When I was young I happened across a copy of Peter Pan in the attic. I had already read every other book in the house, as far as I knew, and I was delighted to find new material. It fell in easily among the fantasy titles I had already devoured: Alice in Wonderland, Lord of the Rings, The Secret Garden.
Unlike those, however, Peter Pan had a Voice; not the character himself, but the voice telling the story. Of course, every author has their own voice, but not all of them speak to you. Peter Pan was the first book I remembered that spoke to me.
There is a part early in the story in which Mr. and Mrs. Darling rush home from their party to try and catch the children before they are taken off to Neverland (possibly forever) with the reckless, immortal spirit of Peter. Looking back at it from an adult’s point of view, this is quite terrifying, to have your children snatched away from you in the middle of the night. However it is a children’s book, and the Voice adds this reassurance:
“Will they reach the nursery in time? If so, how delightful for them, and we shall all breathe a sigh of relief, but there will be no story. On the other hand, if they are not in time, I solemnly promise that it will all come right in the end.”
Dearest reader, I regret to inform you that this is not a children’s book, and I can make you no such promise. If you decide to proceed, much of your journey will be arduous and dark.
Best of luck in your travels.
Jane Chatwin stands in a sea of blood. It coats the polished maplewood floor and clings to her ankles in a fine spray where they’re exposed beneath her skirt. There are even a few droplets on the huge old grandfather clock that remains, miraculously, intact. She lets her eyes flutter closed for a moment and then immediately reopens them.
She does this every time. She makes herself look at the carnage, at the consequences of her failure. Reminds herself, in the most effective way possible, of the suffering and heartbreak and simple, aching pain.
It’s usually quiet, at the end. Mercifully quiet, after the dying screams and sobs and the triumphant roar of the beast.
Of her brother.
This time, though, Jane can hear a faint sound, if she concentrates hard enough. Breathing. Coming from somewhere else in the building. Or possibly just outside. She lifts her skirt above the carnage and sweeps away from the bodies, finally turning her eyes gratefully away from the bloodbath inside.
The breathing--it’s closer to hyperventilating now--gets louder as she nears the entryway of the physical kid’s cottage, and even though she opens the door as gently as possible the boy on the other side still springs up, startled.
There’s an awful, heartbreaking hope on his face for a few moments, and when he recognizes her it crumbles away into full-bodied sobs.
It’s not the first time someone has survived the Beast’s wrath (she thinks of Alice, timeline 23) but it is fairly rare and Jane finds herself wishing, horrifically, that it hadn’t happened.
“It’s all over now,” she soothes, and reaches out to perform the memory spell (more of a mercy than anything, really, the clock will do its work whether he remembers or not) but he seems to know what she’s about to do and holds up a hand.
“Wait--” he gasps. “Don’t. Please.”
Jane draws her hand back, fixes him with a severe but not unkind stare.
“You can’t possibly want to remain like this?” she asks.
“No,” he says. “God, no. But. Let me...just let me say goodbye. I’ve.” He drops his eyes to the ground, but not before Jane catches the guilt and shame burning in them. “I’ve been too afraid to go inside.”
Jane bites her lip. “I suppose,” she says, and stands aside so he can enter the cottage.