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The Never King: Chapter 30


When I come up for air, I’m screaming.

There are no waves. No wind. But we’re in water. This water is shallow and brackish and it takes me a second to recognize it as Emerald Pond in the park down the street from our old Victorian.

I’m home.

I’m home.

So why am I dreading it?

We trudge out of the water, me and Peter Pan and the Lost Boys.

It’s dark here too and crickets and pond frogs chirp and croak in the night.

“This way,” I say and move us to the sidewalk that’ll take us to the street.

We’re all silent as we walk, soaking wet and on a mission. It takes us less than ten minutes to reach the Victorian. Somehow seeing my house with Pan and the boys makes one or both of them feel unreal.

Like they shouldn’t exist in the same space.

We go up the cracked and crumbling front walk. I try the door and find it unlocked. That’s unlike my mother. She always remembers to lock the doors.

When I push the door in, it creaks on its hinges. The house is dark and quiet save for its normal settling, like old bones creaking.

“Mom?” I call out.

There’s no answer.

We go down the hallway and the boys stay behind me.

My great grandmother’s trunk is in the living room beneath the bay window.

Except when we reach the doorway, we find Mom there with a man shorter than me, and several more just like him. He’s got a shock of dark hair on his head and big, wide-set eyes with pointed ears.

“Brownie,” Pan says on a growl.

“Pan,” the little man says.

“Why are you here?” Pan asks. There is a very clear edge of suspicion in his voice.

The Brownie steps forward. “Tink didn’t want you to be king and I dedicated my life to her.”

“But how did you know it was here?” Pan takes another step.

Vane and the twins match his movements, flanking Pan.

“I always knew it was here,” the Brownie answers. “To be fair, I thought you’d be dead by now. We all did.”

The others nod. There are seven of them in total.

“What do you plan to do with my shadow once you claim it? Not many can hold it.”

“The twins could,” the Brownie says.

Pan goes rigid. “What’s Tilly have to say about that?”

“She wants what’s best for the island.” The Brownie rests his hand on the hilt of a blade strapped at his hip. “You were a vicious king. You can’t think we want you to return to that?”

I watch Pan’s face for a reaction. I know he can be vicious. I watched him kill that Lost Boy for nothing more than flirting with me. But just how vicious is he?

I’m not afraid of him, but maybe I should be.

Maybe jumping off that cliff was the least brave thing I’ve done in so many days.

“I won’t let you stop me,” Pan says.

“I won’t let you leave here with your shadow,” the Brownie says.

There is a quiet, still moment right before fighting breaks out.

Mom is wedged between the corner and the trunk, her arms wrapped around her knees.

I run to her as swords clash.

“Mom? Are you okay?”

“Winnie? Oh, Winnie!” She unfolds herself and wraps her arms around me. “I’m so glad you’re back.”

“Are you okay?”

“Yes, I’m fine. I’m fine.”

I look over my shoulder to see Vane’s hands on either side of a Brownie’s head. He twists violently and the Brownie’s neck snaps.

My stomach rolls.

“Mom, do you know of a hidden compartment in great-grandmother’s chest?”

“No. Why?”

I unlatch it and pop the lid open. It smells like it’s from another century and the paper lining is now brittle and coming off in flakes. We’ve used it to store old linens and blankets, and one photo album that’s only a third full.

Someone screams behind us. I don’t think it’s the boys.

I yank out the blankets, the sheets, and then run my hand along the trunk’s interior. How did the Darling in my dream do it?

I start knocking on the inner walls.

Nothing happens.

“Come on.”

I think it was the left side of the trunk in my dream. I rap my knuckles again. Once, twice. Nothing.

Maybe I’m not being forceful enough. The Darling in my dream hit the trunk with more of a thump than a knock.

I try again and—

A drawer pops open.

And nestled inside, aged by decades of waiting, is a box.


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