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       Lost Boy, p.17

           Chanda Hahn
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  She snorted. “Gads no. Gross.” She paused and gave him a look. “Were you followed?”

  He shook his head. “No, I wasn’t followed. Tink, is Wendy here?”

  Tink didn’t answer. She studied him, and he could almost see her mind reeling as she tried to decide how to answer him.

  “Fine, maybe, you can’t tell me if she is, but can you at least tell me if she’s all right? I just need to know if she’s alive.”

  “Follow me,” Tink said, interrupting him, and spun on her heel. John followed her to the living room, where she stopped next to a stone fireplace. Pulling a picture frame from the wall, she punched in a secret code on a keypad, and the back of the fireplace opened inward, revealing a long tunnel.

  The tunnel was dark, lit with stringed lights, and after following it for a hundred yards or so, they entered through another set of doors into an immaculate mansion filled with stairs and hallways. Boys were coming and going, carrying various books and backpacks. He didn’t see any girls other than Tink. He couldn’t help but wonder why she would be there. “Is this an all-boys school?”

  “Yep, well except for me. I’m special.” She grinned and winked at him.

  The way she said it made his heart flip.

  They came to a hallway with heavy wooden doors, each carved with a different design. Tink stopped at one with a squirrel and knocked. When no one answered it, she pounded a little harder. Tink muttered under her breath and tried to open the door. It was locked.

  “Spastastic.” Tink reached up and pulled out a hair clip with a jagged-looking bobby pin. She pulled it apart and kneeled down in front of the door, inserting the lock pick into the lock. A few seconds later, he heard a click and a sigh of satisfaction from her.

  “Finally.” She pushed the door inward, and it opened silently.

  John entered the darkened room and saw his sister sleeping in an overstuffed chair by an open window.

  “Wendy!” John exclaimed and rushed forward, kneeling by her. He touched her hand, and it was cold. He would have thought she was dead except he could feel the slow and steady beat of her pulse in her wrist. He noticed the slight bruising on her face, and he looked at Tink accusingly, shaking his head in anger.

  It was hard not to let his emotions overtake him. He was disappointed that she hadn’t called him. That she had been there . . . safe and alive, and he’d been worried sick. He would have tried to contact her.

  She opened her eyes and searched the room. “John, am I dreaming? You’re here?”

  He could hear the heartache in her voice, and he immediately forgave her.

  “Wendy, I’m here.” He grabbed her hand.

  Wendy sat up and leaned forward to pull him into a hug. Then, she turned to look at Tink. “Thank you for bringing him here.”

  Tink shook her head and raised her hand, palm out. “That wasn’t me. Your brother tracked you down like a hound dog.”

  “Really? How?”

  “The how is not important,” she said defensively. “And that reminds me that I need to have a talk with someone about online purchases and credit cards. I’ll be back,” Tink said as she slowly backed out of the room. As soon as she closed the door behind her, they both heard her loud screeching voice scream, “Ditto! Get your boot-scootin’ boogie butt down here! Now!”

  Wendy laughed, and John shook his head in surprise. “That girl never ceases to amaze me.”

  “She’s in a league all of her own.” She paused and studied him out of the corner of her eye. “But she has a fan, I think.”

  “Really? Who?” John couldn’t help but feel a flutter of jealousy. In a school full of boys, Tink could have her pick of any one of them. He never stood a chance.

  “You, silly,” Wendy teased.

  John coughed loudly. “I, uh. I’m not.”

  “It’s okay. I’m your sister—I can tell. And besides, I won’t tell anyone.”

  John sighed and sat on the chair arm, next to Wendy. “Now, tell me what happened. Where did you go?”

  Wendy gripped the blanket on her lap, then pulled at a string before taking a deep breath and nodding. “They came for me again, but I escaped. I couldn’t bear to let them find you. So, to protect you, I didn’t contact you. I can’t lose you too.”

  “That’s not a decision you get to make alone. Remember, we’re family. We stick together.”

  The door to her bedroom creaked open, and Tink peeked her head back in. “I bet you can go for a pint right about now?” She stepped into the room with a pint of mint chip ice cream and two spoons.

  “Is that for me?” John asked, reaching for one of the spoons.

  Tink pulled the silverware out of his reach. “As if, go get your own pint.”

  Chapter Twenty-Eight

  “Aah!” Peter yelled as his fist connected with Jax’s jaw, and he instinctively winced, when his former best friend’s dark head snapped backward. He bolstered his resolve and grabbed Jax’s shirt collar and slammed him against the wall, then flew them both up into the air. Peter thrashed Jax one more time for good measure and then dropped him. Jax slid down the wall, catching himself and landing in a defensive crouch.

  “That’s for betraying me.” Peter turned his back, then had second thoughts and spun around and followed up with another punch. “And that’s for Tink and the boys.”

  Jax just wiped the corner of his mouth and spat blood out. “You done?”

  Jax avoided making eye contact—an act, Peter assumed, to let him have the illusion of being in control. He knew how powerful Jax was, that in a real fight, he wasn’t sure he could survive. Peter wasn’t stupid. He was aware that every punch he landed was because Jax let him. Not because he couldn’t block them, but because he probably felt he deserved them.

  “I don’t know,” Peter said, his voice strained, and he paced back and forth in the cell, running his hands through his hair in frustration. He pointed his finger at the submissive Jax. “You are low-down, dirty rotten scum that should feel lucky that you’re not dead.”

  Jax’s posture twitched at the insult; his head came up, his eyes filled with darkness. “Are you saying you’re strong enough to kill me?”

  Peter stopped pacing and crouched down in front Jax so that he was on the same eye level. “No,” Peter said, choking up. “I’m just glad that Neverland didn’t.”

  Jax’s hard-as-stone unreadable mask slipped, and his lip quivered slightly.

  Peter put his hand on Jax’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, Jax.”

  “For what?” Jax asked.

  “For this.” He pressed the same injector gun that he and Wendy had found to Jax’s neck, then pulled the trigger. Jax’s eyes went wide with shock, then dark with anger and betrayal. “I’m sorry that I can’t trust you anymore.”

  Jax made a gurgling noise in his throat as he slowly slid to the ground, his body going slack. Peter signaled Ditto, who then carried Jax into the reinforced cell next to Michael’s cell. A wide-eyed Michael watched the proceedings without saying a word and went back to staring at the wall.

  It pained Peter to imprison his best friend, but he had to think of Neverwood. He needed to protect them all, and the only way to do that was to keep the biggest threat, Jax, under control. Even if that meant using tranquilizers to subdue the toughest student to ever come out of Neverwood.

  Jax was a stick of dynamite, and he knew that if he held on for too long and didn’t get rid of him sooner or later, they would all blow up. But until then, he would just temper Jax’s powers and hope he wouldn’t regret his decision later.

  Chapter Twenty-Nine

  Neverwood seemed to be fraying at the edges, and nothing was as she might have hoped. She thought that once behind the walls of the school, she would be safe, but nothing could protect her from her own guilt-ridden mind. In her dreams, Wendy continued to relive her parents’ death and her escape from the hospital over and over. Her nightmares having grown worse, she had become too scared to sleep, and sitting in the chair by her wind
ow became her new routine.

  John was oblivious to the issues at Neverwood. He couldn’t see that it was becoming filled with disorder; mutiny was in the air. There were too many rebels and doubts inside their walls. Michael and Jax’s imprisonment had caused the boys to question Peter’s leadership. There were too many secrets and not enough trust.

  Wendy had learned that Ditto had forced Jax into a secured room below Neverwood. They had scanned him and destroyed the tracer on his belt. He was kept partially drugged to hinder any of his powers. He had become a prisoner in his old home, and Wendy struggled to come to terms with the realization. How could the boy who had risked his neck for her come back and try to kidnap her?

  It didn’t make sense. There was no rhyme or reason, and it was hard to trust something inconstant, and Jax was very unpredictable.

  Her brother had also become a mystery to her. She had tried to visit him on her first day back at Neverwood and received mixed results. He wouldn’t look at her, just turn his back to her and rock back and forth, facing the wall.

  “Michael, I’m sorry,” Wendy had said, sitting on the edge of his bed. “I didn’t know that I had forgotten you.”

  His shoulders shrugged.

  “I know that it’s hard to hear this from me when I was the one who was supposed to protect you. To take care of you. And I . . . I . . .” The words became lodged in her throat. “I forgot you. There’s no excuse. I was—no, am a horrible sister.”

  Michael didn’t respond. She didn’t know what else to expect. Miracles? A happy family reunion, when they had been estranged for seven years and an evil corporation had worked who-knows-what evil on the innocent mind of a young boy? If she struggled with nightmares, she couldn’t imagine what his dreams were.

  “Tick,” Michael said with a small voice from behind his knees as he sat huddled on the bed facing the corner.

  “I’m sorry, what did you say?”

  “Tick.” He began rocking back and forth. “Tick . . . tick . . . tick.” A giggle followed, and Wendy reached out to place her hand on his shoulder. Michael screamed as if her hand had burned him, and he cowered from her.

  “Okay. Okay.” She backed off and slowly closed the door as he continued to chant the word over and over again, picking up the rhythm of a metronome or a clock.

  She pulled away, the coded door arming itself and locking him inside. That wasn’t right. She needed to speak to someone about changing his room. Anything would be better than being locked inside.

  To leave, Wendy had to walk past Jax’s glass cell. Her pace slowed as she peeked in on him. Jax lay on his small bed, staring at the ceiling—his arms behind his head, creating a pillow. Wendy stood staring at him, unsure if she should say something, or even what she would say.

  “It’s not polite to stare,” Jax said, his eyes never leaving the ceiling.

  “I think my manners are the least of your concerns,” Wendy answered loudly, since the glass muffled their voices.

  “They need to let me go,” Jax said.

  “I doubt they’re going to do that anytime soon.”

  Jax sat up on the bed, turning such that his feet touched the floor. He looked at her through the glass wall. “It’s not safe for you that I’m here.”

  “Are you saying that you’re going to hurt me?”

  Jax clenched his jaw. “I wouldn’t hurt you on purpose, but I will if you get in my way.”

  “What do you want?” Wendy asked, searching Jax’s eyes, knowing there was something deep that he was hiding. A problem . . . a secret. “What are you searching for? I’m not going to tell anyone,” she pressed.

  “You wouldn’t get the chance because by not telling you, I’m protecting you.”

  Wendy pressed her lips into a firm line of frustration, and Jax shook his head. “Why?” she asked. “Why did you do it? Betray Neverwood.”

  He sighed. “You and your questions. I didn’t answer Peter or the others. Why would I tell you?”

  “Because you knew all along. You prepared me, almost hinted at your betrayal to me. You wanted to get caught.” She pictured the training session in the gym, where Jax had single-handedly taught her how to get out of his holds and locks, techniques she had used on him at the hospital.

  “Maybe, you were just an astute student.”

  Wendy snorted. “You said I was a terrible student. You said—”

  “Forget what I said then.” He jumped up off the bed and came to the glass, his face only inches from it and from her. He looked over his shoulder at the camera at the corner of his cell. Was he scared that someone was watching or listening? “You need to get rid of Michael too.”

  “What? No. I’m not going to get rid of my brother. Not when I just got him back.”

  “He’s not your brother anymore, Wendy. Not after what Neverland did to him.”

  “I can help him.”

  “He’s beyond help.”

  “I don’t believe that. I don’t believe you. No one is beyond help, except you.”

  “Tell me something, Wendy. What happened that night with the shadows?”

  She sighed and rubbed her forehead in thought. “The shadows . . . I think they moved us through whatever plane they pass through and brought us here. It’s happened before with me. I wake up in strange places after seeing shadows, with no memory of how I got there.”

  Jax’s face went white. “No, they shouldn’t be doing that. That’s their territory—the morphlings’. We should never pass into the shadow world. It’s not for the living.”

  “Well, I don’t think the shadows were trying to harm us. I believe they were trying to help—well, me. I didn’t expect to go there, through that place.”

  Jax took one look around and swallowed. “Uh-oh!”

  “What do you mean uh-oh?”

  “I just know that the more you travel into their plane, the more of your scent you leave behind . . . the more of you that you leave behind. Nothing good comes from that place.”

  “So, the morphlings originate from a place?”

  “We don’t know much about the morphlings or their origin. I’ve been trying to find out, on my own, and all I know for certain is that they’re not from here. That’s why they can’t maintain a shape in our world; they aren’t a part of it. But the morphlings . . . they aren’t even the worst of it. They are just what bleeds over from that other plane. What resides there is way scarier.”

  “But how are they connected to Neverland?”

  “They’re not. Neverland wants to create a superhuman army using the PX drugs. The morphlings are something else entirely, from another world. Neverland has no business trying to control those things, it’s like trying to control the ocean current. They’re unpredictably dangerous.”

  “That doesn’t seem to bode well.”

  “It never bodes well for anyone.”

  “Now imagine if Hook is able to create a perfect superhuman army and control these shadow monsters.”

  “We would be doomed.”

  “We already are.”

  Wendy slammed her fist against the glass, and Jax gave her a stern look. “You are giving us just enough, but not. You had the antidote to the morphling poison in that silver case. You could have given that to Peter a long time ago.”

  “No, I didn’t know about the cure. I swear.”

  “What about my friends and the other missing teens? What happened to them?”

  He looked away. “They will be injected with the PX-3 and become super soldiers against their will and will eventually burn out and die.”

  “But, where are they? You have to know!”

  “I can’t take you there. It would be suicide. Wendy, please, you have to get me out of here. I have to get back.”

  “No, not until I know where your loyalties lie. Are you one of them?” She pointed to his uniform shirt with its red skull patch draped on the end of his bed. “Or one of us?”

  His jaw clenched, and he wouldn’t meet her eyes.

I see how it is.” She was angry, angry that he wouldn’t help.

  “You need to get me out of here, Wendy. I’m your only chance of helping you get what you need.”

  “I can’t do that, Jax. Don’t ask me to betray them for you. You’re not worth it.”

  Her words lit the fire in his eyes, and he slammed his fist against the glass. The glass started to glow red beneath his fist and then began to steam. “This won’t hold me, Wendy. You can’t keep me drugged forever.”

  “We don’t need to keep you drugged forever. Just long enough to stop Neverland.”

  “It’s only a matter of time. Time that neither one of us has. If you want to help Peter, you need to break me out of here.” Jax pulled his hand away, leaving behind an outline of his hand in the glass from the intense heat. It had even begun to warp the cell.

  Wendy backed away in fear and quickly ran from Jax, her feet pounding on the stairs.

  Chapter Thirty

  Candace was speaking aloud to the empty room—a habit she picked up since she worked by herself so much. But she wasn’t alone exactly; the pods were there to keep her company, although they never spoke back.

  The pod in the back of the room began to set off an alarm. Lights flashed along the side, and her computer’s readings began to spike. A few seconds later, a second pod’s alarm went off, and then a third.

  “Oh no, what happened? Why, why, why?” she whined as she typed command after command into her computer. The people in the pods were dying. She was losing pods 34, 12, 20.

  She rolled away from her desk and wheeled herself over to the failing pods. Flipping open a compartment, she punched in a code to feed morphine into the pods.

  “C’mon, stay with me,” Candace said encouragingly to the girl in the pod 34. “You’re a fighter; I know you are.”

  Her words fell on deaf ears as the girl in the pod began to go into cardiac arrest. The girl gasped, her eyelids opening, and she stilled, her breath leaving her. Then, the light in pod 34 went dark, and Candace couldn’t see her anymore.

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