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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Lost in the Never Woods

Aiden Thomas

Swoon Reads

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CHAPTER 1

Falling Stars


As Wendy Darling pushed through the door, all conversation died and every eye focused on her. As she stood there, files stacked in her arms, the whispers started in hushed tones. The hairs on the back of Wendy’s neck prickled. As a lowly volunteer at the only hospital in town, Wendy had spent her day in the basement copying files. That part of the job was boring, but Wendy wanted to become a nurse. It probably wasn’t the ideal way for the average teenager to spend their eighteenth birthday, but Wendy wanted to lie low and avoid attention.

And she was failing spectacularly.

The nurses’ station was packed with people in scrubs and officers in uniforms, and they all watched Wendy as she hesitated in the doorway, trying not to drop her stack of papers.

Her sweaty hands were making the plastic folders harder to hold on to, so, even though her nerves told her to get out of there, Wendy hurriedly crossed the room and dumped them behind the desk. Curious eyes and the incoherent crackling of police officers’ radios followed her.

“Lord, did you finish already?” Wendy started at the sudden appearance of Nurse Judy at her elbow.

“Uh—yeah.” Wendy took a quick step back and dragged her hands through her short, blunt haircut. Nurse Judy was a small woman with a large presence, dressed in Snoopy scrubs. She had a booming voice that was perfect for talking over the sound of busy waiting rooms and a loud, unabashed laugh that she often used while teasing doctors.

“Dang, girl! You’re making the rest of us look bad!” She took no nonsense and usually spoke her mind, which was why her tight-lipped smile and fidgeting hands made Wendy’s stomach twist.

Wendy forced a small laugh that quickly died in her throat. Standing behind Nurse Judy, on the other side of the U-shaped nursing desk, was Officer Smith. The pale fluorescent lights bounced off his bald head and he stood with his chest puffed out and his thumbs tucked into the straps of his Kevlar vest. He stared at Wendy, mouth in a straight line as his square jaw worked on a piece of gum. No matter what time of year it was, Officer Smith always had a sunglasses tan framing his sharp eyes. He had a way of looking at you that made you feel guilty, even if you hadn’t done anything wrong. It was a look that Wendy had been on the receiving end of many times over the past five years.

“Wendy.” Her name always sounded gruff coming from him, like he was annoyed at the mere mention of her.

Wendy’s head bobbed in an uncomfortable greeting. She wanted to ask what was going on, but the way everyone kept looking at her—

“There you are!” A sharp yank on Wendy’s arm had her spinning around to Jordan’s beaming face. “I was looking everywhere for you!” she said. Jordan Arroyo had been Wendy’s best friend since middle school. If Wendy did anything outside her comfort zone, it was because Jordan was there cheering—and sometimes pushing—her along. It was Jordan who had talked her into applying to big-name colleges, and rejoiced with screaming and dancing when they both got into the University of Oregon. When Wendy worried that it was too far from Astoria and her parents, Jordan promised they’d make the four-hour drive back home together whenever Wendy wanted.

Wendy felt a small bit of relief. “I—”

“Are you done for the day?” Jordan’s dark eyes cut to the stack of files. She was tall with warm brown skin that never broke out and had dark hair that usually framed her face in tight curls but was currently tied back in a ponytail.

“Yeah—”

“Great!” Before Wendy could object, Jordan snatched up their bags with one hand and pulled Wendy down the hall with the other. “Let’s go!” Wendy half expected one of the three police officers to stop her, but even though they watched the two as they left—especially Officer Smith—no one said anything.

When the door closed behind them and they were alone in the hall, Wendy sucked in a deep breath. “What was that all about?” she asked, glancing quickly over her shoulder to see if anyone was going to follow them.

“What was what?” said Jordan.

Wendy had to take quick steps to keep up with Jordan’s long, determined strides. “The cops and everyone.”

“Pft, who knows!” Jordan said with a jerky shrug as she punched the code on the door to the nurses’ break room.

Wendy frowned. Jordan never missed a chance for gossip. Any time anything interesting happened in the hospital—like a local boy shooting off his friend’s toe when they were illegally hunting in the woods or a doctor making one of the medical assistants cry—Jordan was all over it. She bounced from person to person, poking for details and prodding for information, before finding Wendy and divulging everything she found out.

She was hiding something.

“Hey, hold on,” Wendy said as tension clawed into her shoulders.

“Sit!” Jordan pushed her into a seat at the lopsided round table littered with paper plates and leftover takeout utensils. “Okay, I know you don’t like celebrating your birthday—” Jordan blew through the room, snatching a pair of plastic forks and grabbing a Tupperware container from the old fridge. “But you’re turning eighteen! So, I had to do something.”

“Jordan.”

“I made your favorite!” Jordan didn’t so much as look up as her hands fumbled to get the Tupperware lid off. “See?” The smile on Jordan’s face was shaky at best as she busied herself with placing a yellow cupcake on a small plate in front of Wendy. The dollop of chocolate frosting was melting down the side of the paper. “It didn’t come out quite right, but you know I suck at baking.”

Wendy’s heart drummed in her throat. Why wouldn’t Jordan look at her? “Jordan.”

“But my dad ate, like, three and hasn’t showed up at the emergency room,” Jordan mused as she stuck a purple candle into the cupcake and lit it with a yellow lighter. “So it can’t be that bad!”

Jordan,” Wendy pressed insistently.

Jordan pushed the cupcake at Wendy, her wide smile looking more like a grimace. “Make a wish!”

“JORDAN!” Jordan cringed and even Wendy jumped at the loudness of her own voice. Finally, Jordan glanced up, her eyebrows tipped and lips pressed between her teeth. “What’s going on?” Wendy repeated, her words much more uneven now as she leaned forward. The heat of the candle brushed her chin. “Why are there so many cops here? What happened?”

When Jordan spoke, her voice was gentle. “Ashley Ford went missing.”

It was like a giant hand pressed all of the air from Wendy’s lungs. “Missing?” Automatically, Wendy pulled out her phone. She hadn’t received an AMBER Alert, but the file room was concrete and got no cell phone reception.

“Earlier today,” Jordan continued. She watched Wendy carefully as she spoke.

The room tilted. Wendy gripped the edge of the table with sweaty palms to steady herself. “But I just saw her this morning.”

“Apparently, she was playing in the front yard. Her mom walked inside to get something, and when she walked back out, Ashley was gone.”

Wendy knew Ashley well. When she wasn’t doing paperwork, Wendy spent most of her time at the hospital in the pediatric clinic reading to kids or leading arts and crafts. Mrs. Ford was a patient at the hospital who regularly needed dialysis treatment, and when she had appointments, she left Ashley in the children’s room with Wendy. Ashley was only eight years old, but she was smart and had an encyclopedic knowledge of trees. Just that morning, Ashley had been sitting on an oversized bean bag chair that practically swallowed up her petite form, rattling off the names of the trees she could see from the large windows.

“They can’t find her?” Wendy asked. Jordan shook her head. No wonder everyone had been staring at her. “And Benjamin Lane?”

“They haven’t found him yet, either.” Jordan chewed on her bottom lip as she watched Wendy. “That makes two missing kids in the past twenty-four hours, but they’ve got loads of people looking,” Jordan rushed to add, but her voice was muffled, like Wendy was listening to her underwater. “That’s why the cops are here—asking folks who saw her last if they noticed anything suspicious…” Jordan trailed off, but Wendy knew what she was thinking.

Wendy’s head swam. Benjamin Lane was a local boy who had gone missing yesterday afternoon. He was only ten years old, but he had a rebellious streak. Benjamin had run away from home once before, and everyone seemed to assume he was hiding out at a friend’s house. It was an easy explanation that everyone in town was quick to accept, tutting about bad parenting and “kids these days.”

Because in Astoria, Oregon, crime was practically nonexistent. Especially the sinister sort. Especially missing children. Except, of course …

Wendy’s shoulders sank. “My brothers.” Wendy swallowed hard. “Do they think—?”

Jordan shook her head vigorously and squeezed Wendy’s shoulder. “There’s no way this has anything to do with you. She probably just wandered off to a friend’s house or something. Or they’ll find her perfectly fine at a playground,” she said, trying to sound certain, but it wasn’t working on Wendy.

Dread settled over her at the thought of being questioned by the police again. At the idea of Ashley being lost and alone, or something even worse.

Wendy dropped her forehead into her hands, but pain suddenly seared across her chin. She lurched back from the candle flame with a hiss.

Jordan quickly blew it out. Purple wax dripped over chocolate. Cursing under her breath, Jordan quickly ran a brown paper towel under water from the sink and handed it to Wendy. “Are you okay?”

Wendy pressed the cool paper towel to the small welt forming on her chin. “Yeah.” She winced. “It’s just a little burn.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Jordan said.

Wendy avoided her gaze. “I want to go home.”

* * *

Heads turned to follow them through the lobby and out the main door. Jordan filled Wendy’s silence, recounting her harrowing adventures in baking the cupcakes and how the first batch had somehow come out even more liquidy than before she’d put them into the oven.

In the parking lot, the sun had just set below the jagged ridge of tree-lined hills to the west. Wendy eyed the lingering rays of sun drenching the distant woods in a deep shade of maroon as Jordan walked her to her truck. She hadn’t meant to stay this late. Being in the windowless basement for so many hours made her lose track of time.

Wendy’s truck was old and run-down. At one point, it had been robin’s egg blue, but now it was mostly faded with splotches of orange rust coming through. It was older than she was, but still ran thanks to Jordan and her dad. Mr. Arroyo ran one of the two auto mechanic shops in town, and Jordan was his protégé. Jordan always seemed to be taking care of Wendy, one way or another.

Wendy moved to open the door, but Jordan leaned against it. “You okay to get home?” she asked, brown eyes squinting in the waning sunlight.

“Yeah, I’ll be fine,” Wendy said, both to Jordan and to herself.

“I wish I didn’t have to work tonight,” Jordan said, her perfectly symmetrical eyebrows furrowed.

“It’s fine,” Wendy said. Her eyes cut to the fading light.

“Y’know, I can totally blow my shift off,” Jordan added, speaking faster in the way she did when she was talking herself into doing something. “We can meet up with Tyler? They’re doing Loopers on the back roads—or we could go to the Gateway and see a movie?”

“No, it’s fine, really.” Wendy liked Jordan’s boyfriend, Tyler, but she didn’t feel like driving around with him and his friends. Tyler’s car was a Toyota truck on huge wheels that Wendy always struggled to get into. He took the twisty roads through town too fast, and the loud voices and smell of beer made her carsick. When it came to movies, Jordan always wanted to see the latest horror flick, and even though Wendy knew Jordan would suffer through an indie documentary on Amazon rainforest crocodiles for Wendy, her nerves were worn raw to make herself reciprocate. “I don’t really feel like celebrating, anyway.”

Jordan didn’t look satisfied with that answer, but, to Wendy’s relief, she let it go. “Get home safe, then.” Jordan pushed herself away from the truck and gave a lock of Wendy’s dark blond hair an affectionate tug. “And text me if you need anything, all right?”

Wendy smoothed a hand through her hair as she opened the door and climbed in. “I will.”

“And you better eat this and tell me how you like it!” Jordan ordered as she handed her the Tupperware, the uneaten cupcake squished inside. “Oh! I nearly forgot!” Jordan dug into her duffel bag and pulled out a rectangular present, sloppily wrapped in shiny navy paper. “Open it, open it!”

Wendy couldn’t help but laugh at Jordan’s excitement as she bounced on the spot. She peeled back the wrapping paper to reveal a sketchpad. The cover had a drawing of a bird mid-flight and Jordan had taped a box of art pencils to the front.

“A sketchpad?” Wendy said, surprised and a little confused.

“Yes, a sketchpad!” Jordan announced triumphantly. “I noticed how much you’ve been doodling lately,” she said, tilting her chin to a proud angle as she crossed her arms.

“You’ve seen those?” Wendy asked.

“Uh, yeah, of course I have!” Jordan said with a huff before grinning. “I was just pretending like I didn’t so you’d be extra surprised when I gave you your present. I figured a sketchpad would be better than random bits of paper, don’t you think?”

Wendy let out an awkward laugh as she thumbed the thick pages. “Yeah, definitely.”

“Lots of trees, right?” It was clear by the smile on her face that Jordan was trying to prove how much she had noticed. “And who’s the boy?”

Wendy’s eye went wide. “Boy?”

“Yeah, the boy you’re always sketching—” Jordan reached over and plucked a piece of paper from the center console. “Yeah, this guy! See?” She held it out for Wendy to see. It was a drawing of a boy sitting in a tree, one leg draped over a branch in mid-swing, the small hint of dimples in his cheeks. His messy hair drooped over his eyes, obscuring some of his features. In the corner was an unfinished sketch of an old, twisted tree with gnarled roots and no leaves.

A rush of heat went to Wendy’s cheeks. “It’s no one!” She snatched the paper from Jordan’s hand and crumpled it.

Jordan’s face lit up. “Oh my God—Wendy Darling, are you blushing?

“No!” Wendy balked. Now her face was on fire.

Jordan threw her head back with a laugh. “Okay, now you have to tell me! Who’s the boy, Wendy?” She held up a finger. “And don’t you dare try to lie to me!”

Wendy’s head fell back against the headrest and she let out a groan. If she lied, Jordan would know it and just keep hounding her. But the truth just felt so embarrassing.

Wendy looked at Jordan, who cocked an eyebrow expectantly.

Ugh!” She sighed. “It’s Peter Pan,” she muttered under her breath.

“Peter Pan?” Jordan repeated with a frown. “Peter—wait, you mean the guy from your mom’s stories?” she asked.

“Yes,” Wendy admitted.

When Michael was born, John was three and Wendy was five. Their mother told them stories about Peter Pan every night before they went to bed, about his adventures with pirates, mermaids, and his gang of lost kids. Wendy, John, and Michael had spent their days in the woods behind their house, running around pretending to fight off bears and wolves alongside Peter Pan, and their nights huddled under a blanket with a flashlight while Wendy told stories about Peter and the fairies. He was a magical boy who lived on an island of make-believe in the sky and, most importantly, Peter Pan could fly and he never grew up.

When she got older, Wendy took over the role as story-teller at bedtime. She recycled her mother’s tales, but also came up with her own Peter Pan adventures that she told her little brothers.

After what had happened to John and Michael, Wendy only spoke about Peter during story time at the hospital. When they volunteered with the kids, Jordan would usually play board games with the older children, but sometimes she would listen to Wendy’s stories.

“I’ve been having dreams about him, too,” Wendy added, straightening out the paper over the steering wheel to study the unfinished drawing. “Sort of, anyway. I always forget what happened when I wake up, but I remember small things like wet jungles, white beaches, and acorns.” She shifted uneasily in her seat. “A few nights ago I started sketching what I thought he’d look like.”

“And the trees?” Jordan asked. A quiet intensity had come over her as she listened to Wendy talk.

“I have no idea. Just trees, I guess.”

Jordan was silent for a moment. Wendy hated when she did that. She felt like Jordan could always tell when she was hiding something. But then Jordan shrugged her shoulders. “Maybe you’re feeling old and just want to stay young forever, like this Peter Pan guy,” she suggested. “Maybe you wanna run away with him to Neverland?” A smile started to creep across her lips.

Wendy rolled her eyes. “Ha ha.”

Jordan suddenly leaned into the truck and hooked her arm around Wendy in a tight hug. Before she could do more than tense in response, Jordan released her and stepped back. Wendy wasn’t much of a hugger. They always felt awkward and forced. Sometime over the last five years, she’d forgotten how to do it. She got teased for it a lot. It was painfully obvious how uncomfortable physical touch made her, but Jordan never made fun of her. And if anyone was going to give her a hug, Wendy preferred it be her best friend.

Jordan thumped her hand on the roof of Wendy’s truck. “Happy birthday, Legal Eagle!” she called before heading to her own car across the lot.

Wendy waited until Jordan drove away, giving her friend one last wave as she disappeared around the corner.

Slumping in her seat, Wendy let out a long breath. With the coast clear, she leaned over and placed the sketchbook on the passenger seat. Under it, the floor was littered with pieces of paper. Some folded, some crumpled up, some even torn into shreds. Yes, Wendy had started drawing pictures, but it was more than that.

She couldn’t get herself to stop.

It had all started innocently enough. She would be spacing out at the hospital and look down to see a pair of eyes drawn on the corner of a file. Sometimes she and Jordan would be at lunch and when she’d get distracted talking about the latest gossip from their friends, suddenly Wendy would find she had drawn a tree on the receipt she was supposed to be signing. It was happening more often, and Wendy never knew she was doing it until she looked down and there was the boy’s face looking up at her.

Peter’s face. Or something close to it. She knew it was supposed to be him, but there was always something off. Something about the eyes that wasn’t coming out right.

And they weren’t just trees. It was a tree. A specific tree.

Wendy didn’t know what it was. She didn’t remember ever seeing anything like it before, and it almost looked otherworldly. While the sketches of Peter Pan were pretty realistic—much more so than Wendy had even known she was capable of doing—there was something off about the tree. Something wrong with how twisted and sharp it was. For some reason, it gave her goosebumps, but she didn’t know why.

And she couldn’t explain why she kept doing it, or how she never knew she was doing it until it was already done. And now there were heaps of drawings on napkins, receipts, and even junk mail. She didn’t want anyone finding them, so she’d tossed them into her truck, but apparently Jordan had seen them.

Wendy’s stomach twisted. She didn’t like that her brain and hands were capable of conjuring things up without her noticing. Wendy grabbed her hoodie and threw it over the drawings so she didn’t have to see them out of the corner of her eye. When she got home, she’d throw them into the trash can. The last thing she needed was another reason for people to think she was strange. That she was a bad omen, if not cursed.

Wendy was starting to think they might be right.

* * *

Astoria was just a small outcropping of land surrounded by water, and the woods were a large inkblot of green spilled on a map, cutting them off from neighboring towns. Williamsport Road—or Dump Road, as the locals called it—twisted right through the woods to the far edge of town, where Wendy lived. Nestled against the hills, it was a road that only locals took. Several tire-worn logging roads splintered off from the asphalt street. They crisscrossed through the trees and looped back on themselves, and some just ended in the middle of the woods. Tourists constantly got lost on them and parents were always warning their kids to stay away, but they never listened. While she hated driving through the woods, especially at night, it got her home faster than the main streets.

For as long as Wendy could remember, all the kids in Astoria had been warned to never go down those paths. They were told the woods were dangerous, and to stay out of them. Wendy’s parents had forbidden her and her brothers to explore the logging roads even though they ran right through the woods behind their house.

After what happened, Wendy became a cautionary tale.

The truck’s engine roared as Wendy pushed it as fast as she dared. The faster she went, the sooner she’d be out of the woods. The branches of overgrown trees and shrubs reached out, occasionally swiping the passenger window even though she hugged the yellow centerline. Her gray eyes, wide and alert, directed furtive glances at the trees. Her fingers, dry and cracked, flexed on the steering wheel with blanched knuckles. The keychain hanging from the ignition thumped rhythmically against the dashboard.

She just wanted to get home, maybe read a book for a while, and then go to bed so her birthday would be over. Wendy glanced over at her bag on the passenger seat as it bounced with the movement of the truck. It had a blue ink stain on the bottom corner from a pen that had leaked and the adjustable buckle had turned from its once-shiny brass to a dull gray. But she loved the thing because her brothers had hand-picked it for her and had used their own money. It was the first and last birthday present they had ever gotten her.

Stuffed inside the bag were more drawings of Peter Pan and the mysterious tree.

It was a hot night and the cab was stuffy, but the air conditioner in her beat-up truck hadn’t worked since probably before she was born and Wendy didn’t want to roll down the windows. A trickle of sweat ran down her back as she leaned forward. Music would be a nice distraction. She would even take the whiny drone of one of the several country stations if it meant keeping her mind from wandering. She turned on the radio and a voice cut through the crackling speakers.

“An AMBER Alert has been issued in Clatsop County for eight-year-old Ashley Ford, who went missing from her home at twelve forty-five p.m. today—”

Wendy fumbled with the radio to change the station. It wasn’t that she didn’t care—she cared a lot—but she just didn’t think she could handle all of this. Not today, not now. Wendy could already feel the quaking in her chest and it was taking all of her concentration to keep it at bay.

She just wanted to get out of the woods and into her house. Wendy punched another preset on her radio but the same voice came through the speakers again.

“Ashley has blond hair and brown eyes. She was last seen in the front yard of her house wearing a white-and-yellow checkered shirt and blue pants. This comes in the wake of local boy Benjamin Lane being reported missing yesterday afternoon. Authorities haven’t commented on whether the disappearances are related to—”

She spun the tuner dial again. The sound petered out before breaking into loud static. Wendy took a deep breath in an effort to steady herself and peered at the flickering backlight of the stereo.

She knew every twist and turn of the road and could drive it with her eyes shut, so she gripped the wheel tightly with her left hand. She banged her right fist against the radio. This usually fixed most of the truck’s problems, but loud static continued to fill the cab.

Wendy clenched her jaw and glanced up. She knew the wide bend was coming, but the loud crackling was putting her teeth on edge. She looked back at the radio, fingers spinning the dial, but not a single station would come in. She was about to press the AM button when all noise coming from the radio cut off, leaving her with just the steady rumbling of the truck’s engine.

A branch slapped the passenger window.

Wendy jolted so violently it hurt.

A shadow dropped onto the hood of her truck, blocking her view. It was inky black and solid. Dark, crooked things like fingers dragged across the windshield. A terrible screech cut through her ears.

Wendy screamed and the shadowy thing slipped off the hood just in time for her to see a mass in the middle of the road illuminated by her headlights. A shout ripped through Wendy’s throat as she slammed on the brakes. She gripped the steering wheel and her body tensed as she swerved to the right.

The tires spun over loose dirt and the truck jerked to a stop between the road and the woods. Wendy stared out the front window into a tangle of branches. Her sharp breaths robbed the cab of fresh air. Adrenaline coursed through her veins. Her neck and temples pounded.

Wendy cursed under her breath.

She pulled her stiff fingers from where they’d cramped around the steering wheel. With trembling hands, she patted down her chest and thighs, making sure she was in one piece. Then she buried her face in them.

How could she be so stupid? She’d let her nerves get the better of her. She knew never to look away from the road while driving, especially at night. Her dad was going to lose it! And what if she’d totaled her truck? Wendy could’ve gotten herself killed—or worse, someone else.

Then she remembered the mass in the road.

Wendy’s breath caught in her throat. It could be a dead animal, but she knew in her gut it wasn’t. She twisted in her seat and tried to see out the back window, but the red glow of her taillights hardly lit up the outline of whatever she had almost run over.

Please don’t be a dead body.

Wendy struggled to untangle herself from the seat belt. She tumbled out of her truck and immediately looked to the woods. She took a few steps back, watching them cautiously. But they were silent and unmoving in the heavy summer air. The only sounds were the faint breeze through the leaves and her own labored breaths.

Tentatively, she peered at the front of her truck. It was pulled over onto the dirt shoulder of the road, the front bumper dangerously close to a thick tree, but still running. There was a dent in the hood from whatever had landed on it. The windshield was cracked—or, no, not cracked.

Were those scratches?

Wendy brushed her fingers over the lines. There were four of them parallel to one another in a long swipe. What could’ve done that? It hadn’t been a deer or a branch.

And what had she almost hit in the road? Her head snapped to look back over her shoulder to the mass in the middle of the road. It still hadn’t moved.

Wendy jogged toward the figure, trying to balance on the balls of her feet, so as to make as little sound as possible as she crept closer. She took each step slowly, willing her eyes to open wider, to adjust so she could see in the dark. She stood on her tiptoes and craned her neck to get a better look just as a cloud above shifted and a silvery glow was cast over the boy lying on his side.

A shudder racked Wendy’s body and she ran forward, falling to her knees beside him. Sharp gravel pressed through her jeans.

“Hello?” Her voice shook and her hands trembled, hovering over the boy, not knowing what to do. “Are you okay?”

Are you alive?

He let out a pained groan.

She snatched her hands back. “Oh my God.” Wendy scrambled around to his other side to get a look at his face. She’d learned from her mom never to move someone you’d found unconscious.

He was lying on his side with his arms curled into his chest, as if he were sleeping. He was clothed in some sort of material that wrapped around his shoulders and torso, hanging down to his knees. She couldn’t tell what it was in the dark, but it had rough, jagged edges and it smelled like the leaves she dug out of the gutters in spring.

Bracing one hand on the ground, Wendy leaned in closer. Slowly and carefully, she reached out and pushed his wet hair back from his face, brushing her thumb over his forehead. There was something about the way his freckles ran across his nose and under his closed eyes that was familiar …

Before she could work it out, a groan sounded deep in the boy’s chest. He rolled onto his back as his eyes opened and focused on hers.

Wendy’s natural inclination was to shrink back, but she couldn’t move.

His eyes were astonishing. A deep shade of cobalt with crystalline blue starbursts exploding around his pupils.

She knew those eyes. They were the same ones she’d drawn over and over again but could never get right. But that was impossible. It couldn’t be—

“Wendy?” the boy breathed, the smell of sweet grass brushing across her face.

Wendy scrambled back from him. At the same time, the boy’s cosmos eyes rolled back and fell closed again.

Wendy clamped her hand over her mouth.

He was older than the boy from her drawings. His face wasn’t as round and his cheeks weren’t as full as in the dozens of sketches that littered her car, but there was something about the slope of his nose and the curve of his chin that she recognized.

Breaths shook her shoulders and escaped through her nose. How did he know her name? Her heart thrashed against her ribs like a wild animal. She couldn’t recognize him. There was no possible way that the boy she was looking at was the same boy from her drawings.

Peter Pan was not real. He was just a story her mother had made up. She was just freaking out and her mind was playing tricks on her. She couldn’t possibly trust what her gut was telling her.

Even though every fiber of her being screamed to her that it was him.

It didn’t make any sense. Her imagination was getting the better of her. She needed to get him help.

Wendy tried to focus and ignore her swimming head. She dug her hand into her pocket and pulled out her phone. The screen was blurry and, in the back of her mind, she realized her eyes were watering, but she was able to call 9-1-1.

As soon as the ringing stopped, before the dispatcher could say a word, Wendy choked out, “Help!”


Copyright © 2021 by Aiden Thomas