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       Lost Boy, p.16

           Chanda Hahn
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  Ignoring Jax, ignoring everything but the closest shadow in front of her, she crawled forward on her knees, and lying down on the ground, she reached out and touched the shadow for the first time. She heard a barely audible sigh as it started to fade, but she wouldn’t let go.

  “Don’t give up. Don’t go,” she whispered.

  The shadow reached a hand for her, as if to cup her chin, then dissolved into smoke and mist. The vaporous shadow slid up her arm, wrapping around it like a light brace, and then just vanished, dissipating into the air and leaving nothing of itself behind but a black tattoo on Wendy’s arm.

  Her soul cried out, wanting vengeance, and she turned to Jax, who stood shocked by what had happened, his arms pinned to his sides by other shadows, which had stopped his assault.

  “No wonder Hook wants you. You can see and control the shadows,” Jax said.

  She stormed over to him, her face a mask of hate. “No one controls the shadows,” Wendy hissed. “Least of all me.” Wendy turned to the shadows and said, “I need help.”

  The shadows that were on the outskirts, the ones that hadn’t protected her against Jax’s fireball, pooled around Wendy and Jax.

  “What are they doing?” he screamed, his voice quivering in fear.

  She couldn’t answer, her voice stolen by her uncertainty. What had she asked them to do? The shadows grasped at Jax and her, wrapping themselves around them, and then, the shadows pulled them into darkness. A tornado of cold air whipped around her, swallowing them in a vortex of cries, snarling, and gnashing of teeth.

  “What is that?” Jax covered his ears.

  Wendy stared in horror as Jax was swallowed by shadows and disappeared in front of her. Seconds later, Wendy was pulled after him as they exited their world.

  Chapter Twenty-Six

  Tink’s admonishment was weighing heavily on him. He’d been shirking the duties of the school and neglecting the boys by putting Wendy before them. He needed to at least check in with the boys. But the knowledge of what he had done seared into his soul painfully. Wendy would be safe at the hospital for a little while, and he would come back as soon as he handled the much bigger problem facing Neverwood—and with any luck, she would want to see him.

  But first, the morphlings. They’d been circling, coming closer and closer to the Academy, like scent hounds sniffing out their location, and he was uncomfortable with their current search pattern.

  He was also worried about how they had narrowed down the search so well. He had a suspicion that Jax had led them to Neverwood. Then again, if that were the case, they would have been knocking down his door weeks ago.

  Peter was in his office, staring out the window into the woods, thankful for the copse of trees and the terrain that hid them from the outside world, offering protection . . . safety. He knew it was only a matter of time before their security became compromised. In fact, it probably already was.

  He opened the window to feel the cold night air on his face. Ever since Neverland, he’d struggled with enclosed spaces, and he almost always slept with his window open. He wanted a way to escape, to be free of the nightmares.

  He couldn’t help looking past the trees, wondering about Wendy. His heart had almost stopped beating when he’d made the decision to leave her for a second time.

  But not of his own choice. This time, it was hers.

  A sound came from the distance, a howling wind. No, not a howl . . . a cry?

  The double doors of his office burst open behind him, and Tink rushed in looking frazzled. “Peter, we’ve got a problem. A big one.”

  He glanced back outside and whispered, “Shadows?”

  Tink nodded. “Yes, more than I’ve ever seen congregate at once, and they seem to be heading here. Which means . . .”

  “Morphlings,” Peter finished for her. “Warn the boys.”

  Tink nodded and ran out of the room, her boots thudding loudly, and called out, “I’ll sound the alarm.”

  Seconds later, an alarm went off in the building, followed by the yells and cries of the boys. He went back to the window and searched the darkness for the shadows. He pulled out his cell phone and watched as the cell service dropped. They were in a dead zone.

  As abruptly as they’d passed through the dark void, they were out.

  Wendy landed on the grass, below a dark sky full of stars, surrounded by trees. Gripped with cold and shock, the wind knocked out of her, Wendy pounded on her chest, gasping. The park was gone, the hospital and neighborhood she’d been in were gone, replaced by a clearing in the woods.

  The sound of the wind howling warned her as the shadows appeared in a violent tornado and unceremoniously dropped Jax from higher up.

  “Oof,” he cried out when he landed on the ground. “I feel sick,” he moaned, rolling over, and began to cough vehemently. She wanted to tell him she’d been affected the same way, to talk to him about the wailing cries from the realm they’d passed through, sounds that may forever haunt her, but she didn’t want to commiserate with him.

  “What just happened?” he asked.

  She stood up and kept marching forward, unsure of where she was exactly, though she had a deep suspicion, based on where her heart wanted to go when she said had asked for their help. The more the shadows passed through her, the less affected she was by their passing—her body slowly becoming accustomed to their presence. She gestured to the shadows, encouraging them to attend to Jax. The shadows surrounded him, and he stumbled to his feet, prodded by an unseen force.

  “Hey, do you think you can at least call off your attack dogs?” Jax fumed. Wendy spun on her heel and closed the distance between them.

  “Not. A. Chance,” she said, stabbing him in the chest with her finger with each word.

  “You just tried to kidnap me, then attacked me. There’s no leniency for you.” Wendy turned, flipping her hair back over her shoulder. She heard a loud noise as something clicked on in the darkness.

  Piercing beams of light shot down from the sky, turning night to day, vanquishing the dark unexpectedly. The light blinded Wendy, causing her to stumble as she covered her eyes and tried to look for the source.

  The shadows tried to stay gathered around Jax and Wendy but were slowly losing their form. More spotlights joined the first, aimed at the shadows. The harder it was for them to remain in focus, the weaker they became.

  “Oh, so, that’s where they brought us? Neverwood?” Jax mumbled, looking up at the brightest spotlight that was bearing on them. He raised his hands in surrender, then pointed his finger at Wendy. “She did it.” He jokingly grinned toward the lost boys operating the lights.

  A fox’s high-pitched bark echoed in the darkness, sending a warning through the air. Lost boys descended on them, some from the air, others on foot from Neverwood, and Wendy heard the familiar hum of light braces arming.

  A brilliant blast of light whizzed past Wendy’s cheek and struck a shadow nearest Jax.

  “Wait . . . Stop . . . No!” Wendy cried out and stepped in front of the shadow nearest her.

  “Move aside, Wendy,” Ditto said, his voice echoing. He stepped out of the crowd of boys, followed by his replicated self. “We need to disperse them quickly.”

  A very muscular Slightly, wearing a jersey that was four times too small, growled, “If we don’t, a morphling will come.” He flexed his fingers, and his light brace brought forth a battle-axe made of light.

  A blue flash appeared as a Tootles teleported in front of Jax.

  “It’s Jax,” Tootles called out excitedly. He jumped up and latched onto Jax’s arm.

  “Hey, kid,” Jax said, ruffling his hair.

  “You brought him back, Wendy!” Tootles grinned.

  A dark figure passed overhead before alighting on the ground in front of her.

  “Wendy?” Peter said, his voice hesitant, full of question.

  She drank him in, his auburn hair, his unsure green eyes, his gray shirt half untucked. He took two steps toward her, dropped his han
ds, and hesitated.

  “Peter,” she said, but it clung to her throat. She tried again louder. “Peter, I needed help, so the shadows brought me here.”

  “You were right to come here,” he said. “Our doors will always be open for you.”

  “You miss each other, yadda yadda,” Tink spat out miserably. “But what’s it got to do with her bringing an army of those things to our doorstep?” Tink stepped in front of Peter. Goggles adorned her face, and her arms were wrapped around a giant laser gun that was strapped across her shoulders. “And you!” Tink walked over to Jax, who towered over the girl. “Traitor!” Tink spit on Jax, who turned his face at the last second as saliva spattered across his cheek.

  He wiped it away with his sleeve. “I’m no more a traitor than you are. You just can’t see the whole picture, and if you did, it would terrify you.”

  “Look at me,” Tink said, waving her gun around. “I am terrifying.”

  While Tink and Jax argued, Peter ran forward and reached for Wendy.

  “Are you okay? You look horrible.” Wendy stepped back pulling her arm from his grasp. Peter sighed sadly, lowering his arm.

  “What happened?” he asked softly.

  “They tried to take me at the hospital,” she said, nodding Jax’s way. “They sent him.” Her lip started to quiver as the reality of the day’s events set in. “But I wouldn’t go down without a fight.” She tried to smile. “So, now he’s my prisoner.”

  “Wendy, I’m sorry that I couldn’t save your parents.”

  Wendy dropped her head, her hands clenching as she tried to push back the overwhelming emotions from that night. “Michael, where is he? Is he—?”

  “We have to get rid of them!” Tink yelled, interrupting them. “Now!” She motioned to the boys to attack, but Wendy jumped in front of the shadows.

  “No, I can do it. I can send the shadows away.” Wendy turned and raised her arm covered with shadow tattoos. They glowed faintly, and the shadows understood, disappearing into the darkness.

  Tink continued to stare at her shadow box in anticipation, and the group waited, weapons ready. When nothing showed, a collective sigh followed.

  “How did you do that?” Tink asked. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

  “Sweet tats,” the Dittos said. “Do they come with any other powers?”

  “Come on, boys,” Peter chuckled. “I think we’re safe.”

  “There’s nowhere safe anymore. Least of all here,” Jax said. “And if you think otherwise, then you’re a fool!”

  “I’ll deal with you later,” Peter snarled.

  Jax pounded his chest with his fist. “Scared? I’m right here.”

  Peter’s anger had him slowly floating toward Jax, and Wendy reached for Peter’s arm, her skin tingling where she touched him.

  “Later,” she whispered.

  He paused and relaxed at her touch, but not before throwing another challenge over his shoulder toward Jax. “Later.”

  “You can count on it.” Jax taunted, and let himself be taken into Neverwood, escorted by the Dittos and Slightly in his bulky form.

  The boys followed behind them, but Peter didn’t move. He continued to stare into Wendy’s eyes, reaching for her, but then he dropped his hands to his sides.

  “Never again,” he breathed, his voice stoic. “Each time, it almost kills me.”

  “What does?” she said, feeling her walls crumbling as her anger toward Peter began to dissipate.

  “Losing you. I can’t lose you again,” Peter said, his voice husky with emotion.

  “Then, don’t,” she said, as she saw the desire in his eyes. “And if you do, make sure you find me.”

  He didn’t hesitate this time as he pulled her toward him. His response came in the gentle claiming of her lips.

  A silent promise of always.

  Chapter Twenty-Seven

  John was going insane with worry. Wendy had disappeared from the hospital without a trace eight hours ago. The police couldn’t find her, and all the security footage from the hospital had unexpectedly malfunctioned during the time of her disappearance. He knew something had happened. Something really bad. The police had wanted to question him, but as soon as their backs were turned, he’d slipped away and had driven home, quickly formulating a plan.

  It was a crazy idea, acting on his gamer’s intuition, but it had worked for him before.

  A police car sitting outside his house diverted him to the alley, and he slipped inside through the kitchen window and up to his room, keeping all the lights off. He pulled out his Xbox, and then looked up his buddies and their gamer tags. The last time Wendy had disappeared, she had been with them. What’s to say that it wouldn’t be the same this time? He looked up the high record holders and picked out DoppleGang22, which he knew had to be Ditto’s gamer tag

  He needed to figure out where Ditto’s Xbox was located; if he could trace the gamer tag to a credit card account, he should be able to get an address or locate the Wi-Fi to the unit.

  After an hour of searching with illegally downloaded software, John had an address. It was something. A place to start. He jumped up and slipped back out the way he’d come in and drove to the address.

  He didn’t want to lose the only other person of importance in his life. Even though she wasn’t his blood sister, she was family. And he had to find her. Impatience had him pushing hard on the gas pedal, and in record time, he was pulling up to the address, an old abandoned rambler house in the middle of nowhere. The house needed a new coat of paint, the shutters were falling off, and most of all, the vegetation needed pruning.

  John looked at the address on the paper and again at the map on his phone.

  “This better not be a meth house,” he mumbled, putting the car into park and locking the door behind him.

  He turned and looked back at the long and deserted road that led to the house. The main road was probably half a mile away.

  “Great, I’m in a horror game . . . with a cast of one. Chance of dying—very probable. Weapons—none.” He stopped a few feet away from the front step. “Yep, not doing that.” He turned and went back to the trunk of his car and pulled out a baseball bat, muttering under his breath, “Weapon—bat. Strength increased by fifty.” He approached the house, his nerves in an uproar as he stepped up to the front porch.

  What he thought was a pile of garbage sitting by the door moved, and John reacted without thinking, swinging the bat, and then screamed in terror as the bat connected with a solid mass. John heard a crunch. His bat had decapitated a homeless vagrant, and the head rolled along the porch to bump against his foot.

  His scream became even more high-pitched as he stared at the dead eyes.

  “Holy freak! Oh no, oh no, oh no, I killed him!” Sparks flashed, and John finally noticed the wires sticking out of the dismembered head and heard the motor of the machine slowly die down.

  “Wait, you’re not real?” He started to laugh in relief, and it wouldn’t stop. He hadn’t committed murder. It took a few minutes for him to settle his nerves. Then, he kneeled down to take a closer look at the homeless man’s computerized spy camera.

  “Impressive work. I would love to meet your maker—well, in a nondead sense.” He patted the robot and apologized again. “Sorry, dude.”

  He turned to survey the house again and knew that if that was the security system, then he must have alerted its occupants to his whereabouts. Also, it meant that he must be very close. John began to peer into the windows, looking for signs of life.

  A shadow passed by the window. “Geez!” John cried, jumping back in surprise. He heard footsteps inside, moving farther away.

  “Hey.” He ran around the porch to another window and pressed his forehead to the glass, squinting as he tried to see into the darkened house. “Hey, I don’t want to harm anyone. I’m not looking for trouble.” He looked down at the bat in his hands and groaned. “This isn’t what it looks like. It’s for protection.”

  The foo
tsteps continued to go away from him, and then, out of the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of someone scrambling into another room.

  “I’m looking for my sister.”

  The footsteps stopped. John took it as a good sign. “You may know her. Her name is Wendy. I’m also looking for Ditto . . . er, uh, Doppleganger22.” He moved back to the front door and started knocking on the door. “Please, I just need to know if she’s safe.”

  There was no response. He pressed his forehead up against the door and closed his eyes.

  “Please. Help me.” His voice became choked up.

  The latch on the door opened and surprised green eyes greeted him. “John?”

  He was still leaning on the door when it opened inward, his body almost falling on top of her. She shrieked and stepped back as John fell into a heap on the floor. He looked up into a very scary-looking gun.

  “Tink?” He groaned and sat up.

  “How did you find us?” Tink asked stiffly

  “It was easy,” he said. “I hacked into Ditto’s Xbox account and traced the credit card info back to this address.”

  Loud, angry bell noises filled the air as Tink’s mouth moved. “I’m gonna kill him. I’m going to murder Ditto. Chop him into little pieces and feed them to the dog,” she said, gesticulating wildly as she described how she was going to dispose of his friend. “You, on the contrary . . .” She shoved a finger into his chest, and her eyes squinted in suspicion. “You’ve got some hacker skills.”

  John could feel his cheeks grow warm. “A bit.”

  All things considered, things were going fairly well, but then she saw the headless robot. “You killed Homer! You soulless beast.”

  “Hey, it startled me. I’m sorry. I’ll help you build another one. But you . . . what are you doing here?” He looked around the abandoned house. His imagination roamed wild as he tried to picture his sister there, sleeping on a dirty mattress in some moldy crumbly room in the back. “You don’t live here, do you?”

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