The stars are twinkling above in the mesmerizingly dark and solemn sky outside your windowsill again. Clouds slowly drift through and temporarily steal them away from your view, but the wind drives the dark puffs of precipitated water away as soon as they do. You’re sat at the edge overlooking it all, with your bare feet hanging below—toes slowly losing sensation in the cold night air, thinking about how unfair it is that tomorrow is your eighteenth birthday and you can’t do anything to stop it.
Memories play almost like short films every time you close your eyes, reminding you of the things everyone else expects of you. It’s midnight and you can’t sleep, but you’re exhausted—you’re physically tired, but are too afraid to face the fact that one of the three things guaranteed to every person is finally happening to you. It terrifies you, because death and taxes wouldn’t even be a problem had you just found the solution that would allow you to never grow up.
You’re eyelids get droopy, and your back arches forward. Sleep is tempting to take you away, but the moment you try to give in and rest your head on the smooth surface of your, now, bent knees, it starts all over again. You’re suddenly very thankful that your windowsill isn’t as narrow as all the normal ones, cause you probably would have plummeted to your death if it had.
“You turn eighteen tomorrow.” Your teary-eyed mother had told you earlier. She’d been stirring the pot filled with your favorite potato-leek soup, and you’d wondered to yourself if it would still be edible if not just a tad bit saltier because of all the crying. “My baby is growing up—Oh, the next thing you know you’ll be graduating university, going off and getting a job, getting married, and giving me grandkids!”
Her words bother you more than she realizes. Just the idea of little versions of you and someone else, from your undeniably progressing future, running around and calling you one of their parents scared—no, still scares the hell out of you. You’ve got finals and other mind-numbing requirements to think about, you don’t need to deal with this too.
You decided not to say that aloud though, and allowed your mother, instead, to continue on with her sad delusions and comforting fantasies.
Opening your eyes, you find yourself staring at the white cloth of your pajamas. Relaxing your muscles and returning your legs to their dangling position once more, you find yourself contemplating. Your head is still kept down; your eyes are trained below now—where an un-weeded and dandelion infested lawn returns your gaze. You wonder. Was your bedroom high enough? Would the impact shatter your skull or break your neck? It would be painful, but would that be worth escaping the inevitable future?
Sighing, you lean back and stretch out your hand back towards your desk. Lying there, still face down on the last page that you flipped to, was the only solace you could manage to find on your bookshelf.
What was the point in thinking about imminent death when you knew that you didn’t have the courage to push through with it? What was the point of even considering suicide when it only made sense to you? Not to mention the confusion you’d end up leaving behind. What if ghosts turned out to be true? You’d have to endure your own funeral—where most of the eulogies given by your friends and family would probably read something along the lines of: “Why? You’d always been happy, never even showed any sign of depression and sadness. I just don’t understand why you would end your life so abruptly.”
You’d have been nothing but energy. You wouldn’t have the capability of defending yourself by giving an explanation. Telling them that growing up was scary because then the pressure of having to give meaning to your life would be at the forefront of all your thoughts. Explaining that having to prove the importance of your existence was a burden to heavy to bear. None of your ideas about how death was the easiest way out to save you from all of that grief would be heard and understood.
So, instead, you drown yourself in whatever safe haven you can find. You decide that if reality just can’t give you the peace of mind that you need then you’ll look for it in other sources. The fictitious and yet neat and cohesive universe that most movies provide or the impersonal community that claims to know exactly what your going through that gives you a sense of belonging. Maybe even the crisp pages of a fantasy that offers you an adventure where you are able to live vicariously through the eyes of your favorite character or characters.
Your sanctuary just happens to be J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan.
It’s ironic and yet fitting. You fear the following day because, officially, it makes you an adult in the eyes of society. Meanwhile, in your little realm of fun and pirate-treasure stealing, you are given the choice of never having to grow up.
Your eyes train themselves on the first lines of the chapter you’ve continued. They move fast, from left to right, and you soak in everything as each word passes and each dialogue is said. Currently, Tootles has just supposedly killed the Wendy-Bird. Peter has demanded for the arrow’s owner, and he unveils his chest and orders his leader to strike true. Of course, Wendy chooses this opportune moment to assure everyone gathered that she is, indeed, quite alive and well.
Peter, of course, takes credit by saying that his kiss—in fact a button and not a kiss of any kind—hanging around her neck had saved her.
You laugh as Slightly plays along, exclaiming that he too remembered what kisses were and proclaims that the button that Wendy has turned into a make shift necklace is, in fact, a kiss a boy would give a girl.
Such sweet innocence, you think to yourself.
You move away from the window and decide to leave it open, perhaps giving into the Darling idea that a boy will lose his shadow and sweep into your room to find it. The bed is comfy and soft when you plop back into it, and the dim light of your desk light offers your enough visual to read in peace and without much trouble.
The winds blow at your curtains as you chuckle along to the lost boys’ antics and gasp in horror at the mermaids who try and drown poor, ignorant, Wendy. You imagine yourself living in that quaint little house that was built around the unconscious girl. Maybe, you can even visualize a sword in your hand as you, yourself, put a stop to the likes of Captain James Hook with the ever needed help of Tic Toc the Croc. You even raise your voice along as Peter Pan, the eternal boy, shouts: “I’m youth, I’m joy, I’m a little bird that has broken out of the egg!”
Soon enough, you’ve calmed down and relaxed. The thoughts of your impending maturity are pushed back into the creases of your mind, forgotten for the moment and left to be dealt with at a latter time.
Soon enough, the book falls from your hands and onto your face as your snore softly away into the night. You’ve never felt so at ease.
But then, as quickly as relief came, panic settled in as once again your dreams tortured you with the possible scenarios of your future—unable to let you, even for one night, pretend that everything would be as find as it would have been in the stories you oh-so loved.
“Love, could you pass me the spanner?” It’s horrible, because you see a blacked-out face with a hand extending towards you. Spanner? Since when did you ever use that word outside of a game of Cluedo? The scene changes and you’re seated on a dining table with three children and a spouse, and you’re scared senseless because, no, this was not what you wanted for yourself.
Again it shifts and you’re at a desk, staring at papers that you know nothing about. Wondering about whether or not you’ve managed to make a name for yourself. There’s a picture to your right of your old, gray-haired, parents and you can’t help but sense the disappointment in your father’s eyes and the desperation in that of your mother’s. You want to scream, but the world spins.
You’re on your deathbed, staring up at the eyes of what you assume are your, now, adult children. Your heart clenches, not because of loneliness, but because of the failure you’ve achieved with your life.
There was no meaning to the things you did.
There was no purpose when it came to anything.
And when you could take no more, you pulled yourself away and forced yourself out of your dream because the pain, the acceptance, the horrible truth was just too much to bare for a seventeen-year-old like you.
Tears sting at the corner of your eyes, threatening to fall as you sit up from your resting position in a panicked daze and in cold sweat. The book falls from your face, landing by your side, and you wonder how weak it would be if you cried your heart out at that very moment.
Would your parents hear and worry? Or would they tell you about how dramatic your were being? You could imagine your father easily rolling his eyes and telling you to “Buck up!” because you were way passed the age of petty tantrums and were mature enough to understand that a nightmare was nothing more than a play of the mind.
Your mother would probably be more sympathetic, but she wouldn’t disagree.
You try to further roll yourself out of your bed, but there’s an odd sounding rustling that bothers you when you move yourself. Looking down, you don’t what to think anymore when instead of your soft comforter and white sheets, what greets you instead is warm, orange, autumn leaves that remind you of jumping into the neat stacks along the neighbors’ yards during the fall.
The book is closed beside you, nestling on a pile of yellow-ish ones that you find quite odd and pretty at the same time. You probably should have been freaking out, but after a dream like the one you’d just experience, you doubted anything could faze you more. So you decide to survey your surroundings instead.
It’s dark, but judging by the peeping rays of sunshine showing through the weeds and vines that seemed to be the fortification of a makeshift wall, it wasn’t nighttime anymore. You stand and stumble at the unfamiliarity of the soft soil and the scattered leaves, but gather yourself to pick your book up from the ground. At the very least, it didn’t seem like it was damaged in any way. Continuing to look around once more, you can’t help but find everything oddly familiar. You wouldn’t let yourself dare hope that this was anything close to what you were imagining however.
You may have been going insane, but not that insane.
You whip your head towards the door when you hear three knocks echo within the cottage. “Who is it?” You cautiously call out, taking two steps back as the door budges from its hinges. You would have screamed, but it was kind of hard when your perpetrator’s silhouette was shorter than you by almost a foot at your full height.
“You’re not the Wendy-Bird!”
“And you’re not my mother!”
You don’t know why that was your first response, but the absurdity of the situation wasn’t really doing your common sense any favors either.
“Mother? There are no mothers in Neverland!”
The young boy in front of you was serious. You could tell by the ferocity in his eyes and the conviction in his voice that there was no lie in any of his words. His nose was tilted upwards, his chin raised high, and the arrogance in his stance spoke eons of just how much this boy would fight and snap at you if you disagreed.
You find yourself with a realization.
Oh, you think. Neverland.
“You’re Slightly.” The boy jumps back and bears his sword, teeth feral as he growls and forces you to step back further. Your back’s against the wall, your head’s bumping on the low roof, but still there’s a thrill in your stomach and a flutter of excitement in your heart. Could it really be? Was this really Neverland?
“Speak your name!” The lost boy demands of you, stepping forward with his leaf blade at the ready and getting closer and closer to your neck. “And how is it you know mine?” He adds, trying to sound menacing but not quite achieving it.
“I’m Lex.” You lie. Because what use is it to them to know your real identity? “And I know you because—” You stop. You worry. How are you going to explain how you know them? You can’t possibly just say that you read about them in a book, could you? Inside a work of fiction that, you realize, you were still holding in one hand.
Before you could find a way to slip the little book inside your pajama bottoms, Slightly pulls it out of your grip as if having noticed it for the first time.
“What’s this?!” He demands, glancing at the cover and then back at you. He sticks the sword closer to your throat, and you might have felt a small dribble of blood drip down to your top. You don’t put much thought into it, however, and in a rush of adrenaline push the blade aside.
“It was given to me!” You shout back, pulling at the little thing and avoiding the pointy end of the sword aimed at you. “By…by…by Wendy!” It’s not as if the lost boy could fact check, now could he?
You manage to pull the book away.
Slightly looks at you with a raised brow of curiosity, and you decide to give him a false explanation. It wasn’t like he was quick-witted when it came to fibbing. If anything, Slightly would try and prove that he knew exactly what you were talking about.
“She’s my neighbor, you see.” He nods for you to continue. “She used to tell me stories, you know, about Peter Pan and the Lost Boys. She told me that they all grew up though—the Lost Boys, I mean. Why are you still here?”
He stuck a finger to his chin and finally lowered his sword.
Slightly looked deep in thought, and you allowed yourself a short breath as you slid against the not-so-sturdy structure and landed back down on the leaves. You took the opportunity to hide the book as well, fearing that Slightly would get even more curious and rambunctious regarding the small thing.
“I did—I mean, we did.”
“I beg your pardon?”
Slightly shook himself out of his stupor. “We did—grow up, I mean.” You tried to see if he was lying, if he was playing along as the lost boy, Slightly, would. “I married a noblewoman. She died.” His shoulders slumped as he dropped his sword, stepping back as he exited the quaint little house. You follow suit through the door, and watch as he drops to the ground, clutching his temples as tears welled up in his eyes. “I didn’t have any children because my wife died so young.”
You had no idea what to do and you had no idea what he was talking about. Should you comfort him? Should you even do or say anything, really? Before you could make up your mind, he looked back up at you with a snarl on his face.
“I wish I’d never grown up!”
He pushed himself off of the Neverwood soil and ran. It took you a couple of seconds to register, but soon enough you were bolting after him. Not because of some unexplainable need to be with him during a time of strife, but more so because you didn’t want to be alone in a forest of woodland creatures and playful fairies.
“Slightly!” You called after him. “Slightly, wait!”
His sobs echoed above in the trees and caused numerous birds to flee, you thought about the possibility of him attracting bigger predators, but found your legs giving up on you in the center of a clearing. You plopped yourself onto a log and took a breath, and groaned when the sobbing softened until it finally disappeared.
Looking up, you see the clear blue sky and could only hope that Peter Pan was away. When he was away, you’d read, everything about Neverland seemed to come to a gloomy stop. Spring would turn to autumn (and maybe winter should he be gone long enough), and the fairies would sleep in an hour more. That kind of peace would probably benefit you right now—all alone and lost in the Neverwood.
Managing to catch your breath, you position yourself more comfortably on the log’s surface. You’d been so caught up in Slightly that you’d actually forgotten quite an important little detail.
How did you end up in Neverland in the first place?
You’d been at home, reading Barrie when you’d fallen asleep and started that terrifying nightmare. Next thing you knew, you’d been in Wendy’s cottage being threatened at sword-point by a Lost Boy that you thought, for intents and purposes, to be fictional. Was this just some sort of out of body experience? Perhaps this was all just another dream—like those in Inception.
At this point, did it even matter?
You were in Neverland! The mystic place that allowed Peter Pan to never age. Sure, by his standard, you were most probably considered an adult, but you didn’t have to be a Losty anyway. You could be a nomad, just wandering through the woods and surviving. You could live with the fairies and learn to fly as the Boy who Never Grew Up did. Maybe, you could even befriend Princess Tiger Lily.
All of this was, to you, a dream come true. Here, in Neverland, no one expected you to get a good job; no one was pressuring you to start a family and pro-create. Here, even if you did get older, you’d never have to actually grow up. In this wonderful place, you were free to do and be exactly what you want.
In the back of your mind, you deeply wished for only one thing –
That none of this actually be a dream at all.
You stood from the log with revitalized energy and thought about the things you wanted to do. Perhaps you’d look for the Piccaninny Tribe first and introduce yourself. Maybe you’d steal a bit of treasure from Captain James Hook. Heck, maybe you could even go exploring and stumble upon Peter Pan’s hideout! The day was filled with endless possibilities and there were so many things you wanted to experience.
What was the chance of you meeting a fairy and befriending it, much like Peter and Tinkerbell? Would he or she give you an unlimited supply of pixie dust? Would he or she lead you to mermaid lagoon? Would he or she bring you up to a puffy white cloud and watch as Peter and the Lost Boys pillaged The Jolly Roger?
Once you’d made up your mind to find your way towards Pixie Hollow, a twig snapped in the distance and made you jump. You dashed behind the largest tree you could find and peeped from the side.
Had Slightly returned?
“Do you think—”
“—that Peter’s back?”
“—he decided to grow up?”
The talking stopped. The silence lasted a good second before the rustling started again, as if the people discussing had actually contemplated the thought.
“Nah!” Both voices shouted with unhidden and preposterous glee, finally emerging from the thick greenery of the Neverwood. “He’d never grow up! He’s Peter Pan!” They added in a sing-song-ly manner, skipping as they took your place on that very comfortable log you’d been occupying earlier.
They had identical faces and wore identical clothing, with bright young expressions that spoke of mischief and madness. They were giggling non-stop and finishing each other sentences. They made you smile in nostalgia, because you’d always found those two lost boys quite intriguing.
You debate with yourself about whether or not you’d show yourself to them. After Slightly’s odd reaction, one would be very much wary. What if, they too, didn’t remember that they grew up? What if you brought back as bad a memory for them as you had for Slightly?
I didn’t have any children because my wife died so young!
“Maybe Tinkerbell could help?”
“She always did know what to do!”
“But will she give us pixie dust?”
“Oh, yeah, she never used to do that—”
“—without Peter telling her to.”
The Twins sighed as they slumped in the log, and you wonder what exactly it is their talking about. Creepy finishing each other’s thoughts aside—you can’t help but be curious. Why would they need pixie dust all of a sudden?
You debate with yourself again, about whether or not it’s a good idea to show yourself, but decide, overall, that the pros overweighed the cons of the situation. Besides, if they were looking for pixie dust too, they’re agenda was in line with your own, right?
You step out of the tree and accidentally onto some dry fallen leaves. They crunch under your feet, and drop down to the ground as two arrows fire simultaneously in your direction. They embed themselves on the tree behind you, and you look up at the Twins who had, most definitely, fired out of instinct.
“Oh it’s a person!” They shouted in unison, running over to help you up. You look at the two arrows, halfway deep into the tree trunk, and thank the heavens for the fast reflexes you’ve managed to develop.
“Sorry about that!”
“We didn’t mean to accidentally kill you!”
You would have laughed, but your heart was still palpitating from all the adrenaline. Not even coffee with a mix of Red Bull had given you this much of a rush. It probably wouldn’t be something you’d mind to never experience again.
“Uhm, sure, right.” You dust off your pajamas for the second time that day, and turn to the twins who you notice are both shorter than Slightly.
“By any chance—”
“—are you Peter’s new friend?”
The hope in their eyes was unmistakable, but you shake your head anyway. “No,” You begin. “I’m actually wondering if you could help me find Pixie Hollow. I’ve heard that you need it to fly.”
They pipe up at that and bump their heads together.
“We know where that is!”
“You can come with us!”
You give them the most earnest smile you can muster, and nod your head furiously as one twin takes one hand each and leads you back into the tall trees and eerie darkness of the Neverwood.
They pull you along as they chat amongst themselves—they tell you about past experiences and of adventures, playing Treasure Hunt and going exploring inside Dead Man’s Cave. It’s everything you’ve read about and maybe even more, but then something one twin says startles you from your reminiscent fantasy.
Something you’d never quite imagine a Lost Boy to say.
“It was the best childhood ever!”
“While most kids were off at primary school and learning how to read and spell, we were here, stealing pirate treasures and hunting animals we’d skin for clothing. Peter really was the best at showing off a good time.”
You interject with: “Well, aren’t you still experiencing that?”
And they both respond with: “Of course not! We grew up long ago!”
You look at their short statures; their bear skinned clothing and their complete baby teeth. Have you gone mental or have they? They seem to sense your confusion and laugh it off, letting go of your hands to stand in front of you.
“My name is Marmaduke.” One of the twins said.
“And I happen to be Binky.” The other added.
“Pleasure to meet you!” They bow at a forty-five degree angle and laugh when they see your confused expression when they return to their proper stance. You can’t help but be affronted by their happy-go-lucky nature. What was the meaning of all this?
“Oh, is Slightly here too?”
“Hmm…maybe he’s found Tootles by now.”
You clap your hands in front of their faces in a way that says focus, and they return their attention to you as you began to speak.
“Explain how it is you grew up and how is it possible that you look very much the opposite of grown up…kindly.” They look at each other and then turn back to you; they open their mouths and then shut it back again. They put fingers to their chins and stick their tongues out in a most immature manner, before snapping their fingers and looking at you with an expression that almost looked like they had all the answers to the universe.
“We don’t know!” They tell you, and it takes all your will power to not hit them.
“I was putting my children to sleep.” Marmaduke explained. “I went to bed with my wife and I woke up in Neverland.”
“I was working a late shift in the office and decided to take a nap in the break room before finding myself here.” Answered Binky.
“So really, we have no idea how we ended up here.”
“But why would you choose to go back? If you’d been granted the best childhood here, then why would you choose to return to a boring old office and a family that needs you to make money for them? Wouldn’t it be more fun to stay here and be with Peter for all of eternity?”
They frowned, and returned once again to taking one of your hands each before continuing on towards Pixie Hollow. You find this troubling, because, in your opinion, what you’ve asked is valid and their reactions are nothing but underwhelming. Why would they choose to return if they’d been given a second chance at being children?
Leaves crunch under your feet as the Twins continue to keep you in the dark. Trees pass by, squirrels and raccoons skittle around the wood, and, every now and then, you swear that you see footprints on the ground that lead to different locations. By the time you’ve had enough and force the Twins to halt from their march, you’ve practically been walking for a good ten minutes.
“I’d very much like an answer to my previous question.”
Marmaduke tugs at your hand to tell you to keep walking, and Binky moves to your back and tries to push you from there, but you stand your ground and don’t budge. They were either going to answer your question or stay stagnant. The possibility that they leave you alone in the middle of the Neverwood crosses your mind, but you decide to risk it anyway. Why? Because you wanted answers, damnit!
The Twins sigh as they realize how futile their efforts are and stand, once again, in front of you and move in perfect harmony. They take a seat on the soft ground, and your follow suit—uncaring that your, once, immaculate pajamas are now probably a combination of cotton and wood grime.
“What do you know about twins?”
It took you off guard, but you answered Marmaduke nonetheless.
“Well, it happens when an ovum splits into two inside the womb or when two eggs are fertilized by two sperms. And there are two kinds. There’s identical—which means that you look alike, same face and all of that—and then there’s fraternal—the twins that are either different genders or look different or have different features.” Both nod along to what you’ve said, so you guess that, at the very least, they’re satisfied with your answer.
“Now, what do you think Peter Pan knows about twins?”
You swear that you remember reading about this in Barrie’s book, but it escapes you and so you shrug in indifference. The Twins answer for you.
“Peter always thought that Binky and I were a person split into two. That’s why we were always called The Twins.” It comes back to you, and you bite your cheek as to not interject with the technicality that, well, technically they were meant to just be one person. “We were always addressed together, always thought of by Peter as just one entity, and we knew none the better because in Neverland, no one is allowed to know more than the great Peter Pan.”
“But when we got out there,” Continued Binky. “The Wendy-bird introduced us to school, and books, and science and told us that, contrary to what Peter may believe, we are two different people that can go our different ways and make different choices. It was hard to accept, we’ll admit, but it was relieving to know that our lives weren’t tied together by some mystic thread or something like that.”
“We got to grow up and choose different jobs—got to marry different women and have our own kids. That’s a happiness and fulfillment that you can’t get in Neverland.”
“But!” This time you do interject. “Now, you do know all that you know. You can stay here and just live our the rest of your lives agelessly.”
“And what about our children—uhm, what’s your name again?”
“Lex.” It was Binky who spoke this time. “What about the families we’d have to abandon and the lives we’ve already made for ourselves? What about the children that would surely yearn for their Daddies and the wives that would become sudden widows at the loss of their beloved husbands? Don’t you think that’s something to consider above all else?”
“And this isn’t even mentioning the rules of Neverland. You’re not allowed to know more than Peter, and, despite how amazing Peter might think he is, that isn’t the case anymore. We would also never be able to fly again.”
This time it’s you who resigns to the facts. Half-heartedly, you continue it for them release a sigh. For at even at seventeen, you would never be able to fly as well.
“Because to fly is for the gay, the innocent, and for the heartless—the children that know none the better or the worse what awaited them and only think of the now and not of the future.”
You look up and search for confirmation, but you gasp and fall back when neither Marmaduke nor Binky are there to assure you. Only air and the trail of the Neverwood are in front of you, and you have no idea what to make of the sudden change in situation.
Despite the fact that you were to never kiss the clouds, were you going to give up on your conviction to stay and just grow up? Would you just accept the inevitable and turn eighteen tomorrow, grow up, get a job, and start a family as the Twins had? Or would you remain and make the most out of what’s been given to you, take advantage of the chance that the Twins would let go of, much like Slightly?
It was troubling. Slightly, with his troubled experiences and heart heavy with regret, was the best example of why growing up should be avoided. Why being a kid, without a care in the world, was the better option. Ignorance is bliss, as that famous saying went.
But then you have Marmaduke and Binky, who found solace in maturity and explanations. Who were at peace with their adult lives and sincerely happy with the goals they’ve achieved and the families they’ve started. It was almost too good to be true and way too perfect in its nature—almost like a fairytale out of the real Wendy Darling’s own pleasant imagination.
You want to pound your head against the nearest hard surface.
Was this how Wendy had felt when she’d been forced to make the decision of choosing Neverland over London? Was this how Jane and Margaret had felt whenever they, too, had taken their turns to come over for spring cleaning?
How had they found the will to leave this paradise and choose the industrialized, dark, and progressive London? Why choose buildings and skyscrapers over the greenery of the Neverwood? Why choose to go to primary, elementary, and high school when you could have spent your time fighting the buccaneers of the seven seas and having parties with the Piccaninny Tribe? Who would pick a dreary home with repetitive dinners, daily scolding, and heavy expectations when the hideout under the ground gave the promise of endless fun and laughter?
To your mind, the mind of a conflicted teenager who was scared of all the possibilities that awaited you, the choice was made before it was even given.
You push yourself off the ground, again, and push your way through the loose stems and hanging vines. When proven futile, you decide instead to climb up to see, if perhaps, even in the middle of the day the glowing of Pixie Hollow could be seen. Even if you couldn’t fly, couldn’t even learn how to, you decide that seeing all of the fairies moving about was still a sight worth beholding.
And so you take hold of the thick branch and pull yourself slowly up and hope that, as you get nearer to the top, that you’ve chosen a tree with a high enough vantage point for you to see the entirety of Neverland.
The surface of the wood is mossy and sappy, dangerous, and yet you continue anyway because you’ve got a strong grip and your confident that the fall won’t injure you to a fatal extent. So you climb and you look for dents in the trunk to support you until your head emerges from the thick shrubbery of leaves and your skin finally comes in contact with the warm and welcomed sunlight.
You close your eyes and soak up the Vitamin D rays, but when you decide to take in the view that awaited you, your jaw drops at the sheer wonder of it all.
The sea is a sparkling sapphire blue that reflects the sky on it’s clear and mirror-like surface. The hills protrude from the flat ground forming perfectly rounded mounds that, when imagined with snow, would be the best to go skiing on. Apart from the sheer perfection of the landscape however, were the twinkling bell-like sounds that echoed in the air—alerting you to the presence of fairies hard at work.
You wonder to yourself if Kensington Gardens really had all this to offer at night, but grip the branch your balancing on when the leaves ruffle beside you and a curly mop of hair emerges from the once pure green of the treetop.
“Can’t believe this tree still exists!”
He hasn’t seemed to have noticed you yet, and you take in the wild hair and the thin, almost stick-like, limbs and you take the time to decide on whether or not this Lost Boy would get your attention too. Previous conversations have given you nothing but headaches and grief, so no one could really blame you if you’d decided to just walk away from having to deal with it all together.
You sigh for the umpteenth time though, because you know running away was never an option you’d choose, especially when it came to this certain Lost Boy.
“Hello Curly.” You say hesitantly, and he turns to you with wide eyes and almost falls from where he was standing—plummeting to the broken bones that would have surely awaited him. But your quick reflexes allow you to reach out and grab the front of his bearskin tunic to pull him back and allow him to balance himself.
Barrie was right. Curly was a bit of a pickle wasn’t he?
“Who’re you?” He asks, pulling your hand away and regaining what little balance he needed by himself. “What’re you doing ‘ere?”
“I’m Lex.” You say again. “And I’m exploring.”
It wasn’t a lie, perse.
“How about you? What are you doing here?”
He seemed oddly contemplative about his answer, but you guessed that he too had some things to think about. If he were experiencing anything that was close to what you’ve gathered from Slightly and the Twins, then you could probably be merciful enough to give him some time.
When he finally does speak, it’s in that all too familiar timid voice that you’ve always sympathized with growing up. His tone is filled with that kind-hearted nature that made him, to you, the most loveable of the bunch.
“Exploring, too, I guess.” Curly finally responds. “Doing what I can in the time I have here. It’s not every day that I get to come back here. Might as well just enjoy it while it lasts.”
You both look out at the scenery, and you can’t help but notice that his voice is laced with just that slight tidbit of melancholy and resignation.
“Don’t you want to go back?”
“It’s not that!” He answers quickly. “I love my family and I would never regret growing up, it’s just that, that doesn’t mean that I don’t miss this place any less, you know? London is great, and my family is wonderful, but this place is magic and wander and joy. You can’t help but get pulled into all of that.”
“But you’re an adult.”
“Do I look like an adult, right now?” He doesn’t, but you think that a rhetorical question and allow him to continue. “I know I am one, but I’m not right now, and so I’ll let the moment last as long as it wants to and just do.”
You want to ask more, but Curly shakes his head and puts his finger to his mouth. You stay in the silence he asks of you, and you don’t pull away as he takes out a blindfold and begins tying it around your eyes.
“What are you doing?”
“Just do.” He whispers again.
You feel him take hold of your hand and slowly lead you down the tree. He guides you, verbally, when you take a misstep, and soon enough you’re on the ground once more. He takes a hand and tugs, and you follow and decide to follow his advice. You decide to just do.
You feel his rough hand in yours as the familiar crunching of skeleton leaves are felt at the soles of your feet. You can hear the chirping of birds, the scuttling of squirrels, the splashing of the mermaids in the distance. You swear that you might even be relaxed enough at this point to feel sleepy, and slowly the hand in yours begins slipping away as that familiar crowing echoes in your ears.
Dreaming seemed like such a good idea, but a squeeze alerts you to reality.
“Why are you in Neverland?”
“I don’t know.”
“You can’t not know. Of course you know.”
And he’s right, you know that too, but what’s the point of telling an adult one’s problems with growing up? He may be a child once more at this moment, but his mindset and heart are those of a common grown-up. You doubt that he can understand you without calling you petty in some sort of way.
“Tell me.” His voice is sincere and curious, very much like a little boy’s, and you want to groan because it just isn’t fair.
“I don’t want to grow up.”
Curly chuckles, as if you’ve just said something foolish.
“Well, everyone who comes here has that problem.” He explains to her. “But why are you here? What bothers you the most about growing up?”
“I don’t like expectation pushed towards me.”
“Then why not ignore it?”
“That’s not something so easy to do.”
“Is that so?”
You take a turn somewhere and the silence resumes. You feel like you’ve just been reprimanded, or at least that your intelligence has just been questioned. You don’t like the feeling, but he cuts you off, as you’re about to speak.
“More often than not, nightmares are really scary because our brains know exactly how to scare us. Growing up, expectation, failure—that’s something pretty common about all people. Sometimes, though, people don’t realize that it’s only scary because your mind blows it out of proportion. Turns into something more than what it really is.”
You want to say he doesn’t understand, but you bite back your tongue.
Because, truth be told, you think it’s you that doesn’t fully understand.
You decide to continue on with the silence as he begins leading you to the unknown destination. The feeling of the hand in yours begins to lighten, and before you know it, a cold gust of wind blows through your open, sweaty, palms and you tear the blindfold off.
Much like the Twins, Curly was now gone too.
And he’d left you right in front of a familiar place that you’ve conjured up in your mind multiple times as you jumped on the bed and shouted: “Shiver me timbers! I’ve finally found Pan’s hideout!”
Except, it was quiet and empty, and only a boy that could be described as handsome sat atop one of its branches. He was just about to jump into one of the hollows when he spots you, and you don’t know what to do, so you step forward and wave. You know who this is without a doubt.
Here, in Hangman’s Tree, was the unofficial leader of the Lost Boys.
You feel like things are going way too fast. You’ve just managed to meet Curly, and now you were face to face with Nibs? The progression just wasn’t natural, almost like you were being forced to go through with the motions without any choice in the matter and it scared—no, terrified you.
It reminded you too much of reality.
It reminded you too much of growing up.
“Oi!” You jump at attention, because even in the books Nibs has always had a presence that couldn’t be ignored. “Who are you and what are you doing here? Who brought you here?” You respond as you did to the others, and you tell him, honestly, that it was Curly who had led you to the hideout under the ground.
He’s skeptic, at first, but he must have found your story believable because he slides down from the branches and positions himself on the lowest stem to stare down at you. Up close, you can’t help but stare.
He had strong features and a boyish face that no one could deny would grow handsome. His eyes, however, spoke of a wisdom and displeasure that was eons above his physical appearance.
“You’re a bit too old to wind up in Neverland, don’t you think?”
“I’d say the same about you, but…you’ve reverted.”
He smirks and leans forward with a hand on a branch and holds the other out towards you to accept. You shake it and he and pulls back, taking a leisurely stance as he slumps and leans sideward onto the trunk.
“I can’t grant you access into the hideout if that’s what you’ve come here for.”
“No, that’s fine.” You’re disappointed, because it’s practically a child’s fantasy world in there, but you let it pass. “What about you, though? Why are you still here and not looking for Peter? Marmaduke and Binky seemed pretty adamant about finding him.”
“I’ve tried, and that’s why I’ve finally come here. He wasn’t near the pirates and wasn’t at Pixie Hollow. If you’ve met the Twins though, that means that I was right. I wasn’t the only one brought back. Do you know where they are?”
“No…they kind of disappeared.”
His eyes harden as the words come spewing out of your mouth. “Interesting.” You fear the threat in his voice—a promise of pain that he would go through with if he ever found out you did something to his brothers.
“Slightly is probably still somewhere around though.”
This time, Nibs doesn’t follow through with a threat. Instead, his hardened eyes soften and tears prick at the corners, threatening to fall. He slumps to his knees.
The mood switch is unexpected, but then you remember.
I wish I’d never grown up!
“He always was a stubborn one.” You step forward and wonder if climbing Hangman’s Tree would get you a death sentence. The way Nibs looks right now, you might be willing to risk it, but an arrow to the heart was really not the way to go if you were to have a say in it. “Always was a bit too afraid to grow up.”
“It’s a scary thing.” You say. “Growing up, I mean.”
He laughs sardonically, almost maniacally, but shakes his head as he returns his gaze to you. He has that same glint your father has—the one that says you are yet to understand what life really is. Suddenly, all the sympathy floods out of your system and you want to hit the most courageous Lost Boy over the head.
“Growing up isn’t just scary. It’s terrifying.” Okay, admittedly, you weren’t expecting that. “But it’s worth it, especially when you got to spend practically half of your childhood here, in this amazing place.”
He moves his arm around, gestures to everything that surrounds the both of you, and smiles fondly as the rests his palm back on the trunk of the hideout.
“What do you mean by that?”
“Hmm…” He seems hesitant, but he looks at you and smiles. His eyes are sincere, and this time they remind you of when your father used to tell you stories. “When you grow up, things change, but when you were once friends with a boy who never grew up, you learn a lot about how most adults aren’t actually good adults.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I’m not necessarily good at explaining either, but I guess you can say that memories allow you to not stray so far from the person you once were. Peter Pan just happens to be one memory so hard to forget, even if for him to forget is second nature.”
Yes, you remember that. The curse of Peter Pan. The boy who will never remember the pain and the lessons he’s learned. The boy who will forever remain joyful and youthful—the boy forgets everything that hinders him from being as such. Being a boy.
“But won’t Peter make you regret growing up?”
“Hmm, Lex, can you imagine becoming the only child who forever remains a child? You make friends that grow older and you forget them to never hinder such a reality. You get rid of the ones that grow old even if they want to because you—yes, you, are the only one incapable of aging. Doesn’t that sound lonely if not miserable? Unfair if not unreasonable?”
You admit it does and nod. Nibs’s smile widens.
“I think I understand now, why you’re here—why all of us are here. But I think you’re talking to the wrong Lost Boy.”
“What do you mean?”
“I take back what I said. Enter Hangman’s Cave. Become an honorary Losty for a day and head to the center of the Hollow where Tootles will be. I don’t doubt that he’s in there. This was always the place he loved most about Neverland.”
“But what if Peter’s in there?”
“It’s autumn.” Nibs explains, and you feel just a tad bit stupid, because, yes, it isn’t springtime. Which means: “Peter is elsewhere.”
You enter the nearest Hollow with a fond farewell to Nibs, and slide down and hope that it leads you to the main room of Hangman’s Tree. When you land on the furs that covered the floors like poorly made carpets, you smile, because a curious part of yourself is satisfied by the interior.
It’s nothing posh, but it’s very homey.
Tootles is seated on Peter’s chair, which you doubt is allowed, but he stands the moment you enter and welcomes you with a smile. This Tootles is so very young and innocent looking. It surprises you when he speaks.
“So, did you get your answers? From Slightly, the Twins, Curly, and Nibs?”
“The answer to your questions. Why did we choose to grow up? Why don’t we bear Wendy any ill will for making us? Why we don’t hate Peter despite the fact that he got to stay young when we didn’t? Why you have to grow up?”
You step back, because there was no way Tootles was reading your mind. But he laughs and holds up his hands in surrender.
“It’s quite alright, no need to be afraid.” He chuckles and you relax, but you’re wary when he speaks again. It’s not something you like, feeling violated and open to someone else that isn’t yourself. “So…in the end, did you get your answers?”
He motions his hands, telling you to continue.
“Slightly is me. He doesn’t want to grow up because of the bad things that could happen, because of the terrifying and unjust things that you don’t want to face. He’s my indecision, and he’s basically what every child is when they begin realizing that puberty isn’t just a passing phase that will leave them the same after.”
“The Twins—no, Marmaduke and Binky, they’re the acceptance. They’re proof that growing up is natural and that just because it’s different doesn’t mean it should be feared. They’re trying to tell me that growing up is okay and that what I’m feeling is normal and how my future goes is entirely upped to me—which is what Curly is trying to teach me. That my future is entirely in my hands and my fears are nothing more than the worst thing that my brain can conjure for me.”
“Nibs…Nibs tried to tell me that being a grown-up doesn’t mean that you have to be grown-up. He’s telling me that just because I have to turn into an adult doesn’t mean I have to stop being a kid.”
Tootles claps, but he stops soon after. He gestures for you to come forward and you do. He puts a hand on your shoulder, and he tells you: “Yes, and that is exactly lessons we all learned as children, being with Peter Pan and fighting Captain Hook.”
You snort. “Peter has none of those things.”
“Oh really, now?” He snorts.
“A child is blunt and speaks his or her mind—like how Peter is quick to judge about the things around him. Kind of like how Slightly so clearly states his regrets of growing up. A child is quick to forgive, because to their innocent minds, a simple sorry and I’ll never do it again would most probably suffice—an acceptance that needs no further proof or promise.”
“Children look at the things they can’t do as something that can’t yet do. In their minds, more often than not, their mantra is something akin to one day I’ll be able to do that, just you see, because in their brains the only thing that can hinder them is themselves. They know nothing of expectation and pressure, they just do the things they want to do without a care in the world.”
You remain silent, because you allow yourself to remember what it was like to be five and invincible and just supreme leader of the world from atop the jungle gym.
You reminisce about the time you considered yourself to be your biggest adversary, and never took no from anyone other than yourself. You allowed yourself, way back then, to believe that no one could tell you what to do because you were your boss and you were the one who would dictate your limits.
“Peter also touches us all in a way that forever reminds us that we are young—in spirit if not in appearance. Adults aren’t grumpy and sullen, because no kid is ever born as such. It’s those that choose to forget that they, too, are allowed their moments of juvenile enjoyment that become the boring adults we all secretly fear to be.”
Tootles smiles at you and you back away, falling back onto your bum as you try and wonder how exactly it is that you’ve missed all that.
How could it be possible that the fear of growing up made you forget what it was like to be a kid and face everything you didn’t know about head-on? How was it possible to learn cowardice as you got older?
“This is why I was brought the Neverland, isn’t it?” You manage to release. “Not to escape growing up, but to remember what it was like to be a child—getting excited about growing up and making my own decisions.”
He pats you on the head as an affirmative, and you hear the echoing of a loud crow just from outside Hangman’s Tree.
The air kisses you with warmth, and the slow chill disappears completely as the autumn leaves green and the birds sing louder as critters scuttle about in pure excitement. You look at Tootles who shrugs his shoulders, and you smile at him with both resignation and admiration.
There was never a need to meet Peter Pan to learn the actual lesson of staying young. He was meant to be a fantasy, an idea that allowed people to believe that they too could still be gay and innocent and heartless much like the boy who never grew up. He was the dream that everyone turned to in order to remember that growing up doesn’t have to mean always acting like a grown-up.
Suddenly, the idea of your eighteenth birthday tomorrow doesn’t scare you as much. It’s terrifying still, but as you listen to that crow once more and feel your eyes droop, you smile. Because if there was anything Peter Pan taught you, it was that:
“To live will be an awfully big adventure.”