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       Lost Boy, p.11

           Chanda Hahn
 
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  She would leave to protect her family. It was for their own good, she didn’t doubt it, but she wouldn’t go with Peter. She would go alone. Wendy headed down the stairs and spent the morning with both of her parents and a very sullen John. Those were the last days she might have with them, and it was surreal. Tomorrow, by that time, she could be walking out the door and never return. It didn’t seem like a grand adventure; it sounded terrifying. She might need a day or two to gather her courage.

  She tried to act normal and got into her car. She stared at the semi-full garbage bin by the garage and waited for John to push it down to the curb. She could leave right then, and they’d be safe. Just drive away and never come back, and she could avoid Peter and Neverland. If she continued to run, they would never find her. But then, the shadows would.

  John ran back up to the car.

  “You ready?” He got into the passenger seat.

  Pretend you are 007, and that this is a matter of life and death. Be suave, be sincere, and don’t tell him how scared you are. “Yep.”

  Her morning classes flew by, and she was so on the edge that she didn’t even notice the turmoil among the students. The whispers of worry, the chiming of the phones as they directed it her way once again.

  John came to her in between classes and hissed under his breath. “Why haven’t you checked your phone?”

  “It didn’t ring,” Wendy snapped, pulling her phone out of her purse and showing it to him. She’d completely forgotten to charge it and noticed it was dead.

  “Well, maybe, you should plug it in.” He held up his phone and Wendy saw a picture of Jeremy and her together at the theater last night. A banner in the middle of the screen read—Hatler hits a home run!

  “What? No, that never happened!” Wendy seethed. “And you know it. You were there. I have no idea where they got this picture.”

  “He posted it.”

  “Who? Jeremy?” She didn’t believe it. She grabbed the phone and looked at the photo a little closer. She wasn’t looking directly into the camera, so he must have taken it on the sly. In fact, it was hard to tell from the angle if it was even her.

  “Yes, him, and it links you to him that night.” His voice dripped with implication, and Wendy caught his meaning.

  “Is it obvious that it’s me?” she whispered. “This isn’t going to look good when Jeremy doesn’t come back to school. I’m a prime suspect now.”

  “I don’t think it’s conclusive. I’ve heard rumors that it’s you, but I’ve been trying to squash those. So far, I’ve only heard of a few people who have commented on his radio silence, Brittney in particular. So, stay away from her. Actually, the less you talk about last night, the better.” He nudged her shoulder as Brittney approached like a lion stalking her prey.

  “I haven’t seen Jeremy at all today. Have you?” Brittney pouted. “He promised that we would study together after school in the library. Well, that’s what he texted me last night.”

  Wendy knew her friend enough to know the code words. Studying in the library meant make-out session in the stacks. It was the perfect cover, a hardly used dark corner of the library. Wendy pressed her lips together to keep from calling her a liar. But then, maybe, she wasn’t lying. Maybe, Jeremy had texted Brittney in the bathroom when he realized their date was heading south. Or maybe, it was all a ruse to get Wendy to spill details from last night. Luckily, she didn’t have to answer.

  John shrugged. “Nope, and good luck studying.” He said harshly, pulling Wendy away from Brittney and down the hall.

  There was a definite difference in how she felt in just the last twenty-four hours, ever since her encounter with Peter and the appearance of those shadows and the morphlings. Her life had become a roller coaster, and she was waiting for the next drop.

  She was able to defeat the morphling once, and Peter had hinted that she had defeated one before. Deep down, she had a feeling she could do it again. Maybe, she didn’t have to leave after all.

  But then, how could she protect her family?

  Her confidence faltered, the weight of the world dragging her down, and she struggled to concentrate on her next class. Every slammed door, dropped textbook, or scraping of a chair across the floor made her jump.

  When her teacher slid a test in front of her, she tried to focus on the questions, but her paranoia began to get the better of her. The words swam in front of her, the black ink blurring together into a blob and forming the shape of the morphling. The paper trembled in her fingers, and she tried to blink, but she couldn’t shake the image of the shadowy morphling, and it began to move across the paper.

  “No!” she yelled, crumbling up the test.

  Her cry drew the attention of her teacher, provoking a flood of anger. “Well, if you feel that way about the test, you can retake it in detention after school.”

  “No, it’s not like that. I didn’t mean to.” She tried to smooth out the test paper, but he snatched it out of her hands.

  “Sure,” Mr. Barnum answered, “You didn’t mean to destroy your test. I’ve heard that one before . . . No, wait a minute—I haven’t. Either way, I’ll see you after school.”

  Just great. Wendy groaned internally. She told John about her detention in between classes, and he was adamant that they drive home together. He would just work late in the computer lab until she was done.

  After school, she made her way to the library and handed the slip to the detention monitor, who just pointed to the back, toward the tables by the window.

  The library was in the old unrenovated wing of their school. The windows were high and slim, creating many dark corners for teens to sneak away and make out, but cozy enough to study in the cubicles. There were lights that were always flickering or needed replacing, but she thought it gave the room character.

  Wendy carried her books to the back and sat at a table in the corner.

  She was alone in the library. When Brittney came traipsing toward her, she curled her lip in distaste, having forgotten all about her old friend’s meet-up with Jeremy.

  Wendy had to admit she was surprised and assumed that Jeremy had indeed texted Brittney. After all, there was that old saying about keeping your friends close and enemies closer . . . although she wanted to stay as far away from everyone at the moment.

  Brittney sat one table over and turned her chair away so she didn’t have to look in Wendy’s direction. Which was fine, she got a beautiful view of Brittney’s back.

  Not having any homework, Wendy grabbed a book off the nearest book spinner and pretended to be interested. It was a book on horticulture.

  Phones were not allowed in detention, but that didn’t stop Brittney from pulling hers out and tucking it inside a textbook.

  Movement at the front of the library drew Wendy’s gaze. A student came in and asked the detention monitor a question. A moment later, both moved to the other side of the library, out of sight.

  Brittney’s book dropped, and she turned to face Wendy—to strike with her venomous words. “You’ve been cut from the team. You just weren’t able to keep up with the rest, and I’m not sure how much time we can give you.”

  The news should have upset her more, but Wendy couldn’t help but smile. “That’s great news,” she said, her voice genuine.

  Brittney frowned. “What? I said we don’t want you!”

  “Yeah, and I said thanks.” Wendy smirked.

  That put Brittney in her place for a few minutes, but then her frown slipped upward into a wicked smile. “So, Jeremy last night. He told me what an ice queen you were. He said some not nice things about you.”

  Wendy’s temper rose. “Oh, I get it. You were hoping to get a rise out of me because of our date. Well, I don’t like the guy. You’re welcome to him.”

  “You think I want your leftovers?” she huffed.

  “Why are you here, then?” Wendy challenged and immediately regretted the whole exchange. It was then that Wendy noticed the angle at which Brittney was holding the phone.
She was videoing her in secret, and she had just admitted to being with him.

  “I don’t care what you think, and that’s the truth.” Brittney held up the phone and spoke into the camera. “There you have it, guys and gals. Wendy was dumped last night. But don’t worry. I’ll save Jeremy from the Ice Queen. Oooh. Streaming live from the library.” She pursed her lips and smiled at all of her online fans.

  “Fabulous,” Wendy murmured under her breath and tried to ignore the lip smacking coming from Brittney as she batted her eyes at her phone before ending the live stream. A few minutes later, a frustrated Brittney began to vent quietly under her breath. “What’s taking him so long?”

  Wendy felt a tickling at the back of her neck, a warning that she was being watched. She looked around the library and noticed a dark-headed older teen deep in the stacks, looking at a book. She couldn’t help but feel like she knew him from somewhere.

  Of course, she probably knew him, just couldn’t remember if she did.

  Brittney looked down and loudly huffed as she swiped and tapped her finger on the screen of her phone. “What’s going on?” She held up her phone as if trying to receive a better cell signal. “The signal dropped.”

  A warning coursed through her body, the hair on her arms rising.

  “You need to get out of here now!” Wendy jumped up and ran for Brittney’s backpack and began stuffing her notebooks and purse inside it.

  “What’s the matter with you!” she snapped, grabbing her stuff back and plopped it back on a table. “I told you, I can’t go until Jeremy shows.”

  “He’s not coming. He’s gone.” Wendy’s breath stuck in her lungs as she scanned the library worriedly, her admission triggering a recessed fear. She looked around for the monitor, who still hadn’t returned. Not a great sign.

  “What do you mean he’s gone?” Brittney asked.

  A lurking shadow moved from behind the far stacks, and Wendy sat up and leaned to the right to see it more clearly. A shadow waved her way frantically.

  “Uh-oh!” Wendy bit her lip and looked around. There were a lot of dark shadows created by the waning sunlight and the flickering lights overhead. The older dark-haired boy had left as well.

  Another shadow stepped out and seemed to be flying in circles around Wendy. She tried to wave off the shadow, but Brittney was watching, her hand holding up her phone. She didn’t want to create another online sensation. The shadow continued to pester Wendy until she gave up and followed it down the stacks.

  As soon as she did, the second shadow entered her and coldness filled her body. That shadow filled Wendy’s mind with a violent vision of morphlings descending on the school library, which caused Wendy to lose her balance. She could feel the shadow’s own fear radiate into her bones as it tried to warn her of what was coming.

  “Run!” Wendy felt herself say aloud. “They’re coming.”

  But the shadow wouldn’t leave her; she could feel it clawing, wanting to stay inside her, and Wendy tried to shove it out of her mind.

  “No,” Wendy shouted. She then pictured herself, yanking the shadow out of her body—the impact causing her to fling back into a metal bookshelf.

  Wendy’s head connected with the shelf, and she fell. She could see the black inkiness leaving her as her body hit the carpeted floor. Fighting the shadow had left her system drained and disoriented.

  The first shadow knelt down beside her, and Wendy could almost see its human features and its worry.

  She felt something tug at her shoulders, then slowly drag her across the carpet but before she could determine where it was taking her, she slipped into unconsciousness.

  “Run, they’re coming,” Wendy cried out, her voice echoing hauntingly from deep within the stacks. Brittney sighed, not taking the warning seriously, and shook her phone as she searched for a signal. She couldn’t believe that after buying the top-of-the-line, most expensive device, she had zero cell signal while filming her former friend’s humiliation.

  Brittney didn’t feel any sympathy toward Wendy. Not when she had a hunch that her total disappearance was a sham, put on to gain sympathy from the school and, more likely than not, Jeremy. She knew that her friend’s social media followers had to have tripled since her disappearance and her glorious homecoming. She had become an instant celebrity. Brittney had even contemplated doing the same thing. Disappearing for a few weeks and claiming to have no memory of where she’d been. Of course, she would actually do the interviews and TV spotlights that Wendy’s family had refused.

  Especially with the frequent disappearances, her miraculous return would be heavily documented. She could write a book. A tell-all. But first, she’d have to come up with a plan for where she’d go—how she’d survive and fake her kidnapping.

  Brittney smiled as she envisioned the interviews. She could already picture the outfit she’d wear to her first one. It would be that pink romper from Macy’s. But that wouldn’t help her gain more followers. She needed to keep posting things about Wendy, and then maybe some of her fame would rub off on her . . . if only her phone would get a signal.

  But at the moment, she just needed to find her and video her. Oh, why did her signal have to drop? Her interest was piqued. Was she going to meet someone?

  Brittney grabbed her phone and snuck off down a parallel aisle, being careful to keep her head down and not make a ton of noise.

  Brittney pushed record and tried to video the rest of the rant. She blew out a frustrated breath, and then, she heard a “thunk” as Wendy was flung back into the bookshelf and sank to the floor.

  What was going on? She leaned down and tried to peer between the shelves and saw Wendy’s eyes wide open, dazed, and looking at her before they closed.

  Something moved in the corner of her eye, and Brittney only caught a glimpse of it moving toward her. She felt a cold presence hit her hard in the chest—she gasped and coughed. Her breath turned cold, and she could see the white cloud of her exhalation. Her limbs were chilled, and she felt as if she was moving through mud.

  A few moments later, the strange feeling passed, and she was able to regain more control of her body. Maybe, she’d had a mini episode or heart murmur, or it could be her excitement over her make-out session with Jeremy. If he ever showed.

  Except . . . an unusual iciness permeated the usually warm library, and she felt a chill of fear. Brittney had never been afraid of the dark, but she found herself shivering, wishing she’d chosen an aisle with a little more light. She looked up as the overhead bulb chose that moment to go out, leaving her in semi-darkness.

  A book fell over behind her.

  “Is someone there?” she called out.

  “Yesss,” a voice hissed from over her shoulder, and she turned. Something brushed against her, and she shrieked, dropping her cell phone to the floor.

  “It’s not funny,” she yelled and tried to peer between the shelves. Someone must have thought it was funny to reach through and touch her. Her money was on Jeremy.

  “I dare you to do that again,” Brittney fumed and reached for her phone, but it was gone. Really? She got to her knees and looked along the bottom shelf. There it was. Next to a book on monsters and myths, but on the floor. She squatted down to pick up the phone and caught a glimpse of fabric on the other side of the bookshelf. She leaned over for a better look, and there she had a clear view of Wendy passed out on the other side of the bookshelf.

  “Wendy?” Brittney called out, worried that something might have happened. Wendy’s head rocked back and forth as she was dragged along the floor, but Brittney couldn’t see anything pulling her.

  She grabbed her phone and held it up, watching through the screen as Wendy continued to slide across the floor. Brittney reversed the camera to film her own beautiful face.

  “See, I told you something weird is going on with Wendy. She . . .” Her words trailed off as something dark appeared over her shoulder in the camera, sliding out between the books and pooling into a snake’s head. Its mouth op
ened wide.

  “What the—” Brittney cried. Her phone dropped to the ground, cracking, the camera still recording. “Wendy!” she screamed.

  Chapter Seventeen

  Crud. Crud. Crud. Jax tried to temper his anger as he paced a few blocks from the high school. His anger was triggering a power build up within his body, waiting to wreak havoc. He couldn’t let that happen or let the other soldiers see him frazzled. Jax had to direct the reaping team. Wendy was alone with the morphling, none of the lost boys or Peter were near her. She was a sitting duck.

  He had seen that she was with Peter and Tink at the theater and knew that the morphling would fail. He was relieved when it brought him someone else. A teen boy, but he wouldn’t be lucky that time.

  Morphlings could easily move their own transmorphic bodies through the shadows into their own world, but more often than not had problems bringing the physical bodies of humans through as well. For that was a morphling trait, using shadows as passageways between worlds. But if the morphling kept the human in the other place too long, the human would come back mentally damaged. And Neverland had no use for them. They would quickly be disposed of.

  Jax kept pacing and tried not to let his agitation show. He knew that Peter and the boys would try to stop the reaping crew; he was aware that they tracked morphlings by following the dead zones left by the shadows. But he had his orders, and as much as he wanted to save Wendy, he couldn’t intervene anymore. He was lucky that Hook didn’t know he was the one to tip off Peter and ruin the second extraction. She was Neverland’s target, and he could no longer step in. He would eventually have to bring her in. In his mind, it was either bring in Wendy, or one of the lost boys.

  The morphling groaned and began to pull itself out of a shadow in the alley, where they had parked their vehicle. Please don’t be Wendy. Please don’t be Wendy.

  The morphling was snake-like, and it slowly unwrapped itself from around the body. A manicured hand fell out. He couldn’t look. He didn’t want to know.

 
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