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After Neverland

The Awfully Big Adventure of a Very Lost Boy

A Not-quite-forgotten Tale of Neverland

Chapter One

Discovering a Room

          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 to begin with. All of them have their place. As for me, the bigger the Adventure, the better. And so, when someone once said, “To die will be an awfully big Adventure,” I simply had to know more.

          Now, you may have heard of a magical place called the Neverland and a boy there who flies through the air 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 some people journey to the happiest place on earth and stand in absurdly long lines just to catch a quick re-telling of this story—a 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. Even fewer have returned to tell of its tales. Fortunately for you, I know of a hidden room where all 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 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 a flickering fog. No, it was too thick for a fog. These were clouds. This frightened the boy a great deal, as he was scared of heights. His stomach felt like it had suddenly dropped out beneath him, much like it does when one has swung far too high on a swing. When his hands grasped for something to stop his fall, he felt something firm beneath him and realized he was neither falling nor floating through the sky. Instead, he was lying in a cozy bed with big fluffy blankets piled up around him. Yes, the blankets still flickered with little bursts of light, but that mystery would have to wait its turn.

          The only thing that scared the boy more than heights was being left alone, so now that his first fear had just passed, he moved quickly on to the second. His eyes desperately searched the dim, lumpy mound surrounding him for an opening that might reveal the world beyond and for someone who might keep him company. 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. It wasn’t a person, but it would have to do for now.

          With a great effort, the boy pushed the fluffy blankets off of him. No, the blankets were not heavy—the boy was, however, rather weak. With a little grunt, he swung his little legs over the side of the bed, which he now noticed was far too large for someone his size. He kicked his legs slowly in the air repeatedly for good measure, and then stumbled onto the floor. He felt a bit dizzy, so he braced himself with the empty three-legged stool. It was then that the boy noticed what he was wearing—a loose brown robe with two deep pockets at his sides and an even deeper hood drooping behind his skinny neck.

          The dark wooden floor was very cold. So cold, in fact, that he ignored the pair of black leather sandals glancing eagerly up at him from the floor and pulled himself up with much difficulty to stand on top of the stool. As he swayed there, a slight breeze let him know that he was not wearing any trousers. This felt very strange to the boy. Though he could not say why this felt strange, I am happy to tell you: it was because he had always worn trousers—even to bed. But the boy would soon come to appreciate how comfortable his new robe was and wonder why he hadn’t always worn something so roomy. He would also come to discover its deep pockets were perfect for carrying exactly who and what he needed to battle a terrible monster. But we musn’t get ahead of ourselves.

          The same breeze that had tickled the boy’s bare legs spun around and tousled his hair. His hands shot up to his head to keep the breeze from making mischief with his hair, but the boy’s hair sat on his head just as it had been before—most of the thick brown mop lay calmly to his right, while just above his left ear stood a rebellious tuft which looked very much like a small prickly bush. He tried to smooth down this tuft out of habit (and embarrassment), but his hair held to its principles and refused to be conquered.

          Now that the boy had seen to the most pressing items—his clothing and his tuft of hair—he surveyed the room around him in the flickering light, hoping to find something familiar. Here is what he found, instead: a lopsided metal bucket containing exactly one mop, one wooden door (closed), a shelf above the door (empty), and what appeared to be two figures standing still on either side of the door.

          “Um…hello?” The boy said.

          When the figures didn’t answer, the boy’s Loneliness relaxed its grasp around his heart just a bit, as it was unwilling to deliver the boy to strangers. Loneliness is sometimes wiser than we give it credit for, and this was one of those times. Noticing the rough features of the figures beside the doorway, the boy soon realized they were wooden angels, or, at the very least, wooden women with sloppily painted white wings nailed to their backs. Only the front half of these angel women were visible, with their backsides presumably sticking out behind them, which the boy imagined would be quite awkward when seen from the other side of the wall.

          This was certainly not the boy’s own room. But if it was not his own room, whose was it? And why was he here, all alone? Was he a visitor? A prisoner? Or was the boy something else entirely?

          You may be wondering why I keep referring to our hero as “the boy” and not by some other name. As your humble storyteller, I think it would be rather unfair if we knew something rather important that he does not. You see, the boy’s memories had all run off—without so much as a goodbye—and they had left him to fend for himself here in this strange place beneath the Neverland. But with his memories gone, his Curiosity had much more room to stretch out, and so it took full advantage of the extra space. Therefore, the boy’s Curiosity nudged his eyes up, toward the heretofore unexplored ceiling.

          Each of the walls in the room arched toward the same point at the center of the ceiling, from which something dangled. It was a small, light gray lump of cloth with two black buttons sewn to one end and tattered white wings sticking out from just behind the buttons. It was a sort of toy moth. Around this poorly made moth swarmed several small, misshapen globs of wax with stubby wicks, each of which was lit. And they were flying.

          “That’s odd,” the boy said, “I always thought it was moths that were drawn to a flame. Looks like I had it backward.”

          The boy’s eyes drifted back down until they settled once again on the wooden door. Of course, he thought about leaving the room through the door, but that would be an obvious choice, and where would the fun be in that? And besides—from what little he could see through the thin space beneath the door, it was dreadfully dark on the other side. And because there’s no telling what dangers, monsters, or vegetables might lay in wait in the darkness, he thought it best to look for another way to escape this unfamiliar place.

          With another grunt, the boy turned around to search the rest of the dimly lit room. He gasped when he saw a thin, dark shape slithering down the wall directly behind him. He stood still, hoping the creature hadn’t noticed him. It hadn’t. This wasn’t because it wasn’t paying attention, but simply because it wasn’t a creature at all. It was, instead, a deep crack in the plastered wall, and the shadows cast by the bouncing light had only made it appear as if it was moving up and down along the wall.

          Beside this dark crack was a round window the size of a very large dinner plate. The window looked out onto the ground, but the boy quickly grew bored because he couldn’t see anything below in the darkness. And so it was quite easy for his eyes to be drawn upward.

          The boy expected to see stars in the darkness above, but instead he saw whole constellations. “But wait,” you are surely saying, “aren’t constellations made of stars?” They are. However, in the boy’s sky, there were actual lines connecting the dots of individual stars into different shapes, such as bears and hunters, and these lines between stars shone just as brightly as the stars themselves. In the case of some of the more whimsical images, such as baby dragons wearing bowties and top hats, stars seemed to be completely absent, with bright lines running whichever way they wanted.

          Most of the constellations were quite massive and either stayed in one place or moved so slowly they might as well have stayed put and saved themselves the tiresome trouble of moving. However, some of the smaller constellations seemed to be playing a game in which they would dart quickly in between the larger and much slower constellations. The boy secretly hoped there would be an accident so he could see what it was like for a constellation to trip and fall, but tonight the brightly shining small constellations were just too nimble and no such accidents occurred. At one point, a gigantic trumpeter swan shape bent down to scold the outline of a tiny, frolicking unicorn who had nearly crashed into his webbed feet. But the resulting indignant honk was the closest thing to a catastrophe on this particular night.

          As he stared in wonder at the moving constellations, a low, growling noise sounded in the room. The boy suddenly stood as still as the two wooden angels behind him. Swallowing hard, he slowly turned away from the window to face this terrible noise. And as his impossibly wide eyes inched away from window, he thought he glimpsed the small unicorn constellation looking pointedly in his direction, as if pleading for the boy to save her from a scolding. But when the boy took in the room around him, everything appeared to be exactly where it had been when he left it to look out the window.

          Another growl rumbled. This time, it seemed much closer. Was a cruel, hungry monster hiding beneath him? The boy peeked over the edge of his stool and strained to see what lay in wait beneath when he heard an even louder growl.

          Of course, the boy ought to have been terrified at the growing volume of these wicked noises, but after the loudest of the growls, he simply let out a high-pitched laugh that sounded very much like a bird chirping. It was his stomach which was so frighteningly hungry, not a menacing monster (though his stomach could, at times be quite menacing). At this realization he let out a large breath for good measure, lowered himself to sit on the stool, and the room was silent once more.

          But only for a moment. Just then, the boy heard a scuffling noise. His heart stopped and his gaze dropped quickly to the floor once more. The scuffling noise grew louder, and his eyes darted to the thin sliver of light that shone beneath the wooden door. He thought he saw dark shapes scurrying but couldn’t be sure because of the dancing candlelight of his room. Perhaps these were just harmless shadows that had gotten lost? What, then, of the approaching noise?

          The scuffling grew louder and louder until it stopped just outside the door. For several painfully long moments, the only sound was the sputtering of the candles dancing above. Then, slowly, the wooden door creaked open.