trees and onto the sand, not far from where we had landed earlier. I saw a little sailboat, no bigger than a small car. There were only six Lost Boys in it. The Chief and Chieftess stood on the sand next to them.

“Peter,” one of the Lost Boys said. “We’re sorry, Peter. We couldn’t fight them off. We couldn’t fight them this time.”

I ran closer to the boat. I scanned it quickly. Tim wasn’t in it. Oh, god, Tim wasn’t in it.

“It’s okay,” Peter said. He looked over the Lost Boys in the boat. Their clothes were torn, and their faces were covered with bruises and scratches. One of them was holding his side, and bleeding through his shirt. “What happened? When did they come? How many were there?”

The boy holding his side winced. “Not that many. That’s the thing. Ten, maybe twenty. But they didn’t need many. Not with Hook’s magic. In a few minutes, he had laid waste to the entire village. We fought back, but we couldn’t. Not this time.”

“Where’s my brother?” I asked. “Is my brother okay?”

The Lost Boy shook his head. “I’m sorry. They took him. They took almost all the Lost Boys. Almost every single one of us.”

“Oh, god,” I said, covering my mouth. I tried not to cry. How could I have left him there? In that village? My knees buckled and I nearly dropped. What had happened to him? Where could those pirates have taken him?

Tiger Lily put an arm around my shoulders. Peter looked to me, and noticed how upset I was. The anger in him grew.

“Is this it?” he asked. “This is all that’s left?”

The Lost Boy nodded. “We were the only ones who got away. They came—they were looking for you. Both of you.” He looked to me. “The whole time Hook was attacking, he just kept asking for Peter and Emily, and laughing. He said he was there to see the girl from America.”

The Lost Boy looked at Peter.

“We gotta fight back, Peter. We gotta fight back.”

Peter stared ahead. “Everyone, come with me. We have no time to lose. The time for planning is over.”

He turned and headed back toward the plateau.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“It’s time for a war,” Peter replied. “If that’s what Hook wants, he can have it.”

Before long, we returned to the top of the plateau.

“You have the full support of the Natives,” the Chieftess said. “We’ll get word to the tribe as quickly as we can. You just tell me what you want to do next.”

Peter walked ahead. He was taking charge.

“We need the ship. We can’t wait any longer. It’s through here.”

We walked into the circle of trees in the center of the plateau. Little fairy houses —like beautiful, intricate birdhouses—hung from the branches around us, and there were also bigger houses built on the ground, which we could have entered by ducking through the doorways, if we wanted. But that’s not why we were there; we were there for the giant, wooden, caramel-brown pirate ship, complete with black mast, in the middle of the tree circle. It rested on the grassy ground, tilted to the left slightly and sunk into the soil. A few fairies fluttered around the ship, and around us.

“Wes, what do you think?” Peter asked. “How soon can we get this thing back on the water?”

Wes inspected the ship, running his hand along the hull. He shook his head. “Not right away, that’s for sure. This thing has taken some serious damage.”

“That last battle with Hook was pretty intense,” Peter said. “And the ship was right in the middle of it.”

“Not to mention the damage from sitting here on land for so long. It’ll need major repairs before it’s ready to sail.”

“Why don’t we fly it to Hook, with fairy dust?” I asked. “Isn’t that how you got it here? Won’t that be the fastest?”

Peter shook his head. “Won’t work. It won’t have the same effect. It needs to be on the water to get Hook to board it. If he sees it flying, it won’t remind him of his old life. It’ll probably just remind him of when he lost it. If he’s gonna be lured out onto it, it needs to be sailing on the water.”

Tiger Lily looked up at the mast. “Mother, Father—let’s send for our best carpenters and builders. They can’t work miracles, but they’ll work as fast as they can. It’ll be a few hours, at least.”

“That’s fine,” Peter replied. “We’ll need to head back to the Island of the Lost Boys, anyway, to get supplies. We’ll have to work with whatever your tribe can do.”

“And where are we going after we round up supplies at your place?” Wes asked.

“We’re going to the Island of the Pirates,” Peter replied, “and we’re bringing our fire right to Hook.”

A silence passed.

“I want to make sure everyone knows what we’re up against,” Wes said. “We’ve all seen Hook’s magic, up close. We’ve seen how out of control he is. And none of us have anything that can combat him. Not even close. This isn’t going to be pretty.”

“It’s what we have to do,” Tiger Lily said. “If Hook crossed the line into the village of the Lost Boys, he’ll come for the Island of the Natives next. It’s inevitable. We have to attack him before he can capture anyone else, and we must do it now. This is our last chance to save our people.”

“So what do we have?” Wes asked. “Me, you, Peter, Em. Six beaten down Lost Boys. The warriors of the Natives.” He shook his head. “As fierce as your warriors are, Tiger Lily, that’s not enough.”

“Yes,” Peter said. “We need more.”

A moment passed. Everyone looked to me, then at the multi-colored, brightly lit fairies swirling around us.

I got the hint.

“You want me to…?”

Peter nodded.

“We haven’t even asked them if we can borrow the ship yet,” I replied, “and you want me to ask them that?”

“With them,” Wes said, “we’d at least stand a chance.”

I thought it over. I didn’t know the fairies—I had literally just learned that fairies existed—so my initial instinct was to say no way. It wasn’t my place to ask them for their help. But, then, that instinct was quickly overruled. Tim had been captured. He was in terrible danger. And that’s all that mattered. I had to save him. These fairies knew me (or at least they thought they knew me), and I was going to use that to my advantage. It sounds terrible, but I had to. It was my brother.

I turned to the blue fairy, fluttering near me.

“I know,” I started, “I know it’s a lot to ask, but I have to…”

The blue fairy smiled.

“We’re going to go face Hook, and I know I—”

The blue fairy didn’t let me finish. Instead, she flew toward me and wrapped her arms around my bicep, pressing her cheek against my skin. I was ten times the size of her, so she couldn’t hug me, but what she did was basically the equivalent of a fairy hug. Then, she flew backwards, pressed her fingers to her lips, and let out an ear-piercing whistle.

Just like that, in an instant, the forest came alive around us. The leaves of the trees rustled, the branches shook, and the darkness was illuminated by brilliant, rainbow-colored light. Close to 100 fairies zoomed from their houses and the trees, in all shapes and sizes. Streaks of yellow, orange, pink, red, purple, blue, and green flew toward us.

The fairies stopped, in front of me, hovering there. The blue fairy winked.

Wes laughed. “Okay. I’ll take that as a yes.”

Tiger Lily grinned, and let a fairy land on her hand. I shook my head, chuckling. Peter didn’t laugh, however. He didn’t even smile.

“Thank you, fairies. Let’s go. Every moment that passes is a moment we don’t have.”

Chapter Sixteen

A short while later, from the front of Wes’ flying machine, I looked ahead and saw the Island of the Lost Boys. Several of the buildings—the homes of the boys—were burning. Many of the trees were black and leafless, evidence of the rampage of the pirates.

Behind me, filling the deck of the blimp, were about two dozen Native warriors, who we had picked up on the way. Peter stood with them, going over a plan with a female warrior dressed in armor and holding a spear. After a moment, he looked up and saw we were approaching the island.

“We’ll only be docking a few moments,” Peter said, addressing the ship. “Just long enough to gather supplies.”

Peter walked to me as Wes brought the blimp down.

“Peter,” I asked, my voice wavering more than I wanted it to. “Will my brother be okay?”

“I promise,” Peter said. “I’ll do everything in my power to bring Tim back to you and get you out of here. Even if it means giving up my dying breath.”

That didn’t exactly fill me with confidence, but I knew Peter was my best shot at fixing this terrible mistake.

“But what about…” I stopped. It was something I had been thinking of since we left the fairies’ island. “Where Tim is now, is he okay? Are they treating him okay?”

Peter nodded. “The people Hook has been capturing from Never Land, they’re all meant to be transferred over to the witch so she can put them under her spell. She wants them unharmed, and in the best shape possible. So wherever Tim is, we can know he’s being treated reasonably, at least. Hook wouldn’t want to upset the witch.”

Again, not exactly what I wanted to hear, but at least Peter was confident Tim was alive.

The blimp came to a stop, and we all jumped into rowboats to be lowered onto the water. Peter went right into directing Wes, Tiger Lily, and the fairies.

“Tiger Lily, lead the Natives from house to house, finding anything that can be useful against the pirates—weapons, slingshots, smoke bombs. Hook obviously trashed most of the houses, but he couldn’t have taken everything.

“Fairies, you scour the island. The trees to the north are filled with cocoanuts, which I know you like to use as armor. Also check my house. There are things there—including fairy weapons—from our battles many years ago. Wes, you also go to my house. Grab all my swords and anything else we need. You know where the good stuff is.”

We hit the shore and everyone went off in the direction Peter told them.

“What about me?” I asked.

“Come with me, this way.” Peter headed toward the village. “There’s something I’ve been waiting to show you.”

I followed Peter through the decimated village and toward a small hut, located on the ground behind his treehouse. Unlike every other hut in the village, however, this one was built into a rounded, mossy hill; the hill itself was the hut, in fact, and there was a wooden door on the front of it. The hut was hidden behind vines and bushes, as if it was some kind of secret.

Peter pushed the bushes aside and opened the door. “Come in,” he said. “Watch your step. I’ll let some light in.”

I walked in behind Peter. At first I couldn’t see anything inside the hut, but then Peter opened some skylights and wooden slats, and it was filled with light. The hidden hut—no bigger than my bedroom—was filled with boxes and overflowing shelves.

“What’s all this?” I asked.

“Mementos,” Peter said. “Of our time together, mostly. When I came back to Never Land and you wouldn’t talk to me—well, no one else was really talking to me, either, except Wendy and her brothers. So I spent most of my time in here, collecting things from our old adventures. From back when you and I were friends.”

I looked around, curious to see what Peter had been keeping in there. There were old books lying on the ground, maps strewn about shelves, and dozens of musty cardboard boxes, filled with various trinkets. One thing that really caught my eye was a series of tribal masks nailed to the wall, staring at me.

“But that’s not why we’re here,” Peter said, making his way to a bookshelf. “The old stuff. We aren’t here to look at that. Not really.”

Peter reached behind the bookshelf and dragged out a wooden treasure chest. It had the insignia of a skull and crossbones on it, so I assumed Peter had stolen it from a pirate at some point.

“What’s in there?” I asked. “Treasure?”

“No.” Peter opened one of the pouches on his belt and retrieved a key. “It’s something I had made for you.”

He seemed slightly embarrassed.

“You had it made for me?”

“Yeah. I thought maybe someday you’d come back. On your own, maybe, or for some reason like this. To be honest, I knew someday there’d be a chance I might have to go ask you to come back, if we ever needed your help. So, I wanted to make sure I was prepared.”

Peter opened the chest and took something out. When he turned to me, he was holding a sword. It looked exactly like Peter’s, except the handle wasn’t silver—it was gold.

“It’s an exact replica of your old sword,” Peter said. “Back when we used to go on adventures together, you and I always carried our matching swords. Except yours was a lot smaller back then, of course.” He laughed through his nose. “No bigger than a crayon. But, knowing one day you might come back, and knowing you’d be human, I had that made. Just in case.”

I took the sword from Peter. It was surprisingly light. The hilt shone bright and I could see my reflection in it, distorted. The hilt and handle were decorated with beautiful, swirling markings that I had seen on the clothes and buildings of the fairies.

“You don’t have to take it with you when we go to the Island of the Pirates,” Peter said. “I don’t expect you to have to use it, obviously. But I thought maybe you’d want to bring it, for protection or whatever.”

I looked at the sword, confused. “What is it you want me to do when we get to Hook’s island, anyway?”

“You and half the fairies will head to the prison, at the far end of Hook’s town. That’s where Tim is. And you’ll be safer there. That’s if you want to come with us.”

“I do. I have to.”

“You really don’t. We have plenty of people and we—”

“Tim’s there. I’m going.”

Peter smirked. “I had a feeling you might say that. So, the plan is, you take some of the fairies, and you go to the prison. They’ll take care of most stuff, like getting you in.”

“Is it heavily guarded?”

“No, funnily enough, it’s not, because no one would be crazy enough to attack Hook’s island like this.”

“Except us.”

Peter laughed. “Exactly. But that’s where the fairies come in. They’ll be able to either distract or take out the guards.”

“And then how do we get the people out?”

“Fairies again. Best damn lock-pickers in Never Land. Lock-picking is easy when you’re the size of a key.”

“Right. And what do I do?”

“Find Tim, first of all. But, you’ll also need to talk to everyone else, and let them know where to go. Fairies can’t do that, can’t talk to them. So that’s your job.”

I thought it over. I was scared out of my mind, but hopefully everything would go as easily as Peter was making it sound.

“This way, we’re keeping you as far away from the action as possible.”

“Fine with me,” I said, holding up my hands. “As long as I can get Tim out of there and go home, that’s all I care about.”

I looked into the treasure chest. There was a golden necklace in it—with a butterfly-shaped pendent—and a framed photograph, facedown.

“What’s that? I’ve been meaning to ask—you have cameras in Never Land?”

“Kind of. One of the Lost Boys brought one with him when he came here. It’s old, but it still works.”

I picked up the photograph. Peter grabbed my hand.

“Wait.”

“What?”

“You should know what that is before you look at it.”

“What do you mean?”

“Before all this went to hell, before my entire plan of telling you the truth was shot, I was gonna show you that. To prove to you the truth.”

“The picture?”

“Yeah. I was gonna bring you here right away. I probably should have. I should have brought you here before we went to go see Hook.”

Confused, I turned the frame over.

It was a black-and-white photo of Peter—a close-up, when he was younger. His head and shoulders took up almost the whole picture, but next to him, above his right shoulder, there was a glowing light. Because the light was so bright, it was clear the camera had a hard time focusing on it.

But, it also wasn’t just a glowing light. Inside it, there was a little human figure. A girl, in a white sundress, with sparkling wings. Her blonde hair was in a ponytail.

The girl was me. The fairy—no taller than a pencil and hovering in the air—was me. It was my face.

“There’s us,” Peter said. “Back when. Way back when. That’s right before Wendy came. When we were best friends.”

I stared at the photo. For the most part, I was still in denial. But a small part of me knew it was hard to ignore something when the proof’s right in front of you. That small part was becoming bigger with each moment I spent with Peter.

“Is this the only picture you have?”

“I have a few others. But they didn’t come out so good, because the camera has a hard time capturing the fairies. I keep that one here, because it’s where I keep all my most important stuff.”

I looked into the treasure chest. The only other thing in there was the gold necklace with the butterfly pendent.

“What’s that?”

“It was my mum’s. At least I assume it was my mum’s. I had it with me when the fairies found me.”

I stared at the necklace. The only thing Peter had kept in the chest was my sword, my picture, and his mom’s necklace.

“I keep that in there ‘cuz it’s the only one with your face. After you wouldn’t talk to me, I knew I had to keep it safe. It was the only way I could be sure I wouldn’t forget what you looked like.”

I tried to say something, but I didn’t know how to react.

“We missed you, Tink. I mean, Emily. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to—”

“It’s fine.”

“I just forgot. With you being here and everything, I keep forgetting. I know this is crazy, but I’m just glad to see you again. Really. It’s tough being alone without your best friend. I just hope you don’t hate me.”

“I don’t.”

“No?”

“No. I don’t remember any of this, and I’m sorry, I don’t know if it’s all true, but I appreciate you showing me this.”

“You do?”

“Yeah. There was never any information about where I came from. Maybe now I know.”

“I can tell you that you had a lot of family here. And friends, too. And a real lot of adventures.”

I looked up. Peter did, too. For the first time in many moments, we were looking at each other.

“It’s good to have you back here with us,” he said. “That’s all. It really is.”

Because the room was so small, we were close together.

“We should go,” I said. “I want to get this over with.”

“Right.” Peter shook his head. “If this is going to work, we need to get to Hook’s now.”

I headed for the door. Surprisingly, I felt Peter take my hand.

“Wait,” he said.

I turned around. Before I could say anything, Peter leaned forward and kissed me. Right on the lips. I was shocked—so shocked I didn’t move away right away. I let the kiss linger, not because I wanted to, but because the moment had taken me so off-guard.

Finally, I stepped back.

“Peter, you can’t do that,” I said. I shook my head. “You really can’t do that.”

“I know.” He held up his hands. “I know, but the whole time in here, I just kept thinking, this might be my only chance. My only chance to ever do that. And if that’s the case, I had to.”

“Why would this be your only chance?”

He smirked. “There’s a lot of pirates on that island, Emily. And all of ‘em want to kill me. Especially the one with the unstoppable magic.”

“Don’t say that.” I headed for the door. “Don’t say things like that.”

Peter chuckled. “Hey, I gotta be realistic. I’m gonna fight my damndest, but I gotta be truthful, too. This isn’t gonna be playtime.”

“Well, you could have asked me.”

“What, to kiss you? Would you have said yes?”

“No. But you still should have asked.”

Peter laughed. “Okay. Just do me a favor, though.”

“What?”

“Don’t tell Wendy.”

“That you kissed me?”

“Yes.”

I turned around. “Are you serious?”

“Yes. Don’t tell her. She shouldn’t know. It would be better for everyone if she didn’t know, let’s put it that way.”

“You gotta be kidding me.” I walked away. Suddenly, I went from confused to furious.

Peter caught up with me. “Look, there’s just a lot of history there, okay? Between you, me, and her. And it wouldn’t be good if she heard about it.”

“Would she do you physical harm?”

“Yes, most likely.”

“Then I’m definitely telling her.”

Chapter Seventeen

An hour later, I sat on a bench on Wes’ airship as we flew toward a dark island. The deck of the ship was filled with Natives, each of whom was equipped with weapons and leather armor. Many of them had their own spears and bows and arrows from the Island of the Natives, but some had taken swords from the Lost Boys’ village. There were also dozens of fairies fluttering around us, illuminating the ship with their colorful light.

Across from me, at the blimp’s railing, were Tiger Lily and Peter. Tiger Lily was pointing to where she thought we should bring the blimp in for a landing, and this time, Peter didn’t argue with her. On her belt, I saw a whip, and on her back, a quiver of arrows. She was such a sweet girl, and so beautiful, I couldn’t imagine her using those things.

Wes stood at the front of the blimp.

“Bring her down below the tree line,” he said to a Native, who was piloting the wheel. “And cut half the engines. We don’t want them to hear us coming.”

Wes turned to me. I had my arms crossed and was shaking my legs, nervous. He smiled.

“What?” I asked.

“I’m just surprised you’re coming with us, that’s all. Happily surprised.”

“It’s my brother. I have to.”

“Though I guess I really shouldn’t be surprised, after what Peter told me about you. The old you, I mean. Hopefully there’s some of that left in there. I wouldn’t wanna mess with you.”

I shrugged.

“I gotta say, you’re handling this awfully well.”

“I haven’t had much time to think about it, honestly.” I looked at the dark island. “I’m only able to focus on one thing right now.”

“Makes sense. But, if you have any questions, seriously, I’ll help you as much as I can.”

“That’s nice. Thanks.”

He looked at the sword on my belt.

“You gonna use that?” he smirked.

“Hopefully not. I’d most likely end up hurting myself way more than anyone else, anyway.”

“I doubt that. I think you’d do just fine.”

Wes held a black crossbow in his hands.

“You gonna use that?” I asked.

“If I have to.” He loaded an arrow into it. “Explosive-tipped. Nice little piece of work by the Lost Boys.” He turned to Peter and Tiger Lily. “What do you say, Peter, you ready?”

“Absolutely. It’s a beautiful night to face death right in her bloody eyes, don’t you think? Isn’t this what you came here for?”

“Just about. I’ve been itching for a good fight for a while.”

“Oh, please,” Tiger Lily said, rolling her eyes. “You boys are pathetic. Could you try a little harder to sound like big tough guys? What do you weigh together, 200 pounds?”

“Hey, that’s 200 pounds you better hope is capable of fighting off about five dozen pirates,” Peter said.

“I know, but tone down the false bravado a bit please, will you? It’s making me ill.”

“Aw, a little false bravado never hurt anybody,” Peter said. “Right, Emily?”

“I don’t know. I can’t even muster up false bravado at this point. I’m just hoping I’ll be able to stand.”

The others laughed.

“Well, you’re gonna have to stand right about now, I’m afraid,” Wes said. “We’re here.”

I looked down. We had reached the island. It was clear there was a settlement in the center of it: above the trees in that area, I could see light, and also hear raucous noise. However, in the beachy area we were landing, it was dark and quiet—deserted.

“Help me toss the canoes off the side,” Peter said to the Lost Boys. “And tie them to the palm trees. We’re gonna need a lot of them, depending on how many captured Neverlanders there are.”

As the Lost Boys tied up the canoes, Peter, Wes, Tiger Lily and I walked off the shore and into the forest.

“It’ll be a while before we reach Hook’s town,” Peter said. “We’re gonna have to trek through these woods for a while.”

“This town is home to the biggest train station in Never Land,” Tiger Lily said. “Hook took it over when he came back. It’s a far cry from his old headquarters right on the ocean.”

“Anyone have any idea what we’re gonna face when we get there?” Wes asked. I knew part of Peter’s plan was to simply walk into town and ask for Hook. “How many pirates are likely to be here now?”

“I’m not sure,” Tiger Lily said. “I would say hopefully we’ll catch them when they’re sleeping, but we all know pirates are usually too drunk to sleep.”

“Yeah,” Peter said. “And judging by the noise, they’re even more livelier than usual tonight.”

We walked through the dark forest for 30, maybe 40 minutes. Like Peter said, it took a long time, and it felt like an eternity, as I was getting more and more anxious, thinking about poor Tim, wherever he was.

Then, finally, light began to seep through the thinning trees, emanating from the center of the island, and I could hear joyous, upbeat music, and laughter.

Wes led the pack, walking up a hill. When he reached the top, he stopped.

“Holy crap.”

“What?” Peter asked.

I followed Peter up the hill. From the top, we could see a small town, down in the middle of a valley. It looked like it had once been a nice town, made of quaint brick buildings and wooden houses, but now it was run-down and demolished, thanks to the pirates. The centerpiece of the town was a massive, red-brick train station, with a big, broken, white clock at its top.

“They’re throwing a party,” Wes said. “In honor of you.”

“Me?” Peter asked. “It’s not my birthday.”

“No. It looks like they’re celebrating quite the opposite.”

Across the front of the train station, underneath the clock, there was a long banner, with red letters scrawled across it:

“R.I.P. Peter Pan! We’ll always remember our lovely little coward!”

h3={color:#000;background:transparent;}.

h3={color:#000;background:transparent;}.

Chaptrer Eighteen

“What the heck are we gonna do now?” I asked.

“The same thing we were gonna do before,” Peter replied. “This will just make our entrance that much more exciting.” He pointed to the far end of town. “See that brick building there, Emily? To the right of the mansion?”

I looked that way. Tucked in the corner of town, there was a dilapidated, run-down building with a tin roof, surrounded by trees. Not far from it, up a short driveway, there was an elegant mansion.

“Yeah?”

“That’s the prison. Every single one of the Neverlanders that Hook’s captured are being held there. That’s where you and half the fairies are headed.”

“What’s with the mansion?”

“That’s where Hook lives. But don’t worry, he won’t be there—he’ll be fighting with us.”

“Oh, that makes me feel so much better.”

“On my count, when I hit five, you head straight towards that prison. Keep yourself in the forest as much as possible. Don’t turn around, and don’t look at what we’re doing.”

“Why?”

“Because it won’t be pretty. You’re gonna hear a lot of screaming and yelling and probably some explosions. Hopefully most of the screaming and yelling will be coming from the pirates.”

I grew nauseous. Seeing Hook and the pirates again was one thing—but now, the Natives, Lost Boys, Wes, Peter, and Tiger Lily were going to do battle with them? It wasn’t anything I wanted to think about.

“How many guards will be at the prison?” I asked.

“Hopefully not many. But the fairies will take care of that. They’ll know what to do.”

I looked behind me. The fairies, Lost Boys, and Natives had caught up with us, after making their own trek through the woods.

“What do you say, Tiger Lily?” Wes asked. “Are your people ready?”

“I’m sure they are. Most of them have been looking forward to this moment for a long time.”

“Okay,” he replied. “Looks like the fairies are ready, too. So we’re just waiting for your word, Peter.”

Peter stared at the town. The party was in full-swing—the pirates were hooting and hollering, dancing like drunken fools, and laughing like maniacs. Even from here, you could see that every one of them had a bottle of booze of some kind in his hand.

“On one,” Peter said.

I wasn’t ready. I didn’t want to be separated from the others. It suddenly dawned on me that since I had arrived, I hadn’t been on my own. Peter or Tiger Lily had been with me from the beginning. Now, I was going to be alone.

“Four,” Peter said. Everyone behind me was silent, their eyes fixed on the pirates.

“Three,” Peter said. Someone grabbed my arm. It was Wes.

“It’s okay,” he whispered. He smiled. He must have seen how nervous I was. “The fairies will be with you. You’ll be fine. Just run. Very fast. And don’t forget you’re the legendary Tinker Bell. She would never be afraid of something like this.” He winked.

“Two,” Peter said.

“I’ll keep an eye on the prison,” Wes whispered. “I won’t let anything happen to you.”

“One!”

Peter raised his sword and let out a fierce battlecry. On his command, all of the Natives and the remaining Lost Boys did the same, raising their own weapons and screaming into the night. When Peter took off running down the hill, they followed, sprinting straight toward the town. If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought it looked like a group of kids playing capture the mountain, running toward the other team.

A WHOOSH! flew past by my ear, and then a rainbow-colored, twinkling cloud of light sped down the hill behind the group. I realized it was half of the fairies that had come with us, and when I looked to my right, I saw that the other half of the fairies were no longer there—they were flying through the woods towards the prison.

But I couldn’t move. I was supposed to be going with them, but I couldn’t. It was like my feet were nailed to the earth. I kept telling myself to run, but my legs weren’t listening. I wasn’t even sure if I was breathing, or if I could breathe. God, I was scared.

“Emily!” someone shouted. I looked down the hill, and saw Wes. He had stopped, halfway to the town. Over his shoulder, the pirates had noticed Peter coming, and were now sprinting straight toward him, their weapons raised. “Run!” Wes shouted.

But I still couldn’t. I watched in awe as the pirates clashed with Peter, the Natives, the Lost Boys, and the fairies. Over the sound of yelling and swearing, I heard the clanging of swords crashing against each other. Among the crowd, I spotted Tiger Lily. She drew her bow back and let an arrow fly toward a rooftop. I heard the ZIP! of the weapon through the air, and then across from her, a pirate with a pistol fell from a house and onto the ground.

Then there was a massive BOOM!, followed by an orange flash. I squinted and turned away as my skin and clothes were washed over with an immense warmth. When I looked back, one of the pirates’ storefronts was in flames, and several Natives lay on the ground next to it, unconscious.

“Emily!” Wes shouted again. He stood halfway down the hill. “Get out of here! Run! To the fairies! Go!”

Another explosion, another flash of orange. Finally, I snapped out of it. I ran, as fast as I could, in the direction of the fairies, leaping over roots, stones, and downed trees in my way. My only thought was to get as far away from the town as possible.

Then, over the sound of another explosion—thankfully quieter now that I was further away—I heard a voice yell out.

“Peter! I was hoping you’d join us! Welcome to the party!”

I looked to the mansion. Hook stood at the end of the driveway, with Smee by his side.

Peter walked toward him

“You knew I’d come. That’s why you did this. You knew I’d be here.”

“Oh, you got me!” Hook laughed. “I can’t get anything past you, Peter, can I? Am I becoming too predictable in my old age? I’ll be sure to mix in a few surprises to keep you on your toes. I only hope your friend from America will be joining us, too.”

Wanting nothing to do with that, I turned to the direction of the prison and ran faster. Finally, I saw the cloud of multi-colored fairies that I was supposed to be with. They were huddled together behind a hedge of bushes, low to the ground, with their lights dim. Reaching them, I crouched.

“Sorry,” I said, breathing heavily. “I just…I was…”

One of the fairies—a curvy one in a yellow dress—flew to my face. She wasn’t happy; one hand was on her hip, and the other was held out, as if she was saying “Where were you?”

“I’m sorry, I got stuck back there for a second. I don’t do this every day, give me a break. This is all new to me.”

Catching my breath, I peered around the hedge. The brick, tin-roofed prison wasn’t far away, and at the front of it stood two pirates. One was skinny and one was heavy with a big belly, and they were both holding long, copper-barreled rifles.

“What are we gonna do about them?” I said. “Now that we’re here, how are we gonna—”

As if answering my question, two of the fairies—a blue and a green one—broke from the pack. They flew into the air, over the roof of the prison, and then down, hovering over the two pirates. As they fluttered there, glowing in the night, they shook their wings and made fairy dust fall toward the pirates.

I watched as the shining substance covered the two men—the thin pirate got hit with the green dust, and the heavy one got hit with the blue dust. They looked at each other, confused, and then looked at their own hands. Their entire bodies were now twinkling, and it looked like they had just crawled through the glitter-covered scrapbook of a middle schooler.

“What’s all this?” the heavy one asked.

“I don’t know, but I think it’s the—”

The fairies above them each unrolled a scroll of paper, so both pirates were forced to look at a pencil drawing. In front of the skinny pirate, there was a picture of a pile of gold, and in front of the heavy pirate, there was a slice of chocolate cake.

“Look at that,” the heavy pirate said.

“That looks…”

The two pirates then levitated into the air, their bodies no longer obeying the rules of gravity.

“Hey!” the skinny one shouted, his body tumbling. Soon he was upside down. “What the hell is this? Where are the fairies?” He reached for his sword, but he was spinning so fast he dropped it.

“Get out of here!” the heavy one screamed, swatting at the blue fairy, who was fluttering over him. He kicked his legs and tried to run, even though he was in mid-air. “Get this stuff off of me!”

The thin pirate panicked, wiping the dust off his arms, but it was no use. He and his buddy were floating away, rising above the prison.

I laughed, but then the heavy one reached for his pistol.

“I’ll kill every last one of you! I hate you damn demon bugs!”

I ducked, nervous, but then a group of fairies flew up toward the floating men. The fairies split into two groups, with one half pushing the skinny pirate, and one half pushing the heavy one. As if the two men were ping-pong balls, the fairy clouds kept ramming into them over and over, sending them flying further away. Soon, though the pirates were flailing their arms and trying to fight back, they drifted off toward the trees and over the horizon.

When the pirates were so far away I could no longer see them, I turned toward the yellow fairy.

“Well, that oughta do it.”

She smiled back and nodded, proud. Then, she motioned “c’mon!” with her arm, and I followed her toward the tall metal door of the prison.

“Do you have a way to get in there?” I asked.

The yellow fairy whistled, and pointed to a purple fairy. The purple fairy then darted right into the door’s keyhole. After a few clicks-and-clacks, the door creaked open, and we were free to enter.

“Geez, I guess being small comes in handy sometimes.” I nervously followed the fairies into the prison. “You guys don’t mess around. I’m glad I’m with you.”

Chapter Nineteen

Following the cloud of fairies, I walked into the open metal door of the prison and looked around. The building was dark, as there were only a few thin, rectangular windows up near the ceiling to let any light in. It was also damp and musty, with the bars of the cells rusted-out and orange. The structure looked like it was over 200 years old, with crumbling brick walls, leaky pipes, and small rodents skittering away as we walked in.

But, at the moment, I didn’t care at all what the prison looked like—all I cared about was who was inside. Almost the entire building was made up of cells running along the walls, with a small walkway in the middle, so I used the fairies for light and scanned the cells, desperate to find Tim. What I saw instead was dozens of Neverlanders: Lost Boys, Natives, and Babbles. I even saw some poor mermaids, stuck in tanks of water, peering out through glass walls that were covered in algae. All of the Neverlanders, as tired and weak as they were, came to the front of their cells, eager to get a better look at us.

“Tim!” I yelled. “Tim, where are you? Are you here?”

“Emily?” he shouted. My heart leapt. It was him. It was him.

I ran toward the voice. “Tim? Are you okay? Where are you?”

“I’m here, Emily. I’m fine. Well, basically.”

I reached him. He was in a cell with six other Lost Boys, all of them captured during Hook’s raid. He looked okay, except he was now dressed like a Lost Boy and covered in mud.

“Are you sure you’re all right?” I said, looking him over. “I’m so sorry, Tim, I’m sorry that I left you. I never should have done that.”

“It’s okay,” he said. “It was scary as hell at first, but they’ve pretty much left us alone since throwing us in here. What’s happening, Emily? They keep talking about a witch. Is there a witch coming?”

“I don’t know, but that’s why we gotta get you out of there, and fast.”

“How’d you know where to find me? Where’s Peter?”

The tell-tale sound of Hook’s magic blast erupted outside, followed by breaking glass. Red light shot into the prison windows.

“There’s the answer to your last question,” I said. “Peter’s outside, but right now we have to worry about you.” I turned around. “Fairies? How quickly can you get these locks off? And can you start with this one?”

A green fairy flew into the lock on Tim’s cell. As she worked away inside it, her green light flickering, most of the other fairies flew into the locks on the other cells. The fairies that didn’t fly into locks instead fluttered into the cells to comfort the prisoners, as best they could, anyway, in their twinkling fairy voices.

“Fairies?” Tim said. He stared in disbelief at the lock. “Emily, what on earth is going on?”

With a flash, the lock on the cell swung open. The Lost Boys ran out, and I grabbed Tim, wrapping him in a hug.

“It’s a really long story, trust me,” I said. “I don’t think you wanna hear it. I know I don’t wanna hear it again. I’m just glad you’re safe.”

I looked down at my brother. He looked so young. I could see the fear in his eyes. Like me—even more than me—he had learned this adventure wasn’t so much fun anymore.

“Are we gonna be okay, Em?” I noticed his arms and hands were scraped up. “Where are we gonna go?”

“Home,” I said. “As soon as we get all these people out of here.”

“Who is that?” I heard someone say.

I turned around. All of the Neverlanders were free from their cells and were now standing in the aisle. At the front of the group were a teenage girl and two teenage boys. The younger boy was short and dark-haired, and the older boy was wearing glasses. The girl was a pretty brunette. They also had a dog with them—a big, furry, brown dog, with a slobbery tongue hanging out of its mouth.

“Wendy, who is that?” the boy in glasses asked.

“I’m not sure,” the girl said. “But I think we have her to thank for rescuing us.” She looked to me. “Did Peter send you here?”

The short boy’s eyes went wide. “It’s her, Wendy. It’s her. It’s Tinker Bell.”

Wendy stared at me. “Oh my god, you’re right, Michael. It is. Tinker Bell, I can’t believe I didn’t recognize you. This is amazing—how are you here?”

I held up my hands. “Sorry, no time for reunions right now. We need to get you guys back, along with everyone else.”

“Yes, of course.” Wendy shook her head, trying to get over her shock. “Where are we supposed to go? Are there others waiting for us?”

It was quiet. I realized everyone was looking to me for guidance. This is why I was there.

“Okay, everybody,” I said, raising my voice.. “I came here with Peter Pan—I assume you all know who he is. You’re all free to go now, obviously, so we’re all gonna head back with the fairies, through the woods and to the shore. There’s a flying machine and some canoes to take us to the Lost Boys’ island. Don’t head into town—stick to the trees. Whatever you do, move fast and avoid any commotion.”

“Hold on.” A female Native walked by me and toward a locked closet at the back of the prison. “Fairy? Can you give me a hand?”

An orange fairy flew into the lock on the closet. The door swung open, revealing what was inside: bows, arrows, swords, and slingshots.

“Our friends out there need our help,” the Native said. She grabbed a quiver of arrows and slung it onto her back. “Anyone who wants to reclaim their weapons and join in the fight, feel free.”

Many of the Natives and Lost Boys made their way to the closet and grabbed their weapons.

“Okay, that’s great,” I said. “I’m sure it’ll be appreciated. As for us…” I looked for the curvy fairy in yellow. She flew up to me. “Yellow, let’s go. We’re heading back to the Island of the Lost Boys as fast as possible.”

She nodded, then flew toward the prison door.

“What about the mermaids?” a Lost Boy asked. He stood near one of the rusted tanks in a cell. Unlike everyone else, the mermaids weren’t free yet. “We can’t leave them here.”

Wendy spoke up.

“Fairies, can you help get the mermaids back to the ocean?”

Seven fairies of all different colors flew into one of the mermaid’s cells.

“Are they strong enough to carry them all the way to the shore?” I asked.

“I don’t think carrying will be necessary,” Wendy said with a smile.

The seven fairies fluttered their wings above the tank, and after the water was doused with dust, the mermaid floated into the air, emerging from the water and shining with glitter. With a big smile, she did a celebratory somersault, then swam through the air just like it was water. She flipped her fin and made her way right out the door.

“Okay,” I said, watching the fairies repeat the process with the other mermaid tanks. “Looks like I still have a lot to learn about Never Land.”

Finally, we ran out the prison door. Some of the Native warriors and Lost Boys sprinted into town, but the rest stayed with me and the fairies in the forest.

“Tim,” I said, “Babbles, Lost Boys, and anyone else, let’s go. We’ll—”

There was a scream—it came from near the mansion. It was a loud, guttural, anguished scream. I looked in its direction.

“What was that?” Tim asked.

“It’s Peter,” I said.

Peter lay in the middle of the street in front of the mansion, holding his side and bleeding. Hook stomped toward him, his hook-hand glowing red. I watched as Tiger Lily ran at the mad pirate, firing her arrows, but Hook simply blasted her with red energy, sending her flying.

“Emily, what should we do?” Tim asked.

Peter screamed in agony.

“C’mon, Wendy,” John said, walking toward the mansion.

“Yeah,” Michael replied. “We gotta go help.”

“No,” I said.

The two boys turned around.

“No?” John asked, surprised,

“You’re going to the canoes,” I replied. “You, Wendy, and Michael. I promised Peter one thing on the way here: that I wouldn’t let you three try to help, that I would bring you back safely to the village of the Lost Boys. That’s what this whole thing has been about. That’s what Peter wants. And I’m keeping that promise.”

“Oh, really?” Michael asked, angry.

“She’s right,” Wendy said.

“What?” Michael replied. “Wendy, I don’t care who this girl is or who she used to be, she can’t tell us what to do!”

“We need to get over there and help Peter!” John shouted.

“No,” Wendy replied. “Tinker Bell is right. We’re leaving. This whole thing, all that—” she motioned toward the burning town where the battle still raged. “Is for us. To save us. Peter put all this together for us, and everyone out there is risking their lives for us. We can’t throw that away to face Hook, who we know can kill us in an instant. Then everything Peter and Tiger Lily and the others have fought for will have been for nothing. I’m not letting Hook take away the only family members I have left.” She turned to me. “But Tinker Bell?”

I looked to her.

“You need to promise me one thing.”

“What?”

“That no matter what, you will bring Peter home to us. That he’ll come back safe, like he always does. You need to promise me that. Or I won’t step foot in one of those damn canoes.”

I realized Wendy knew I wasn’t going with her and the others. That I couldn’t leave Peter. Somehow, I knew it, too.

“I’ll do my best,” I said.

“Thank you.” Wendy turned toward the group. Everyone was eager to get the hell out of there. “Fairies, lead us back to where the boats are waiting. We’ll keep up and stay right behind you.”

Tim and I watched them go.

“What are we gonna do, Em?” Tim asked. “Where are we going? Am I going with them?”

“Nope. I’m never letting you out of my sight again. But this time, I have an idea.” I called out to the group of fairies leaving with Wendy. “Blue?”

The blue fairy—my friend from the island—broke off and flew towards me. She hovered in front of my face. Like many of the fairies, she was wearing a little bag on her back. I knew it was a bag of fairy dust.

“Will you stay with me?” I asked her. “Will you keep my brother safe?”

She nodded.

She’s keeping me safe?” Tim asked. “Where are we going?”

“You’re going with her,” I replied. “I’m going to finish the plan.”

Chapter Twenty

Tim, Blue, and I walked carefully through the trees and toward the mansion. We made sure to stay in the forest and out of sight, pausing behind tree trunks when we needed to. Finding a spot behind an old shed, we stopped, watching the mansion. Surprisingly, this section of town was eerily quiet—most of the battle was in the other end of town, with Hook’s pirates still locked in chaotic combat with the Natives and Lost Boys. In this area, the only people left were Hook, Peter, and Smee.

“Is this it, Peter, my boy?” Hook said, twirling his sword playfully in his non-hook hand. “After decades of fighting and chasing like rogues, have we finally come to the end? Has our book reached its last chapter?”

Peter lay on the ground, unmoving. He looked utterly defeated, while on the other hand, save for some slash marks on his coat, Hook was untouched. Smee was also untouched, but not because of his great fighting skills, I assumed, but because he had simply stayed out of the fight.

“Finish him off, Captain,” Smee said, fists clenched, bloodthirsty. “Walk over there and end him now! Then we won’t have to worry about him and his Lost Boys ever again. It’s finally over!”

“Patience, Smee,” Hook replied. “There’s no need to rush. Let’s enjoy our final moments with Peter, and make sure he knows everything we—”

Peter flipped onto his back and flung a firecracker at Hook. It burst in his face and the pirate staggered backwards, screaming.

“Finish him, Captain!” Smee shouted, jumping up and down. “For god’s sake, Hook, he can’t be kept around anymore! You know what the witch said—he’s only getting in the way! We need to get rid of him, now, before she gets here!”

Hook stepped toward Peter, wiping the firecracker ash from his eyes. The smile and playfulness was gone from his face.

“I’m afraid he’s right, Peter,” Hook said. “We can’t deny it any longer, you and I. This is a new world. Our Never Land has changed with the arrival of this witch, and she’s only going to change it even more. We only have days left. The time of the pirates, the Lost Boys, the Natives—it’s all gone. I’m not happy about it, but I am happy to know I came out on top in the end, after all was said and done. I always knew I had more fight in me than you.”

Hook held out his hook-hand. It glowed bright red.

“You can be happy for me,” Hook asked. “Can’t you?”

Peter shot up into the air like a rocket, right as Hook let off a blast of magic. The red magic created a crater in the road and sent rocks and dirt flying, as all of us—Hook, Tim, Smee, and me—looked up to see where Peter had gone. He was now flying in the air, but not very well. Because of his injuries, he was bouncing up and down like a sputtering airplane, trying to stay in flight, holding his side. One of his legs simply dangled like a piece of rope.

Careening awkwardly, Peter flew as fast as he could into the trees behind the mansion, away from Hook’s town. He wasn’t heading toward us—he was heading toward the shore. Even now, as hurt as he was, he was following the plan.

“After him, Smee,” Hook growled. “Let’s go. Rip him down from the sky and bring him to me. I want to finish him without any magic—just my hook and my sword. It should end like the old days.”

Smee dashed into the woods, with Hook following close behind. Through all of this, no one had seen us yet, but I knew it was now or never—if I was going to contribute anything, and help Peter, this was my only chance. With Tim and Blue behind me, I followed Hook and Smee from a distance. After several minutes, we reached the end of the forest and the beginning of a sandy shore. The ocean was now only about seventy feet away.

Hook stayed near the tree line, realizing how close the water was.

“Bring him here, Smee,” he snarled. “The coward is starting to depress me, flopping around like a wounded chicken like that.”

Peter flew slowly toward the waves, to the water, but he didn’t have enough strength, and he crashed to the ground. He lay there, his cheek against the sand, his body rising and lowering. He had run out of steam.

I turned around and whispered to the fairy.

“Blue, can you take Tim up there, into the tree? The tallest one there? Away from Hook, but close enough so I can see him?”

Blue looked up at the towering palm tree behind us, about fifty feet off the shoreline. She nodded.

“Take him up there, and stay with him. No matter what happens down here, don’t try and help. After about twenty minutes—or if things get really bad—take him and fly with him back to the village of the Lost Boys. Okay?”

Blue made a twinkling sound. Then, she doused Tim with fairy dust from her wings.

“One more thing,” I asked. “Can I take your bag?”

Blue took off her knapsack and handed it to me.

“Where are you going?” Tim asked.

I didn’t answer. When Tim and Blue reached the top of the palm tree, I looked back to the beach.

Smee had reached Peter’s unmoving body. As he laughed and laughed, he grabbed Peter by his leg and dragged him across the sand, practically trotting with glee.

“Look at me!” Smee shouted. “I got him! I got the coward! Finally, I’m bringing him to you, Captain! Like you always wanted me to! It’s over, it’s all over! Oh, you don’t know what joy this brings me, Captain!”

Hook adjusted his hook-hand and stepped onto the sand. “We’ll celebrate in a moment, Smee, I promise, but it’s not time for that yet. We must first remember what Peter once was, all those years ago. He bested me many more times than I bested him, let’s not forget that. Even now, at the end of his life, we need to remember what Peter once meant to this world. Before everything changed, before the witch, he was a worthy enemy of Captain Hook and his men.”

“What are we gonna do with him when he’s dead?”

Hook thought a moment. “I haven’t decided yet. Perhaps throw him into the ocean to surprise his beloved mermaids. Or maybe take him on a train tour across Never Land.”

“Stop!” I shouted. Hook turned around, surprised, as I stepped out of the trees and onto the shore. Filled with anger, I felt my eyes scrunch and my teeth grit, but I also felt my arms tremble. “You aren’t going to do anything. You’re not going to hurt him any more.”

“What on earth?” Hook cocked an eyebrow as he looked me over. He got excited when he realized who I was. “The girl from America? Is that you? What the hell are you still doing here?”

“Saving him,” I said, pointing to Peter. “And getting rid of you.”

“With what?” Hook asked. He walked toward me, amused. “Oh, my dear girl, you better get out of here while you can. Captain Hook used to be a gentleman toward ladies, but I’m afraid that changed along with the rest of me. I don’t have any qualms about fighting women anymore. No more worrying about bad form and all that.”

“Emily, get out of here,” Peter groaned, laying on the sand near Smee. “Get back to Tiger Lily and the others. Go.”

“Yes, listen to your boyfriend, Emily,” Hook said, enjoying the sound of my name on his lips. “Go back to America and forget about your friends in Never Land. Go back and try to forget you met old Captain Hook. Before it’s too late.”

Hook removed his sword from its sheath and walked toward me. Looking to my waist, I saw the sword Peter had made for me—the one with the golden handle and fairy markings. I had forgotten it was there.

Pulling the sword from my belt, I held it toward Hook, with both hands. The blade shook from my nerves.

Hook laughed. “Oh, this is wonderful! What an amazing day! This is great, Smee: before I kill Peter, I get to fight one of his foolish friends from the World of the Grown-Ups, one last time. An innocent soul, about to meet her end, simply because Peter thought it would be fun to bring her here. Oh, I like this. This is perfect.”

With Hook approaching me, I grabbed the bag of fairy dust that Blue had given me, dumped it on my head, and thought of a happy thought—me and Tim, back home with my mom and dad. As the dust twinkled over me, and before Hook could lunge with his sword, I jumped up and flew into the air. Whether it was through panic or instinct or what, I soared pretty perfectly over Hook’s head and landed near the water. I stood there with my arms out, trying to catch my breath and thinking of what to do next.

Hook looked at me, his eyes squinted. “That noise,” he said. He thought a moment. “That noise, when you flew. The way you flew.”

He stepped toward me, stopping only a few feet away. I raised my sword, but his was lowered. “Could it be?” he asked, his eyes darting around my face. “Could it be you? Is that why Peter brought you here?”

Smee’s eyes went wide. “It is her, Captain. It is. It’s the fairy brat. She’s back. That blasted fairy.”

“Oh my goodness gracious.” Hook’s eyes were locked on me. “I cannot believe it. I cannot believe it’s you. Tinker Bell. The queen of the fairies.”

“My name is Emily,” I said. “I’m not who you think.”

“Oh, you certainly are.” Hook nodded. “I should have known. I can’t believe I didn’t recognize your face and your blonde ponytail. I should have known, by the way Peter looked at you.”

A moment passed. I debated what to do, but it seemed, for the moment, that the last thing on Hook’s mind was attacking me. He stood still, remembering the past.

“It has all led to this, hasn’t it, my dear,” he said. “The girl from America. The fairy queen. Peter’s lost love.” He held out a metallic finger. “This is where it was meant to end. All these years, all these decades, and it was all meant to end here. With you, Peter, me, and Smee, on this beach. This was where our story was always meant to end. With the four of us together. It’s all so bloody perfect.”

“It’s not perfect,” I said. “This is all a twisted nightmare. Especially you.”

As fast as I could, I slashed my sword forward with both hands. It sliced against Hook’s metallic chest, ripping through his jacket and sending sparks flying.

“Arrrgh,” he grunted. “Now we’re back. Here we are. I always liked it when the little fairy fought back to protect her love.”

“I’m doing a lot more than that.”

I took another swing, this one clanging off Hook’s shoulder. When that didn’t work, I tried the other shoulder, but he only blocked that swing with his forearm. Then, with a smile, he lifted his hook and sent a blast of red magic my way. It went past me and erupted against the sand behind me. I knew he missed on purpose. He could have ended it all right there, but he didn’t want to. He wanted this to continue.

“It’s funny,” he said. “This is the last thing I expected, but it’s like a gift to me. I get to fight the new you, and you get to fight the new me. A whole different Hook than the one you knew.”

I swung my sword at him, with more ferocity than ever, but he easily dodged it. I brought it back for another swing, and he caught it with his hook.

“Oh Tinker Bell,” he smiled. “You still have that nasty little temper.”

His hook lit with red magic and released a blast, and this time he didn’t miss. The magic barreled into me from only a few inches away and sent me flying backward across the sand. My body tumbled, and when I tried to stand, I suddenly couldn’t move, or even breathe.

“Emily!” Peter shouted.

“I do wish you’d call her by her real name,” Hook said. “It would make all of this much more appropriate.” Hook watched me writhing on the sand. “All right. I’m suddenly depressed. First we had the coward Peter Pan, and now we have the new terrible Tinker Bell. Not at all improved from the old Tinker Bell. I can’t take much more of this. Smee, grab Peter and drag him next to the fairy queen.”

Smee grabbed Peter and dragged him toward me. Peter kicked at him, but it was no use.

“Can I have the coward’s sword when he’s gone, Captain?” Smee said. “I’d like to keep it in a glass case in my room, if that’s okay. Only fitting after all he did to me over the years.”

“I think that’d be all right, Smee. Something to remember him by.”

Hook fired another blast of magic from his hook, but I knew that’s what he was gonna do, so I pulled Smee down by his shirt, holding him in front of me. The magic blast seared into his back and he bellowed, rolling on the sand with his hands clenched and his face contorted.

“You stupid little girl,” Hook snarled.

I used all the strength I had left and jumped up. With my body in agony, I ran across the sand and lunged at Hook, banging on him with both of my fists, screaming with anger. My fists bounced off his metal body harmlessly.

Hook placed his hand on my forehead and pushed me down. I fell back, and with my face covered in sand, I crawled toward Peter.

Hook grew furious. “What were you thinking, Tinker Bell? Didn’t you know?” He stomped to me and leaned over, waving his hook in my face. “Didn’t you know you could never beat me? With you, in this new body? It was always going to end this way. How could you have ever beaten me?”

“Oh, I wasn’t trying to beat you. I was just trying to keep you out here long enough.”

“Long enough for what?”

“For that.”

I pointed to the ocean. I had seen it coming from the corner of my eye.

Hook looked out to the waves.

“Oh my,” he said. “Oh my.”

Hook walked forward.

“What is it?” Smee asked, sitting up. “What is it, Captain?”

“It’s her.” Hook stared out into the ocean. “It’s my love. My girl.”

“Who?” Smee asked.

“It’s the Jolly Roger.”

I turned and looked. It was getting closer and closer, heading toward us: a giant, gorgeous, caramel-brown, wooden pirate ship, its black sail billowing in the night sea air. The ship looked perfect—right down to the white skull and crossbones painted on the side.

Hook stepped toward the water.

“Oh, my girl,” he said. “Oh, my beautiful girl. It’s as if we never parted.”

I watched in silence, sitting in the sand, as the ship sailed nearer to us. I looked to Peter, and saw that he was also silent. Both of us knew that we needed to just shut up and let this happen. If one of us spoke, or moved, it might throw the whole thing off.

But, we weren’t the only silent ones. Hook was watching in quiet as the ship sailed toward us, and he was crying. Real tears, from his one eye that was still human, streaming down his metallic face. He was also laughing, every few seconds, and letting out little gasps of air, as if his gleeful crying was causing him to need to catch his breath.

Smee was also quiet, but in a different way. He kept darting his eyes from the ship, to Hook, and back again. He knew what was possibly about to happen.

Finally, after what felt like hours, the ship stopped, only a few feet away from the shore. Hook stepped forward, looking up at the ship. His feet were now in the water.

I could see many people on the ship—the Chieftess, and about two dozen Natives. They were the men and women who had repaired the ship and sailed it here so quickly.

At the ship’s railing, two of the Natives pulled on a rope, which lowered a ramp from the ship and onto the sand.

A moment passed. Hook stared up at the sail.

“It’s even got the sail,” he whispered. “It’s even got a new sail.”

And with that, Hook stepped onto the wooden ramp. The Natives onboard raised their weapons, but I noticed Hook’s sword was sheathed.

“Wait,” I said. “Let him be.”

Hook walked up the ramp with wide, quick strides. His footsteps were strong and deliberate, as if he was walking up a steep hill and determined to get to the top.

“Get off my ship,” he said loudly. “All of you, get off the bloody Jolly Roger.” It was like Hook was no longer aware—or didn’t care—that we were his enemy. All he cared about was the ship. “None of you fools are fit to sail the seas on the Jolly Roger. Get off her, now, before I grow bloody angry. This ship belongs to Hook and only Captain Hook.”

“Peter?” the Chieftess asked. “Emily?”

“Go ahead,” I replied. “Chieftess, come down onto the shore. All of you.”

The Natives walked down the ramp, hesitant and cautious, led by the Chieftess. They had their eyes pinned on Hook, but he was simply impatient.

“Move it!” he said, pushing through the crowd of people, as he was heading in the opposite direction. “For god’s sake, move out of the way. I’ve got a place to be. I’ve got an ocean to see.”

The Natives didn’t much like Hook shoving them side to side—he almost knocked two of them off the ramp—but they kept their cool. They knew what was happening.

So did somebody else.

“Hook,” Smee said. “You can’t, Captain. You know what’ll happen. You know what this will do. Come back. Please.”

Hook stood on the ship’s deck. He tugged on the rope around the main mast and looked up at the sail.

“Are you coming, Smee? The wind is perfect. It’s a perfect night to push out and find some wonders to plunder.”

“Don’t you see,” Smee said. “They’ve tricked you, Captain. It’s all a trick.”

Hook’s eyes darted toward Smee. “Don’t you think I know that?” he bellowed. “Don’t you think I know exactly what’s going on? They’ve given me back exactly what I wanted, Smee. Trick or no trick, they’ve made me the happiest man in Never Land. The happiest man in all the worlds.”

“It’ll kill you, Captain,” Smee said quietly. “It’ll kill you.”

Hook looked down at Smee. He held out a hand.

“Are you coming, Smee? Will you come with me, and sail to lands we’ve never seen before?”

Smee didn’t move.

“You said it yourself,” Hook told him. “This era is over. Never Land is over. The witch has changed everything. Our Never Land is gone, never to return. Let us get our men and explore into another world—whichever world it may be.”

A moment passed. Then, Smee walked up the ramp.

“Is she all ready, Captain?” he said, his voice cracking. “Is she ready to go?”

Hook stomped around the deck as if nothing was amiss. He stomped around as if this was the greatest day of his life.

“Oh, she’s ready, Smee,” he said with a smile. “She’s as good as new. I haven’t seen the girl like this since we built her ourselves, oh those so many hundred years ago.”

Hook looked down at Peter and me.

“I have you to thank for this, Peter my boy.” He saluted us. “You and your friend Emily, from America. Tinker Bell.” He smiled. It was the same look someone has when they say goodbye to an old friend. “You know me all too well. Both of you. After all these decades, you know me better than I know myself. You’ve finally found a way to do in old Captain Hook.” He bowed. “I commend you. You won. I never could have gotten up the guts to kill you, Peter, but by god, you don’t have the same problem with me.”

Hook walked up the stairs that led to the steering wheel and stood high above us. With the wind blowing in his hair and his robotic eye raised to the horizon, he spun the wheel quickly, his hands moving one over the other. Soon, the sail changed direction, the wind caught it, and he and Smee were sailing off.

“Goodbye, Peter my boy!” Hook shouted. “I was right: this was the end of our last story. And what a glorious ending it is.” They sailed further away. Smee stood by the side of Captain Hook. “You were a wonderful enemy, Peter. The greatest foe I could have ever had. My better. And, it turns out, you could not be the best you—you could not be the real Peter Pan—without Tinker Bell by your side.”

Peter looked to me. He smiled. Then, he looked to the sand with a laugh. I smiled back, squinting, trying to decide if I was happy, relieved, excited, scared, out of my mind, or everything all at once.

“Do one thing for me, Tinker Bell,” Hook shouted. “Never grow up. Do that, for me. You’ve already grown up far too much. Looks like we almost lost you. Always keep that fight in you, girl. I always quite liked that. Never let Never Land out of your bones.”

Soon, the ship was out of our eyesight, and into the fog. But, we heard Hook yell out one last thing.

“To the unknown, Smee! To the greatest adventure we’ve ever had! To oceans our eyes have never seen.

“To the ends of eternity itself.”

Chapter Twenty-One

A long, dark canoe ride later, Peter, Tim, Blue and I walked through the forest of the Island of the Lost Boys. When we reached the village, I saw many people—more than I expected—gathered in the open area under Peter’s treehouse. It was the Babbles, the Lost Boys, the Natives, and Wendy, Michael, and John—all of the Neverlanders we had rescued from the prison. Many of them were in rough shape, so Wendy and the Chief were applying bandages, giving them food and water, and helping them get comfortable in bamboo chairs. However, the mood was actually happy and festive; people were talking, laughing, and even dancing to music from some Lost Boy musicians.

Then, when the Chief saw us, he began to clap, and this caused the others to start applauding, too.

“Um, why are they clapping?” I asked.

Peter smiled. “I believe it’s for you.”

“Welcome back, Emily!” the Chief bellowed. “The hero of Never Land!”

Wendy ran to Peter and wrapped him in a hug. Then, she embraced me.

“Thank you, Emily,” she said. “You were right: you brought him back, just like you said you would. Thank you, thank you, for everything.”

“I’ll say!” John said. He and Michael took turns hugging me. I was surprised, to say the least. “We heard what you did, Emily! That’s amazing!”

“Truly!” Michael added. “You took down old Captain Hook himself!”

“What we tried to do for centuries,” the Chieftess said with a smile, “she accomplished in one night. She really was the key to all of this.”

Wes approached me. His arm was in a sling from the battle. “Yeah, crazily enough, Peter actually had a good idea for once. You really did have some of that fight left in you.”

“I don’t know about that. I just stalled until these guys showed up.”

“That’s not all you did.” Peter turned to the crowd. “I wish you all could have seen her: facing down Captain Hook—magical, maniacal Captain Hook—with nothing but a sword that she barely had ever even seen before! It was bloody gorgeous.”

He threw an arm around me. “I haven’t seen anything like that in a long time.”

“Is there anything you need, Emily?” the Chief asked.

“Are you hurt?” Wendy said. “I’m sure you could use some medical attention.”

“Anything you need,” Tiger Lily said, “you just let us know.”

I looked to my right. Tim was there.

“Emily,” he said, “can we go home?”

I pulled him close and smiled.

“I’m glad I could help,” I told the others. “But at this point, I’d really like for someone to take us back.”

The Chief smiled. “I understand. However, since it’s so late, you could always head back in the morning. We’d love for you to stay here and regale us with the story of how you battled the legendary Captain Hook.”

“Thank you,” I said. “Thank you for everything you’ve done for us—all of you, really— but it’s time for us to go home. My parents must be freaking out, to say the least, and I think for my own sanity, I need to be back in New York.”

“Of course,” the Chieftess said. “Peter, would you do the honor of returning Tinker Bell home?” She shook her head. “I’m sorry. Emily. Old habit.”

“It’s okay,” I chuckled.

Tim looked at me. “Why do they keep calling you that?”

“I’ll tell you later. Maybe.”

“Let’s leave them to say their goodbyes,” the Chief said. “Of course, I hope you’ll visit us again soon, Emily.”

“Possibly.” The thought hadn’t even crossed my mind.

The group dispersed into the village, ready to celebrate the defeat of Captain Hook. That left Tiger Lily, Wes, Peter, Tim, and me alone.

“Thank you so much, Emily,” Tiger Lily said. “I would say I have no idea how you mustered up the courage, but I knew the old you for a long time. So it really doesn’t surprise me.”

“That makes one of us.”

We laughed and hugged.

“Thank you, Tiger Lily,” I said. “I hope Peter doesn’t bother you too much while I’m gone.”

“That’s impossible to escape, I’m afraid.” She held up a finger. “Before you go, though, there’s someone I’d love for you to meet. I’ve been telling her about you for a long time.”

Tiger Lily stepped into the crowd, then returned with a dark-haired girl, about ten years old. She was beautiful, with dark skin, brown eyes, and her hair in a long braid.

“Lilac,” Tiger Lily said. “This is my friend I’ve been telling you about. From many years ago. She goes by Emily now. Emily, this is my sister, Lilac.”

“Hi,” Lilac said, shaking my hand. “Nice to meet you. Are you sure you have to leave now? I’d love to hear more about your adventures.”

“Uh, yeah, I think so. Sorry. We need to go back home.”

“Oh. I was hoping maybe you’d stay for the celebration.”

“Emily?”

I looked down. Tim was staring at Lilac with wide eyes and a dropped-open mouth. I’d never seen that look on his face before.

“Maybe we can stay for a little while longer,” he said.

I laughed.

“Yeah,” Wes said with a chuckle. “I think it’d be nice to introduce these two.”

Peter put his arm around me. “C’mon, Em. Let’s go have some fun, one last time.”

I thought it over. I sighed.

“Fine. But you have to promise me, if I stay, no one is going to attack us.”

“Of course not,” Tiger Lily said.

“Thanks to you, there’s no one left to attack,” Wes replied.

The group of us walked towards the center of the village. Exhausted—and still debating over whether we should stay or get out of there—I looked to Tim. He was walking ahead of me with Lilac. He was doing most of the talking, chatting her ear off.

I squinted, confused.

Somehow, even here in Never Land, Tim had grown up, just a little.

Chapter Twenty-Two

In the still of the night, with the honking horns of New York City below us, Peter brought us in for a landing. When my feet hit the balcony outside my room, I let go of Peter’s hand.

“Finally,” I said, closing my eyes.

Tim flung open the door and ran inside. “Mom? Dad?”

“I doubt they’re home,” Peter said. “Not yet, anyway.”

“What? We’ve been gone for hours.”

“Take a look at the time.”

I peered inside my room. The clock near my bed read 11:37. Only about an hour had passed since we’d left for Never Land.

“What? How’s that possible?”

Peter smiled. “Time ebbs and flows in Never Land. Passes differently. Part of the reason we don’t grow up and all that.”

I nodded. That was a relief. I was so worried about what we were gonna tell my parents; turns out, they hadn’t even come home to find us missing.

“Well, I guess this is it, Emily,” Peter said. “I should be going before they get back. I’ve already said my thanks, but I really can’t tell you enough.”

“Peter, I didn’t even really do anything. I just kept Hook distracted long enough and tried not to die.”

He laughed. “That was enough. That was everything. You’re as brave as you ever were. Braver than you know.”

I squinted. “You know, you didn’t need me there. Not really. You could have faced Hook just like that without me, and had the same outcome. I watched you out there—you were gonna fight Hook until you couldn’t fight anymore.”

Peter shook his head. “No, that’s the thing. I couldn’t have. Not without you. Over the past many months, since Hook’s return, I faced him dozens of times. Maybe hundreds. And every time, I ran away. When it got too tough and I thought I was gonna lose, I ran. I gave up. Like a coward. I couldn’t handle the fact—physically and mentally—that I couldn’t beat Hook. But not this time. Because I had you with me.”

“That doesn’t make you a coward. That makes you smart.”

Peter ignored me. “I wasn’t me, without you. I needed you by my side, Tink. I wasn’t Peter Pan without you. I was just a fool dressed in green without any friends. Without anyone to have adventures with. Life wasn’t an adventure without you.”

I thought a moment. “I appreciate that, but I don’t think that’s true, Peter. That boy I saw on the beach, battling Hook to his dying breath, not giving up on saving Never Land even if it meant the end of him—that was all you. I had nothing to do with that. You could have faced him with your Lost Boys or Wes by your side and it would still have been the same thing.”

Peter smirked. “It’s like I always say, Tink. I can get more accomplished with one girl than I can with 20 boys. Especially if that girl is you.”

I looked him in the eyes.

“You’re the other half of myself, Tink. Always have been, always will be.”

“And now what? That I’m leaving again?”

Peter shrugged. “I’ll figure something out. I’ll be fine, now that Hook’s gone. Everyone will be. We’ll have to be, since this is where you belong.”

I looked toward my room.

“I know maybe that was my old life,” I said. “I’m ready to admit that. In some crazy past life, maybe I did live with you guys, in Never Land. But even after everything you showed me—everything I saw—I still remember none of it. Not a single second. That’s not my home. My family, my life, is here. I’m sorry. All my memories are of here. Not Never Land.”

“You don’t have to be sorry,” Peter said. He shook his head. “Not for a bit. I’m glad, in a weird way. I’m glad all this happened to you. You have a good life. A good mom. That’s more than any of us have in Never Land. And, really, I think it’s what we all want. I’m glad you got that. It’s a better life. It is. You have my greatest wish. And I’m glad you have it rather than me.”

I looked down. That might have been the nicest thing anyone ever said to me. In fact, I knew it was.

“Promise me one thing,” Peter said.

“What?”

“If you ever wanna come back, even for a visit, you let me know. I’ll take you back as quick as I can.”

“How will I let you know?”

He reached into his satchel and retrieved a little golden bell.

“Ring that. I’ll hear it, and come flying. That was yours. Back when. I’ll hear it wherever you ring it.”

I took the bell and looked it over. I couldn’t imagine a time when I would ever use it.

“Peter, I—”

“Thanks for having an adventure with me, Tink. Even if it was the last, it was the best we ever had. I’ll never forget that adventure, or any of ‘em.”

He leaned forward and kissed me. He let it linger, our lips touching, for a long time. And, dammit, I let him. What the hell. It was like a seal on a card, to let me know this was all over. I didn’t exactly mind it. And I figured the old me would have wanted it, too. Who knows.

Peter stepped back. He was smiling wider than I had seen him smile this entire time. There was a look in his eyes—a glow—that I hadn’t yet seen.

“Bye, Tink,” he said. “Don’t grow up too much. I don’t want you to be suddenly older than me.”

He floated into the air.

“And whatever you do, don’t get so old that you forget Never Land. And your crazy friend from the village of the Lost Boys.”

And with that, he took off, his arms outstretched, his sword hanging from his belt. He headed for the stars—the second to the right, and straight on till morning.

And me? I headed straight for my bed, with the intention of sleeping for the next two days.

And, I had to admit, with the memory of Peter still very much on my mind.

EPILOGUE

“We’ll see you later, Emily,” my friend Rachel told me, as she turned down the street toward her apartment building. “You’re coming out bowling tonight, right?”

I crossed my arms as a cold wind whipped by. The December air was already so frigid.

“Yup,” I said. “I’ll be there. What time are you guys going?”

“Sam’s meeting me around eight, I think. We can swing by your place, if you want?”

“Nah, that’s okay. I’ll take the subway or something.”

“Okay, see you then.”

As Rachel continued toward her place, I picked up my pace, eager to get out of the cold. Cutting through Central Park, knowing it was the quickest way to my apartment, I heard footsteps behind me. No big deal. As usual, the park was filled with people. But then I heard a guy’s voice.

“Emily. Emily.”

It was urgent. For a moment, I thought it was Peter.

But it wasn’t.

I turned around to find Wes. He was wearing sunglasses and a black hoodie, his face hidden in shadow.

“Wes? What the hell? What are you doing here?”

“Never mind that.” He took me by my arm. “We need to get you out of here.”

He led me back the way I came.

“Why?” I asked. “What’s going on?”

“I’ll explain when we get to Never Land. Right now, we have to move—”

The wind picked up. It whipped violently around the park, cold and raw. Closing my eyes, I turned, my hair battering my face. My ears were filled with the WHOOSHING! of wind, like a howling ghost.

“What on earth?” I shouted. Other people in the park were just as shocked as I was, covering their faces as they headed for the street, the wind pushing them back and forth. Within seconds, it seemed there was a hurricane in Manhattan. But I knew there hadn’t been anything like this in the weather forecast. Plus, it was December. Hurricanes only occurred in the summer.

“Wes, what is going on?” I yelled. A gust of wind nearly knocked me over, and Wes lost his grip on me.

“Come on!” he shouted. He raised an arm to guard his eyes so he could see where we were going. “We gotta get to the roof! We have to move—”

A giant tree limb CRACKED! off its trunk and fell to the ground, not far from us, its branches slamming to the earth. I heard a warning siren, blaring, and then looked to the horizon.

There was a tornado, to the north of us. A black, swirling, violent tornado, tearing up the ground and thrashing through trees. It was maybe a mile away, but speeding closer. I could see it sending cars flying like they were pieces of paper. People around me screamed. It was heading our way. As if it was drawn to us.

“Wes, what is that?” I asked. “Where’d it come from?”

Wes stared at the tornado. “She found us. I don’t know how, but she found us.”

“Who?”

“The witch. The witch from my land.”

Frozen, my legs unable to move, I watched the tornado come closer. I could hear its swirling nightmare of a roar and the crashing, crunching sounds of the destruction it was causing.

Soon, the storm was so loud I could barely hear the people around me. But one voice cut through.

“Emily!” Wes shouted. “We need to get you to Never Land! Come on! You need to be where we can help you! It’s the only place you’ll be safe!”

My mind was torn—do I leave with Wes, back to the craziness of Never Land? Was he right? Was that really the safest place for me right now?

But then, I didn’t have a choice.

The wind was upon us. I could no longer see the tornado on the horizon, because it was here. We were in the middle of it. A street sign whizzed by my ear, and the roof of a garage building was torn in half.

“We still have time!” Wes shouted. “Grab my hand! We can—”

Wes was ripped from the ground, pulled away from me. I heard him yell as he tumbled wildly, flung into the swirling cloud.

I felt my own feet leave the ground. I covered my ears and clenched my eyes shut. The air was filled with sounds of crashing, ripping, and destruction. Then, it was silent.

***

I opened my eyes. It was bright. So bright. Blinking, I looked around. I was sitting in the middle of a cornfield. The air was quiet and comfortable—the opposite of what I had just experienced at home.

When my eyes adjusted to the insane sunlight, the first thing I noticed was the colors. The blue sky. The white clouds. The green corn stalks. It was like a child had painted everything with the most perfect, vibrant shades as possible.

Standing on wobbly legs, I realized I wasn’t in the middle of a cornfield—I was actually in between two separate cornfields. Below me, under my feet, there was a cracked, crumbling road—similar to a cobblestone road—overrun with weeds. The mismatched, broken bricks that made up the road were a faded yellow.

I heard footsteps, running my way. They were soft, yet quick. Panicked.

I looked down the road. A man ran toward me, a thin man. Dressed in brown.

When he got closer, I saw he was wearing patched rags.

“Dorothy?” he yelled. “Dorothy, is that you?”

I squinted. “Um, no. It’s not.”

He reached me and stopped, almost falling over from running so fast.

“You’re not Dorothy. You’re not even close to Dorothy.”

He looked me over with disappointment, so I took the opportunity to look him over. He wasn’t wearing rags—he was made out of rags. Straws of hay stuck out from his wrists and hat, and also poked out from holes all over his shirt. His pants were made from sewn-together potato sacks.

When I looked at his face, I saw it was painted on. Yet his blue eyes were undeniably human.

“Who are you?” he asked. “Are you from Kansas? Did Dorothy send you?”

“Uh, no,” I said, my brow furrowed. “I’m from New York. I don’t even know who Dorothy is. What—where am I?”

He looked down and kicked at the dirt. “Darn it. I thought maybe Dorothy sent you. I thought maybe you had a message from her. That she was returning.”

“No.” I looked around. “This may be a strange question, but did a tornado come through here?”

The man’s head darted up. “A tornado? Did you say a tornado? Were you brought here by a tornado?”

“Uh, I think so.”

“Oh, joy!” The man jumped and wrapped his arms around me. They were so soft—made of hay, and only hay. “You are here to help us, you are! If you were brought here by a tornado, you must be here to help us!”

“I don’t think that I am. Look, I’m gonna take a shot in the dark, but do you know a guy named Wes, by any chance?”

“Yes! Wes must have sent you here, from New York. It’s not Kansas, but I’ll take it! Oh rapture, oh relief! Someone here to help, at last! Come on, follow me!”

He grabbed my hand and pulled me forward.

“Where are we going?” I asked, speeding up so I wasn’t simply dragged down the brick path.

“To the Emerald City, of course. Or, what’s left of it, that is. Perhaps Wes is waiting for us there. I only hope we can get by the Kingdom of the Tin Wizard first. But maybe the flying monkeys can fly us over…”

“Flying monkeys? What are you talking about? What is this?”

“This is Oz, my dear. The not-so-much-wonderful-anymore world of Oz. I know it’s probably hard to tell. But we must be very careful.” The straw man looked to the sky. “And quiet. The Tin Wizard may be listening to us right now.”

“Who?”

“The Tin Wizard. Since he lost his heart, there’s no telling what he might do if he finds us this close to his kingdom.”

The straw man suddenly stopped. He looked to me.

“But…don’t you know? Isn’t that why Wes sent you here?”

“No. He didn’t send me here. I think this was a mistake. Why do you think I’m here?”

“To save Oz. To help me, rescue my friend. To turn him back into what he once was.”

“What friend?”

He walked forward, holding my hand.

“The Tin Wizard. We must return his heart to him. He lost it, but if we can find it and get it back to him, we might save him from the witch before it’s too late. And turn him back into my friend.”

“And where is this heart?”

“We’re not sure. But we think it’s inside someone named Captain Hook.”

 

 

EMILY’S ADVENTURES WILL CONTINUE IN THE NOT-SO-MUCH-WONDERFUL-ANYMORE WORLD OF OZ

About the Author

Thomas Hayes lives in Massachusetts. He enjoys Red Sox baseball, binge watching, movies, Muppets, and any kind of vacation, anywhere.

 

 

To contact the author:

[email protected]

 


Peter & Emily, The Girl From New York

17-year-old Emily Beckett is exactly where she doesn't want to be: stuck at home with brother while her friends are out celebrating the end of the summer. But then, a boy appears on the balcony outside Emily's room. He's dressed in green, and says his name is Peter Pan. He's there for one reason: he's looking for someone to have an adventure with. And with that, Emily is off, whisked to the world of Never Land, a place filled with sailing ships, tropical islands, pirates, fairies, and flying machines. However, Emily soon discovers Peter hasn't brought her there only to experience Never Land's wonders. His friends have been captured by a demented man named Captain Hook, and Peter believes--without a shadow of a doubt--that Emily is the only one who can help get them back. In this reimagined classic, join friends old and new on an adventure in a Never Land that's been changed forever--for better or for worse.

  • Author: Thomas Hayes
  • Published: 2017-05-06 23:05:24
  • Words: 47086
Peter & Emily, The Girl From New York Peter & Emily, The Girl From New York