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       Lost Boy, p.3

           Chanda Hahn
 
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  The ice cream was slowly melting in the carton and dribbling down the side onto her hand. But Wendy hardly noticed as she stared at the emotional video footage of George and Mary trying to save her life. It was odd that she had no memory of that day—but odder yet that she felt zero emotional attachment.

  John was watching her intently. “This is your birthday or the day we chose as your birthday. The day you escaped death and were born into our family.”

  “And how many times have I watched this?” Wendy asked, worried about the answer forthcoming.

  “Quite a few.”

  She took a large gulp of air.

  “It didn’t help in the past, but I thought it might help stir up some memories since you seemed to be needing a boost. Anything?” He sounded hopeful.

  Wendy shook her head no, watching the skewed camera angle as Mary wrapped John and George’s coats around her body and cradled her in her lap, trying to share her body heat with her until help arrived. Mary’s love and concern was evident on her face. Wendy felt her heart grow to love those strangers, trying desperately to save a young unconscious girl. They were good people, and Wendy knew she would do anything for them.

  But she began to tremble when a dark shadow slipped from behind the TV and stood on the other side of the living room, motionless.

  Not again.

  She was seeing the shadowy manifestations almost all the time at that point, and she knew she couldn’t tell anyone about the things she saw. Not then, maybe not ever.

  Squeezing her eyes shut, she began to count down from ten. When she got to one, she opened them and only saw John sitting on the other end of the sofa, giving her an odd look. The shadow was gone.

  Chapter Four

  Michael’s head was pounding. He rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hands to relieve the pressure. He knew what the hammering in his mind signified. They were trying to sync with him, to see through his memories. The more painful the headache, the harder they were working to access him. He was doing everything he could to fight them off, but it would only result in either a migraine or he would eventually be knocked unconscious, and they would take what they needed while he was asleep. They didn’t need hidden cameras when they had him.

  Michael’s lip curled in disgust, and he rolled over on the bed and focused on the light blue wall. He hated that his mind could be manipulated so easily. Also, anything he saw, Hook could potentially see as well, but he had been burying his memories deep, behind a mental wall of steel.

  Michael squeezed his eyes close and focused on the darkness—a void. Nothing. He had learned over time that it was possible to stop them from seeing everything he had seen if he fought hard enough and focused on nothingness. But it took every ounce of his strength and nerve.

  What were they seeing? Did they know he had accidentally found his sister? He hoped not.

  He had to find a way to keep Neverland out of his head.

  Peter strolled down the halls of Neverwood, deep in thought, before pausing in front of a wooden panel. He pressed on a hidden lip, and the panel slid open to reveal a hidden staircase leading belowground. He descended until he came to a room containing enclosed prison cells with reinforced glass doors. Slightly, the smartest of the boys, was just coming out of the nearest locked cell.

  “How is he?” he asked, referring to the prisoner—Wendy’s brother.

  Slightly rubbed the back of his head, bumping his glasses. “Disoriented. He comes and goes. Sometimes he thinks he’s still back there with them. Other times, he’s okay. Today hasn’t been a great day. He keeps calling out for her.”

  Peter pressed his lips into a thin line. “Let me talk to him.”

  “Peter,” Slightly sighed. “What if he wasn’t the only one? What if there were others? What if Neverland has had them this whole time, like Michael? What if—”

  “We can’t change the past, Slightly,” Peter said. “We can’t worry about the what-ifs. We have to focus on the what-nows.”

  “But Peter, we messed up.”

  “No!” he barked. “We are just the ones left to pick up the pieces. Don’t you dare try to shoulder the blame for something that happened when we were kids. It’s not your fault. It’s Neverland’s fault. They’re the ones that started this. If it weren’t for Dr. Barrie, we’d all be dead or just as messed up as that boy in there.”

  “That boy in there has a name. It’s Michael, and he’s Wendy’s brother,” Slightly corrected.

  “I know!” Peter snapped but then was appalled at his tone of voice. “I know,” he repeated more softly.

  Peter punched the door code and waited for the beep, then walked into Michael’s room, startling the young boy. Michael sat up in bed but kept turning his head to avoid looking at Peter.

  “It’s okay, relax,” Peter said, motioning with his hands, and Michael perched on the edge of the bed, barely glancing at Peter.

  Peter had to take a deep breath and push aside any feelings of resentment. He was facing Wendy’s killer, but it was also her brother. So, for her sake, he would do everything in his power to save the boy.

  “How are you, Michael?” Peter asked.

  Michael didn’t answer, just stared at the wall on his left.

  Peter’s eyebrow rose. “Okay.”

  Footsteps sounded outside as Slightly left them alone and headed back up the stairs. Peter saw Michael glance at the door—his face a mask of fear.

  “I’ve told you before; you’re safe here. I’ll make sure that you are safe.”

  “Even after . . . after what I did?” he asked doubtfully, before breaking eye contact and looking away.

  Peter sighed. His heart hurt, but he nodded. “It was an accident. You didn’t mean to shoot your sister.”

  “I know.” Michael closed his eyes and turned his face downward. “I intended to kill you.”

  Peter watched the young boy like a hawk, reading every muscle. Michael was tense, a sign that he was about to spring into action, but something was off, especially with his eyes.

  “Yes, and I forgive you.” Peter said. He knew that ultimately it wasn’t Michael’s fault. Neverland had done that to him, just as it had nearly destroyed him too. But Peter was finding it easier to forgive Michael for the sins of Neverland than to forgive himself. Peter observed how his words seemed to disarm the boy as Michael’s body language changed. He relaxed his shoulders and looked him in the eyes.

  “We don’t want you to stay in this room forever, Michael. I’d like you to start sitting in on a few classes, continue your education and training. If that’s ok—”

  “No! It’s not safe. I’m not safe. I need to stay here.”

  “Michael, they can’t find you here. We’re protected. Safeguarded against them.”

  “You’re not safeguarded against me.”

  “You?” Peter asked. “Are you going to hurt us?”

  “No, no, I understand now. I was just messed up”—he pointed to his head—“here. They did something to me. Now, I’m finally getting better, stronger, and I can fight them, but I won’t be able to forever.”

  “Do you mean the morphlings or the Red Skulls?”

  “I—” He shook his head, as if to clear it. “I’m not trustworthy.”

  The word trust made Peter think of someone else. “I don’t, but Michael, can you tell me what happened to Jax? Where did he go? Is he a traitor?”

  “We’re all traitors. I betrayed my own sister. Neverland has that effect on people. And someday you will too.”

  “I won’t. I will never betray—”

  Michael cut him off. “Where is my sister?”

  Silence followed. Peter wasn’t sure how to answer. “I . . . she’s . . . safe.”

  Michael looked away. “But you’re here. Maybe you already have betrayed someone.”

  His solemn words sat uncomfortably with Peter.

  Michael began to twitch, his hands gripping his head. “Hook is doing it again. Peter, you have to promise me that you won’t l
et me out. It’s better this way.”

  “Michael, what’s going on? How can I help?”

  “You can’t help me. No one can.”

  “Yes, we can.”

  “He’s coming, Peter, and you’re running out of time.”

  Michael started to make a ticking noise like a clock under his breath and rocked back and forth on the bed, staring at the blue blanket. “Tick . . . tick . . . tick . . .”

  Peter called out his name, but Michael had retreated inside his mind. Peter, unsure of how to respond, sat in silence as Michael continued to make ticking noises and eventually curled up into a ball and turned his back to him. The sound unnerved Peter, reminding him of a countdown clock.

  Peter knew when it was time to go; he clearly wasn’t going to get anything else from Michael today. Tomorrow, he’d try again.

  He had much to ponder on as he slid the hidden panel door close before he went into the control room. There he found Tink sitting in front of the computer. Her white-blonde hair was braided tightly against her head, and her left boot was propped up on the desk, with the keyboard on her lap. The opened bags of chips scattered across the desk and the half-eaten pint of ice cream slowly melting into soup were a sure sign that she had found something.

  “What did you find, Tink?” Peter asked, leaning over her chair.

  “Nothing,” she mumbled. “I can’t find diddly-squat. The second location was empty, just like the first. By the time we get there, the place is a ghost town.”

  “Which means?”

  “It can’t be their main headquarters. Just pop-up black sites. I can’t figure out how they’re disappearing so quickly after we nail down their location. I mean if they are kidnapping the kids, they aren’t keeping them in any one place for longer than twenty-four hours. They must be transporting them somewhere else. I just can’t figure out where.”

  “You’ll find them, Tink. I know you will,” Peter encouraged her, giving her shoulder a gentle squeeze.

  “But not in time. I need to find a way to track the kids. Maybe if we let them capture one of the boys, I could trace the light brace and see their location.”

  “Tink,” Peter warned angrily. He would never sacrifice one of his boys for a suicidal mission. He wouldn’t let Neverland have any of his boys again.

  “Well, Ditto already volunteered, and—”

  “No! And don’t even suggest it again.”

  “But Peter, I can’t guess who the Red Skulls are going to take next. I haven’t found a pattern to their abductions. I can’t place tracers on every teenager in the country.”

  “Find another way,” he demanded.

  Tink slumped back into her chair and threw him an irritated look.

  “Fine,” she whined. “Too bad Jax’s bracer was destroyed. He’d have led us right there—the traitor.” The last word she said under her breath. “If only I’d put a tracer into his brain.” She seemed a little too eager at the prospect and began to mumble to herself.

  Peter could feel the tension in his shoulders at the mention of his friend. Just thinking about Jax made him grind his teeth until a headache started. “You’ll never get the chance. Because if he ever shows his face here again, I’ll kill him.”

  Chapter Five

  Monday arrived like a bad haircut on school picture day. Unwanted and unavoidable. A guy on a skateboard zipped past Wendy, knocking her backpack off her shoulder. She lost her balance, but her brother reached out and caught her arm, steadying her.

  “Hey, watch it,” John called out after the skateboarder, who just shrugged his shoulders.

  A towering brick two-story school building stood in front of her, sunlight reflecting off the glass windows, and the flag waved from the pole in the middle of the sidewalk. The whole scene was unthreatening, familiar even to the typical teenager. But at that moment, she felt far from normal. She might as well have been wearing a giant alien head and a glowing neon sign that pointed and blinked above her, announcing her arrival. Heads turned, and people whispered behind hands, fingers pointed her way, and she could hear the inevitable click of cell phones documenting her first day back.

  John did what he could by trying to shield her with his body.

  “It’s okay, John,” Wendy said when he chased away a freshman who had come up and snuck a selfie with her. “Tomorrow I’ll be yesterday’s news.”

  She tried to pretend like it didn’t faze her, but the chatter, voices, and cell phones created a symphony of white noise that started to overwhelm her. More students filed off the school bus that had just pulled up, and others came up from the sidewalk, surrounding her and separating her from John. Wendy found herself stuck in the middle of a pack of students herding her toward the double door entrance. Even though she had followed that same schedule daily only a few weeks ago, everything felt foreign.

  She had no choice but to ride the wave of bodies until she ended up in a hallway lined with pale blue lockers. Wendy pulled her class schedule out of her bag and looked at her assigned locker number—321. That was easy enough to remember if she could find it . . .

  John nudged her in the direction of her locker, and he gave her elbow a passing squeeze before heading off to his class.

  Wendy scanned the schedule handwritten by the office secretary until she found the locker combination scrawled at the bottom—at least she assumed it was the combination; it resembled hieroglyphics more than modern-day numbers. All the ones looked like sevens or vice versa, and after four tries, Wendy gave up and carried her backpack to class.

  As soon as she entered her first-period history class, she wished she wouldn’t have. Every head turned to stare at her and whispers followed her to her seat.

  She set the backpack by her feet and pulled out her textbook, sliding into her seat, and tried to focus on what she had missed. Thankfully, she had spent the last few weeks reading over everything and she wasn’t too far behind. Toward the end of class, they were given a few minutes to work on the homework, and that was when the whispers began again. It didn’t take a genius to know that they were directed toward her.

  When the bell rang, she sprang toward the door with her backpack in hand but was stopped by a whispered “Hey.”

  She spun around and bumped into a handsome-looking boy. He grinned, flashing her a swoon-worthy smile.

  “Hey . . . uh, Jeremy.” She fumbled the greeting but was glad she remembered his name from her yearbook.

  “How have you been?” he asked, keeping pace with her.

  “Okay.”

  “That’s good. That’s good.” He placed his hand on her shoulder and gave it a squeeze. “I’m happy you’re back.”

  “Me too,” she said, sounding quite lame. “I’ll talk to you later, okay?”

  “You can count on it.” Jeremy winked, making her heart flutter. It seemed like he liked her a lot, and she wasn’t sure how to respond to the flirting.

  “Typical,” a snarky voice sounded behind Wendy, making her jump. A girl with white-blonde hair shot her a disgusted look. She snapped her bubble gum and didn’t even apologize when she bowled her shoulder into her, making her stagger back.

  “Hey!” Wendy said but the strange girl’s response was drowned by a cacophony of bells and tones that came from a watch or band on her wrist. Wendy looked after the blonde in confusion. Did she know her? She didn’t remember seeing her in the yearbook.

  The rest of the day went by in a blur, and Wendy was so exhausted by the time she made it home that she grabbed a bite of food and then crawled back into her room, sleeping the late evening away.

  The next two days followed a similar routine, although each day she was accosted less and less by students shoving phone cameras in her face, wanting selfies. By mid-week, she felt semi-normal enough to resume cheer practice. Thankfully, John was able to pull up a bunch of online videos of their football games. They were simple enough to memorize after viewing the videos enough number of times, but when she finally showed up to cheer practice that Wedn
esday after school, she slipped into the back row of their cheer squad with the hope that no one would notice if she messed something up. But Wendy could tell by Brittney’s confused stare that something wasn’t right.

  “What gives, Wendy?” Brittney gestured to the open spot on her right in the front. Wendy’s cheeks warmed as she made her way to the front row.

  “Okay, we are going to practice our routine for the pep rally. You should have all been practicing it over the last few weeks. Wendy, do you think you can start us off?”

  “No, no, go ahead,” Wendy stammered.

  “That’s what I thought,” Brittney smirked over her shoulder to a redhead named Stacey. Wendy had made a point to learn the names of all the girls on the squad. Wendy could see the silent snickers hidden behind their pom-poms, even if she couldn’t hear them.

  The music started, and Wendy panicked. That dance wasn’t in any of the videos she had studied. She tried her best to watch the other girls out of the side of her eye, but she continued to stay one to two steps behind.

  “What’s wrong with you, Wendy?” Brittney said loudly, her voice echoing across the gym. “You can’t even remember one dance. The dance you choreographed. It’s like someone came and switched your body with a monkey’s.” She laughed.

  A snort came from the bleachers, and Wendy looked up to see a blonde girl sitting cross-legged at the top, watching the practice while working on her laptop. It was the same girl that had knocked into her earlier that week. What was her deal?

  “I’m a bit rusty,” Wendy said. “I’ll remember. I know I can.”

  “Okay.” Brittney pushed play on the CD player. “Let’s take it from the top again.”

  The song started over, but the moves she had just watched and tried to remember evaded her.

  “Sorry,” Wendy mumbled as she made a misstep in her routine and stepped on the redheaded cheerleader’s foot. She was almost in tears by the time practice was over.

 
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