After NeverlandAn Awfully Big Adventure of a Very Lost Boy
A Not-quite-forgotten Tale of Neverland
Waking Up in the Clouds
Adventures, like children, come in all shapes and sizes. Some Adventures are rather short but sing loudly enough to make your teeth rattle. Others appear rail thin, while in reality they are so full of wisdom that it would take a team of elephants to move them an inch. And yet others are so long that even they forget where they’ve been or where in the world they were headed in the first place. All of them have their place. As for me, the bigger the Adventure, the better. And so, when someone wise once said, “To die will be an awfully big Adventure,” he certainly got my attention.
Now, you may have heard of a magical place called the Neverland and a boy there who flies through the sky and absolutely refuses to grow up. One often-repeated story tells of how this boy took three very ordinary children to the Neverland and led them on an exciting adventure where they played with mermaids, argued with fairies, and befriended brave warriors. They even battled dreadful pirates and only narrowly escaped with their lives. The story is so entertaining, in fact, that otherwise perfectly reasonable people will spend their life savings to wait in a very long line for hours, day after day, just to catch a quick re-telling of this story that is over almost before it has begun.
This is not that story.
You see, there is a place beneath the Neverland, and very few of the living have traveled there and have returned to tell of the tales there. Fortunately for you, I know of a hidden room where the books about this place are kept and at what time of day the bookkeeper usually falls asleep. If you promise to keep it a secret between us, I’ll tell you one of my favorite stories from a book which, if anyone asks, I’ve never read. And, as I have a tendency to get distracted easily, I have decided to follow the story of one particularly curious boy rather than trying to follow everyone below—though I make no promises.
Very well, then. The story begins like this: when our boy first awoke, he was surrounded by mounds of thick, white clouds. This frightened him a great deal, as he was scared of heights. But when he felt something firm beneath him, he realized he was neither floating on nor falling through the sky. Instead, he was lying in a cozy bed with big fluffy blankets piled up around him.
The only thing that scared the boy more than heights was being left alone, so now that his first fear had passed, he moved quickly on to the second. His eyes desperately searched the white, lumpy mound surrounding him for an opening that might reveal the world beyond. After several panicked moments, he finally found a sort of valley that ran along the blankets, and at the end of the valley stood a three-legged wooden stool.
The stool supported a rather tall, bony-looking man in a baggy brown hooded robe, and whose head kept drifting slowly toward his chest before snapping back up, only to begin the process again. The boy giggled a bit at the nodding figure and the bony man shot up out of his chair. He looked around the room quickly, rubbed his bald head, and finally tilted it to observe the fluffy pile of blankets.
When the boy saw the man’s face, his giggle stopped abruptly and clung to the back of his throat, for something very much like a skeleton was staring back at him. And while this skeleton still had its skin, its sunken eyes made it quite frightening, nonetheless. What was worse, the skull-like head perching precariously atop the skeleton was grinning. This was just the sort of thing a child’s nightmares were made of, and the boy began to wonder if he had accidentally discovered the place where the very worst nightmares come from (or, at the very least, where they go on holiday).
“Good—you are awake,” the bony man said in a very thick French accent.
The boy wasn’t sure how to respond to someone so frightening, so he did what came most naturally to him—he sniffled loudly. He didn’t know who the bony man was, though he did look vaguely familiar. All he knew was that this bed was clearly meant for a person much larger than himself. Being in a room with just such a larger person—and an even larger bed—made the boy uneasy, though he couldn’t put his finger on why that was. Of course, we can forgive the boy if he felt a bit nervous when being stared at by someone who looked as if they had just leapt up from a hundred-year-old grave.
The boy immediately began glancing about for a way out. His searching eyes were so large that we may as well call them enormous, making such glancing rather simple for them, but also showing his feelings far too easily and filling far too quickly with tears. Since you are meeting the boy for the first time, I should probably tell you right now, while we are still at the beginning of our Adventure, that his eyes were the color of chocolate—the fancy kind of chocolate that only comes in very small pieces. And when these enormous brown eyes seized upon a wide wooden door at the other end of the room, the boy began plotting different routes in his mind that could whisk him away from under his covers and out into the unknown world beyond the door. These dotted lines crisscrossed the room, under the chair, around the bucket and mop in one corner, over and then under the bed, and finally—
“No doubt you would like to be running.”
The dotted lines disappeared suddenly at the man’s voice. “Of course,” he continued, “you are free to do this. But please stay—you are needing rest before the running.”
It was then that the boy realized he couldn’t move his arms or legs but a few inches at a time. It was as if his limbs were actually a trail of donkeys, each tied together by a rope; you may be able to pull the first beast forward a bit, but the next one in line would likely be offended and put up a fight, while the third would almost certainly sit on the ground and refuse to move at all. And of course, all the rest of the donkeys after them, being the sillies that they are, would stare blankly at the ground, hoping that something tasty would appear before them.
The boy’s spirits drooped. Such a lack of cooperation from his arms and legs would surely make any plans of escape much more difficult. Difficult, perhaps, but not impossible. You see, he had once escaped from a band of pirates who had captured him after he had been stung by a sleeping nettle bush. It was one of the boy’s finest moments, but as he was asleep the entire time, he didn’t remember much about it. His only dim recollections were his own very loud snoring, swinging on a long rope, rolling a large barrel along the ground, and using a candlestick as a sword. When he finally did awake, smacking his lips and asking where he could find some cheese to swim in, he was halfway up a very tall tree. In one hand, he gripped a red bandanna, and in the other a gold hoop earring with part of a surprisingly large, pink ear lobe still attached. Unfortunately for the boy, he could recall none of his triumph now, and instead only felt dreadfully helpless.
The bony man took an eager step forward and asked, “What do you remember, my child?”
The boy lay in the cloud-covered bed, frozen in fear. He couldn’t possibly be the child of this terrifying man, could he? When he finally thawed a bit, he tried to think about what he could remember. He began to scratch his head in order to get his memory going, but his arms still stubbornly refused to move, just like that line of silly donkeys we discussed earlier. At this realization, he was hit with yet another fresh gust of freezing fear. He felt the chilling sensation mostly in his ears, which were rather large for such a small boy and which stuck out so far from his head that they appeared as though they were trying to fly away. I will tell you in confidence that, in the past, the boy was so embarrassed by the size and angle of his ears that he often wished they would just have done with it and fly away to wherever large ears go for the winter.
When this most recent cold front passed and the boy’s memories warmed a bit, he could just make out an image in his mind. “I remember a green place,” he began speaking, in his first croaking attempt at speech. “Without walls. And I remember feeling…scared. And sad.” Then, after a pause for his rather small teeth to chatter a bit, “No, not sad, really. Lonely. Very lonely.” He punctuated this statement with another sniffling noise.
“Well, you will never be lonely in this place, my child. Why, you cannot get away from all the others even if you try!” The bony man tipped back his skull-like head, lowered his jaw, and several musical coughs came spilling out.
It was a laugh.
Something about the man’s laugh made the boy breathe easier, as it made the man seem a little less like a real skeleton and little more like a silly All Hallows’ Eve costume. But there was still something very unsettling about the bony man and the hungry look in his sunken eyes.
“Do not worry,” the man said. “Soon you will be remembering everything. It might be taking a while, but you will. And the names, they always seem to come last. Until then, the Brotherhood, they are calling you Dawntee. So that will have to do for now.”
The boy tried the name on and found it to fit well enough, though it was a bit long in the nose. And so, with or without the boy’s permission, we will call him Dawntee, too.