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       Lost Boy, p.12

           Chanda Hahn
 
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  One of the other soldiers laughed. “It’s a girl. Hook will be pleased.”

  “Grab her feet,” Jax ordered one of the soldiers.

  But the morphling decided not to release its prey and tried to pull it back into the shadows with it. Jax hit it with the stun wand and tried to control the morphling. Those things had a habit of attacking and biting the handler if they got out of hand, which is why Hook preferred him on the reaping team. He was stronger than the others; he could handle the morphling. Jax had lots of practice fighting them. He wasn’t going to let that monster take the girl into the other place . . . What if it was Wendy?

  He jabbed the stunner into the snake’s side, and it squealed, releasing the body, and it dropped to the ground. Dark brown hair fell around the girl’s shoulders. It wasn’t Wendy.

  Thank God.

  “Lt. Jax?” the soldier called out after he let the morphling escape into the other place. “You okay?”

  “Yeah, load her up. We have to deliver them to the transport location ASAP.” He turned and looked back at the school. Wendy was in there somewhere. Should he check on her?

  He secretly sighed in relief. She had escaped capture by the morphling again. He had seen her power demonstrated in person. She would be free for another day, but he couldn’t keep delaying.

  He gave a signal, and his team moved out. Within minutes, they would be at a second location, and they would transfer the unconscious subject onto another vehicle, and it would be en route to Neverland within the hour.

  He hopped into the front passenger seat and continued to stew over what he was doing. His finger ran over the Neverwood tattoo on his wrist, and he felt a pang of grief. He had straddled the fine line between right and wrong, black and white for so long that his world was becoming gray, like his old nickname from when he was a kid.

  By controlling the reapings, he could give Neverland the subjects they wanted and keep the Red Skulls far away from Peter and the boys. He was the hunter, and he could direct the hounds to areas far from the den. There were sacrifices—in redirecting the shadow monsters from the lost boys, he had to direct them to other innocents, but he truly believed he was doing the right thing.

  Or was he?

  Chapter Eighteen

  Wendy’s head throbbed as her eyes fluttered open. She looked up at the ceiling of her bedroom. Her bedroom? The last memory she had was being in the school library. Her hand felt along the back of her scalp, and she winced when she felt the beginnings of a goose egg. She swung her legs over the edge of the bed and tried to stand up, immediately falling back onto her bed.

  Her whole body was limp like spaghetti. A few minutes later, she tried again and was rewarded with making it to her doorway.

  Wendy made it downstairs to the kitchen and looked for her parents. They weren’t home. She found a note on the dining room table. Her mom was at the craft store, and they were supposed to put the casserole in the oven at five so it would be done when her Dad got home from work.

  She preheated the oven and pulled the glass casserole dish out of the fridge. It was homemade lasagna. Wendy put it on the counter and headed back to the freezer for an ice pack.

  She hissed when she put pressure on the bump as she waddled into the living room and looked out the front door. She didn’t see her car in the front, but she had driven to school that day. So, how did she make it home without John or the car? It was like a horrifying episode of the Twilight Zone. The mantel clock read close to five, and she wasn’t sure what time her parents would be home.

  She reached for her cell phone to text John, but it was still dead. She frantically searched the house for the charger and plugged it in. She was waiting for the screen to start when the doorbell rang.

  Wendy tiptoed back to the door and opened it a crack, peering outside.

  Peter was leaning against the doorframe. He grinned. “Hey.”

  She slammed the door in his attractive face.

  No. No. No! Her cheeks grew warm as she looked in the hall mirror and patted her messed-up hair, and then froze in horror at a black smear across her shirt.

  He knocked again, and she backed away from the door. Why was he here? She needed to get rid of him. She opened the door again, only a few inches, and put her foot in front of the door. “What do you want?”

  He looked handsome in his dark jeans and plaid shirt, his hair slightly ruffled as if he had just woken up without a care in the world. His smile was disarming but didn’t match the look of worry in his eyes. “I came to see how you were.”

  “I’m fine.” She swallowed her fear and put on her best fake smile. It could usually fool her parents and most of the classmates at school.

  “That’s great, but when a girl says fine, it never means fine.”

  Drat. It wasn’t going to fool Peter.

  “Well, I am, and you should go.” She put as much authority into her voice as possible.

  “Do you want me to go?” he asked, his voice smooth. He searched her face, and Wendy swallowed.

  No, she didn’t. It was the last thing she wanted.

  “I’m busy.” She closed the door, but his palm hit the wood hard, keeping it open.

  “Wait, Wendy. Please. I’m worried about you.” She opened the door, and he stepped into the foyer. “What is that?” he asked pointedly, his face filled with concern as he stared at the black smear on her shirt.

  “Paint?” Wendy pondered, twisting the blackened shirt in her palm.

  “You were near a morphling again? When . . . how?”

  “No, I wasn’t. At least, I don’t think so,” Wendy said, blinking away the tears that threatened to come at the next kind word. “Maybe at school. I just remember my friend’s cell phone not working; then I was following a shadow, and I fell and hit my head. The next thing I know is I woke up here . . . at home, with this.” She pointed to her giant goose egg.

  Peter’s voice gentled, and he pulled her into his arms. “I’m so glad you’re safe. But how did you get away?”

  “I don’t know? But, Peter, my car is still at school. I mean I have my keys, but how did I get home?”

  “Maybe it’s a latent power? I can fly, you can teleport like Tootles.”

  “I’m still not sold on having a super power of seeing shadows in the first place. I feel like I’m going crazy.”

  “Seeing the shadows can make anyone crazy.” He moved to sit on the sofa, but he had to shuffle a bunch of throw pillows, including one with a peacock, onto the floor to make room. “But, Wendy, there’s no doubt you crossed paths with a morphling today, and it got close enough to the point that it touched you. Similar to the other day after the movies. Your jacket was covered in the same stuff.”

  “You saw that?”

  “Yes.”

  “That’s why you were in my closet; you were spying on me.”

  He cringed at being caught. “I was worried about you. I know, I know—it’s still no excuse. But it seems I was right in being worried.”

  He turned to lean into her, his hand drifting upward to play with a lock of her hair, then brushed his fingers against her cheek, and she inhaled.

  Peter’s breath caught in his throat with a hitch, and she sighed and leaned into his touch. He dipped his head, moving in toward her, as if for a kiss.

  His other hand touched the sleeve of her shirt. She could feel his lips brushing against her cheek in the softest of caresses before he whispered into her ear.

  “You should change.”

  Wendy looked down at her shirt.

  “That’s morphling venom, and we could both go into shock if it gets into our bloodstream, although its potency grows less the more oxidized it becomes. You should throw this shirt away and the jacket just in case.” It was so hard to pull away from him, and she could read the same desire in his own eyes. But it would be foolish to put their lives at risk.

  “You’re right.” She stood up, and Peter stood with her. She awkwardly stepped around him. He grabbed her wrist and gent
ly tugged her toward him. With his hand cupping the back of her head, he pulled her into a kiss. She melted into him, searching for his lips, and she met his lips with her own, her heart beating loudly in her ears.

  He was the first to pull away. He gave Wendy another soft peck on the lips before nodding toward the stairs.

  “I’m sorry, but if you don’t leave, I’m going to kiss you again.”

  Wendy laughed, pointing a finger at him. “You . . . stay,” she commanded, wanting to make sure he didn’t suddenly appear in her room again.

  “You . . . hurry,” he answered—his eyes twinkling mischievously.

  Wendy sprinted the rest of the way upstairs. She changed out of the oozy shirt and into an overlarge blue sweater, being careful to not get any on her skin. Wrapping the shirt inside out, she tucked it into the ruined jacket and tied them up on a trash bag. She had just put the bag into the trash can on the back porch when she heard a car screech into their driveway.

  John busted through the front door, his face white, fumbling for his jacket pocket. “You’re alive, thank god! But you shouldn’t be here.”

  “John, you’re scaring me. What’s going on?” Wendy asked, worry running through her.

  John pulled out his phone and started to text a friend. A moment later, his phone dinged in reply and he reread the message.

  “Oh, this does not look good. Get in the car now!”

  “What is it?” Peter asked, jumping up from the couch, alerted by John’s frenzied antics. He grabbed Wendy’s jacket, and the three of them rushed into the driveway.

  “I already called Mom and Dad. I only know because social media is faster than the police,” John said as he dug his keys out of his pocket.

  “Police?” Wendy asked, already hearing sirens in the distance as she hopped into the front passenger seat of her Prius, Peter sliding into the back.

  “Wendy, we need to get you out of here.” John tossed his phone into her lap, then placed his hand on the back of her headrest as he hurried to back out of the drive. But a police car pulled up behind them, blocking their escape.

  John pressed his head forlornly into the steering wheel and Peter yelled at him from the backseat, demanding an explanation for what was happening. Wendy only vaguely noticed it as a sense of urgency drove her instead to click on the link instinctively. The link took her to YouTube where someone had uploaded the videos from Brittney’s phone.

  The hair rose on the back of Wendy’s neck as the camera zoomed in on what appeared to be her own body on the floor, having a seizure. The camera dropped to the ground with a thud and the focus shifted. The camera was still on and was recording the sound of Brittney’s mumbling, and then, her face came into view, but she screamed and was whisked away into the darkness, her fingers reaching for the phone.

  “Wendy!” her former best friend screamed in fear and terror. Then, the screen went dark.

  A knock came at the passenger window, and the police officer outside flashed his badge. “Are you Wendy Owens?” he asked.

  She nodded.

  “Can you step out of the car, please?” he asked, his tone firm, his face unreadable. Wendy saw the name Murphy on his uniform badge. Slowly, she opened the door and gave her brother a terrified look.

  “Is there a problem, officer?” Peter asked, his voice cool as he opened the rear door.

  “Stay in the car. Don’t get out!” the officer commanded and pushed the door closed, keeping Peter inside.

  “Wendy Owens, you’re being taken downtown for questioning in the disappearance of Jeremy Hatler and Brittney Spacek.”

  Wendy saw the crowds of neighbors gathering, their phones pointed in her direction as they filmed. Her brother was speaking heatedly with the second officer, and Wendy only looked at the phone in confusion.

  “Please get into the car, miss,” the officer said, placing his hand on her shoulder.

  “No, I didn’t do anything!” Wendy snapped. She tried to jerk her shoulder away from him, and he roughly grabbed her by the arm, slapping cold metal cuffs around her wrists.

  “Relax, it’s just procedure, for your protection and ours.”

  “No, I can’t go with you,” Wendy said, filled with panic. She searched the back seat of the Prius for Peter, but he had slipped out the other side. “I’m innocent.”

  “You’ll have a representative assigned to you at the station until your parents get there.”

  “John!” Wendy cried out. “I didn’t do anything.”

  John’s face paled. “I know. I’ll be right behind you.”

  Wendy was ushered into the back seat of the police car, and she craned her neck to search the crowd, beyond the overly excited neighbors, beyond her forlorn brother, until she saw a lone figure standing motionless amongst the chaos.

  It was his absolute stillness that caused her to single out the teen boy, the same one from the library. He was intent on staring at her, and his brow furrowed. She could have sworn she saw his hands glow bright red. A car passed in front of him, hiding him from view for a few seconds, and then he was gone.

  Chapter Nineteen

  Slightly dragged Curly to the eastside low-rent apartment complex. He’d had to resort to bribing him with money and video games to get him there. He lost almost more than his wallet and had to promise not to make eye contact or touch the raven-haired teen. Curly was probably one of the most self-absorbed boys at Neverwood but it was easy to understand someone like him because Curly had never heard the word “no”. Everyone was too afraid of his gift of compulsion.

  Despite his nickname, Curly didn’t have a lick of curls on his dark head. Years ago, Ditto dubbed him Curly because of his long feminine lashes, and the nickname stuck. But it didn’t bother Curly in the least; because of his power, he could have persuaded them to change the name if he wanted. That was why he was so dangerous.

  Curly had the gift of persuasion. He only had to touch someone and speak a command, and they would fall under his spell.

  “Are you sure this is where she is?” Slightly looked at the building and began to doubt his plan. Every time they would find Dr. Mee, she would move and hunker down farther and cover her trail better. Through trial and multiple errors, they finally hit the right neighborhood.

  Curly shrugged. “Well, I don’t think the two people I interrogated lied to me. My gift makes it almost impossible to, unless they believe what they’re saying is the truth, but I would have thought she’d have picked somewhere with better rent control.”

  “Where better to hide from a predator than with the rats?” Slightly answered. He pushed the buzzer on the building and waited until a burly man in a white tank and tattoos came and opened the door.

  “Buzz off!” the man yelled, a cigar latched between his beefy lips. “No soliciting. Can’t you read the sign?” He pointed at the faded white placard that was barely attached.

  “We’re looking for a Dr. Mee.”

  “Don’t got any fellas by that name here.” His breath was worse than the cigar smell.

  “Well, Dr. Mee is not a guy. She’s an old lady, about yay high.” Slightly used his hands to approximate her height.

  “Nope, no women either. Now, scram!”

  Slightly sent Curly a pleading look, and the handsome boy sighed. He ran his hand through his long hair, visibly cringing before he reached out to touch the man’s sweaty arm.

  “Where is Dr. Mee?”

  The landlord faltered, his eyes glazing over as the cigar fell from his slackened lips. One word slipped out. “Basement.”

  “See, told you.” Curly grinned at Slightly. “No one can hide from me.”

  “Well, now, we just have to see if she’s here now.” Slightly was careful to lead the landlord into his small, cat-infested apartment. He sat him down on the stained recliner and turned expectantly to Curly.

  “What?” he whined from the front door, not willing to enter the pigsty.

  “Can you help?”

  “No, I’m not going in there
. It smells of cat and desperation.”

  “You can help with that, if you tell him to change.” Slightly tried not to cover his nose with his hand to combat the smell. He knew that Curly could, if he wanted to, change that man’s life.

  “Fine.” Curly pulled his shirt over his nose and rushed into the apartment. He took in the surroundings before reaching down to touch the man on the wrist with two fingers. It looked like he was checking his pulse.

  He sighed and mumbled, “Take a shower, clean up this place, and don’t overcharge your tenants.”

  He turned to walk back out the door. Slightly coughed and made a gesture toward the man a second time.

  Curly rolled his eyes, turned around again, and touched him one more time. “And sign up for an online dating site. Not a free site, but a paid one, and be genuine.” He turned and gave Slightly a pleading look. “Better?”

  “Yes, better. Now, let’s get out of here.”

  “I’ve been trying too,” Curly grunted and ran out into the hall. He shuddered and brushed off his clothes as if he could remove the feeling of being in that man’s apartment.

  “You know, you can do a lot of good, Curly, with your gift.” Slightly patted Curly’s back, but the teen just shrugged him off.

  “Yeah, I could, but where’s the fun in that?”

  Slightly knew to let the subject drop before he pushed Curly too far and ended up running around, clucking like a chicken, which happened to Onyx just last week. It was always better to give Curly a wide berth and stay just off his radar. Unfortunately, most of the boys and teachers at the school didn’t know him that well. His gift turned him into a loner and an outsider, the last to be invited places, the one that was usually forgotten. But it seemed like he was okay with that.

  Curly was getting impatient. “So, where’s this basement?”

  At the first glance, the building didn’t appear from the outside to have a basement; the stairs weren’t easily accessible either. They were down a back hallway, partially hidden by piles of garbage and stacks of boxes.

 
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