His Forever Friend- Chapter Two

The Lost Boy in the Attic

The boy who never grew up, Dylan knew the story inside and out. He could recount every fight with Hook and every adventure with the Lost Boys. He even liked Wendy, and how she took care of them. He read Peter Pan more times then his seven-year-old brain could count and every time felt like the first. In Neverland, there was always an adventure. The Lost Boys didn’t grow up to be parents who got divorced. Peter never had to explain to Tootles that change is part of getting older. Why couldn’t things stay as they were? Why couldn’t he live in Neverland or at least fine one for himself?

“Dylan, get your butt in gear, we gotta get moving!” His dad shouted from the bottom of the stairs. He slammed the book closed, tossing it on his bed, before racing downstairs.

~*~

At lunch he sat beside his friend Lindsey. Her black braids, decorated with neon hair ties, sprung from pig tales on either side of her head. They ate sandwiches as she pointed to the pictures in her book.  Her front tooth fell out last week and it was hard not to stare at the gap as she talked. He lost teeth too, his mom said it was natural. But they were his teeth, he felt like he should have some say in whether they fall out or not. If losing baby teeth was a part of growing up and he didn’t like it.

“Hey Dylan,” Steven called as he approached them. He was taller and older than the other boys in their grade. He started fights then cried to the teacher when the victim fought back. Lindsey said to stay away from him, and Dylan being a reasonable kid, agreed. Steven waddled to his desk with a chocolate bar in his grubby hand. “I heard your mom and dad are getting a divorce.”

“So, what of it?” his cheeks burned, despite his parents discussing it, he still felt like it was a dirty word. Shame bubbled to his face but Steven continued.

“Only losers have divorced parents. Guess you suck so much they can’t stand being in the same room with you.”

“That’s not true.”

“The law says they’re stuck with you until your eighteen. So, they’ll take turns living with you until you’re not their problem anymore.”

“It’s not like that!”

“Don’t come crying to me when you’re stuck in two different houses and your dad won’t talk to you no more.” He laughed as he waddled away, searching for a new group to torment. Dylan knew he was wrong, his parents loved him—they tell him every day. But with everything changing and him growing, will their love change too?

“Two houses don’t sound too bad,” Lindsey piped up once Steven was out of ear shot. “I got three sisters, gram and two cats living in my place. Some extra space might be nice from time to time. Don’t listen to him, he’s a jerk.” She placed her hand on his, holding it tight as she read to him.

But the jerk was right, there were two houses. Mom was moving into Great Grandma’s old farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. Dad built their house so he was keeping it. When did divorce mean he had to choose who he lived with? He doesn’t want to split his week with either of them, he wanted them both all the time. They said their love for him won’t change. But everything was changing, how could love be the only thing to stay the same.   

~*~

The citrus scent of too much lemon cleaner lingered as he walked through the farmhouse door. But under the lemon is a dusty old smell he didn’t recognize. His home smelled like coffee and mom’s cooking. The smell of dad’s tools, sweat, and wood dust floated from the garage. His room smelled like fabric softener and his sneakers. But this place had someone else’s scent, a foreign odor that made him uncomfortable. The new appliances stood in contrast to the aging wallpaper and ceiling fans. The view from his window stretched across an endless forest and an ocean of overgrown grass. But he missed the streetlights and the asphalt road where old Mrs. Landry walked her poodle Teeny.

Beyond the chirping crickets was an eerie silence that stretched the length of the world. He sat on a box beside his window gathering the courage to unpack. If he opened the boxes it became real. He couldn’t lie to himself that the divorce was a phase, that they would get back together. His belongings, a mix of old and new, sat in boxes in the center of the room.  A new race car bed sheets stretched over a new never slept in mattress. A new bookshelf with colorful plastic containers for his Legos and toys. He unpacked his box of books from dad’s and slid them on the shelf. But the smiling animals on the cover, seem like a distant memory.  Like he outgrown their message and whimsical freedom. The world was different then it was yesterday, or last week, or last year. These books didn’t relate to that child anymore, and their presence saddened him.

There was a rap on the door and his mom stood in the doorway with her hands behind her back. “I have a surprise for you,” she smiled. “Shut your eyes and hold out your hand.” He does and a hard item wrapped in paper plopped in his palms. “Now open,”

“A present, for me?” he eyed the polka dot wrapping paper and rainbow ribbon. “But it’s not my birthday?”

“No, it’s not, but I thought this could be a housewarming present.” The colorful paper crinkled as it tore and the ribbon floated to the carpet at his feet. A red hardcover book with gold letters sprawled over the cover, he recognized the words Peter Pan and flipped open the pages. Pictures he never saw before, sketches of a different Peter and Wendy smiled from the paper. He stoked the smooth pages, trying to absorb the words. “It’s a new copy of Peter Pan, this time with original art from the 1906 version.”

“Thanks mom, I love it!” He wrapped his arms around her, burying his face into the crook of her neck and inhaled her lavender smell; this felt like home.

He explored the house while she unpacked the boxes. In the creaky shed he found old car parts, engines, and farm equipment rusting under the slanting roof. Green garden hoses uncoil from the rafters like snakes from the jungle trees. It smelled of rust, oil and wet wood and the ground was squishy under his feet. The basement was damp and dark with one light bulb with a worn string hanging from the musty ceiling beams. The washing machine was loud and ancient. So were the dusty tools on great grandpa’s old workbench. Plastic yogurt containers nailed to the wall held countless screws and nails. Boxes and plastic bins full of old decorations and clothes piled high against the walls. Everything felt tired and abandoned.

The second floor was a maze of smaller rooms; some even the size of a closet. Each step across the ratty worn carpet shot puffs of ancient dust into the air. It danced between the sunny beams pouring from the dirty windows. The room at the end of the hall served as a dumping ground for abandoned furniture. Bed frames and mattresses stood against the furthest wall. Dressers, bookcases, and coat racks created a maze to the window. The flower wallpaper peeled in one corner near the base board. His finger grazed the delicate curl but something urged him backward. Fear clutched his chest, his body knew before his brain, that he was on the brink of something threatening. He felt like he was trespassing and fled before, whoever wanted him out, discovered he was there. That night he heard the voice, a cold matter-of-fact voice that pulled him from his sleep. It told him to get out. To stay. It asked who he was. He ignored it, but it grew louder. It shouted, it cried, and he heard a phantom stomp from the ceiling. Hour after hour the demands raged on, finally Dylan had it.

“I’m Dylan,” he sat upright in his bed, “and me and mom live here now.” He didn’t hear the voice again until daybreak. This time it called his name and demanded to know his age. But his mom’s alarm pierced the voice’s tantrum; interrupting the tranquil dawn. He listened as she pulled the squeaky closet door open, the clothes tumbling from the tangle of wired hangers, and her footsteps as she descended the stairs. He pulled the blankets from his body as the click of the coffee machine summoned a promise of a hazelnut aroma.

He didn’t understand the voice, it wasn’t a nightmare like his mom said. It was different, like it knew what he thought even when he was awake. For now, he believed it only existed in his room. But cartoons on the couch could only pass so many hours before he is sent upstairs to play. It watched from an unseen corner, behind a shelf, or was it from under the bed? His stomach tightened into a knot, like on the first day of school but far worse. He didn’t understand what the voice was but avoiding it was futile.   

How long are you staying here?

“I dunno, I leave on Friday to go with my dad, then I’ll come back here on Monday.”

Which day is Friday?

“The day after tomorrow.”

Why is your dad somewhere else?

“They got divorced.”

What does that mean?

“It means they aren’t married anymore and don’t live together.”

He sat in a plastic lawn chair in the corner of the porch and watched the mosquitoes’ buzz between the weeds. The scorching summer sun burned the cracked asphalt at the edge of the yellow lawn. Past the thorn nettles dotting the road, another golden field stretched for miles. The farmhouse wasn’t only in the middle of nowhere, it was the last place anyone would visit. His loneliness grew as the crickets hopped from shrub to shrub. An entire world laid at his feet but he had nothing to do. No one his age to talk too, and he was stuck there until Friday. Then the voice whispered in his ear, sweet and friendly, it guided him to the backyard. It told him stories, but not the kind from his books. They made him uncomfortable. It talked about the shed, how it blew down in the spring one year. How a man tied a rope around his neck and leaped from the rafter, he hung there for hours before someone found him.

Outside his own window, once stood a stable, with a horse and two cows. There were chickens too, and the wild dogs always killed them. He heard the distant squawking in his ears, the joyous howl after a kill; he swore he could see the bloody feathers littering the dirt. He walked away, past the shed to the tall grass that reached his waist.

“What used to be here?”

Oh, the corn field. 

“Sounds nice, I like corn.”

Except when blight happened and they burned it all. Catherine died from hunger that winter.

“What’s over there?”

The forest, that’s where pa died.

“What happened?” 

Someone stabbed him, ma buried him past those trees.

“How do you know all this?”

I watched it.

“From where?”

Right here in the attic, I watch everything from here.

There wasn’t a door leading to an attic, at least not one he found. Does his mom know about the boy upstairs, and how long has he been there? The stories twist and knot as they wove themselves in his mind. A Face frozen in fear as the fraying rope wound around their neck. Dead birds in the middle of a hurricane of feathers and blood. Even a man he never met, a face from old photos, juxtaposed on the motionless body. Crimson blood flowed over tree roots, pooling at his feet. He tossed in his bed, between the nightmare and the demanding voice, his night was a fever dream. The next day passed in a sluggish haze; half awake half asleep he couldn’t decide what to believe. The nightmares, the boy’s twisted stories or his mother who told him he was imagining it.

Are you mad at me?

But he ignored him, and to the ire of his mom, listened to the tv too loud. He drowned him out by shaking the bins of Legos in his room. Even outside wasn’t safe, the silence of the yard made it impossible to camouflage the words. It was the afternoon when his dad was set to arrive. The voice was sad but looked forward to his return on Monday. Dylan didn’t know if he felt the same way but he didn’t say that or think it. He didn’t want the boy to know. As his dad parked his truck, he grabbed his backpack.

“Mom, what’s in the attic?”

“Oh, well the usual, itchy insulation and loose nails. It’s not the place for little boys.” She smiled and sent him on his way. He climbed into the passenger seat and stared at the attic window as his dad drove away. It’s not a place for little boys. But from the cobweb window he spies a pair of black eyes and a youthful pale face staring back at him. The boy watched as he drove away, a sorrowful look of abandonment on his face. If it’s not safe, then how come he’s up there?

Spending time at home with dad lifted a weight off his shoulders. The strange boy’s presence was gone and he felt like he could breathe again. His thoughts were his own, the voice in his head was his, and for the first time in days he smiled. He laughed as he played video games and when his dad almost burned the nachos. He could ride his bike on the familiar paths and have no knowledge whether a murder occurred there or not. And that ignorance made him happy. The only thing missing, was mom. His carefree adventures felt wrong when he remembered she was alone. Was she sad and lonely without him? He grabbed his dad’s phone and his small fingers typed: Goodnight mom, I love you.

The weekend passed like a blur and before he knew it, he was pulling up to the farmhouse. Mom redecorated the porch while he was gone, she sat among cushion chairs and a small table with coffee mugs. His heart fluttered in his chest when he saw her and ran to her embrace. It was warm and her scent surrounded him in a blanket. But when he glanced to the attic window, the boy with the black eyes glared back. A shudder passed through his body.

“Go upstairs and put your things away,” she smiled, “Dad and I have to talk.” At first, he thought she was mad at him, but she offered him coffee and they sat together on the porch. When he reached the kitchen, he heard her laughing at one of his lame jokes. At the bottom of the stairs, his legs paused, dreading what waited at the top.

You were gone forever.

“It was two days.”

Three nights.

“I don’t know why you’re mad, I told you I was going. It’s the deal they made with the lawyers. Dad works days during the summer. So, it’s mom for weekdays and dad weekends. During school it’s opposite.”

School, when do you go to school?

“In September, after Labor Day.”

When’s September?

“In the fall when the leaves start to turn red.”

But I’ll never see you.

“On weekends you will.”

That’s not enough.

“I’m sorry but it’s the rules.”

Who made the rules?

“My parents, the lawyers, and the judge.”

He waited for a response, but none came. The apprehension festering in the silence birth its own treachery. It lurked in the shadow under the bed, the cupboard under the stairs, even behind the grime coated glass. No where was safe from his eyes or ears. Every creak sent his heart pounding in his chest. He reread Peter Pan, with the hope that the stories would summon an ounce of bravery in his paltry form. Thump, thump, thump, rattled the ceiling above his bed.   

“Who are you,” he hid the tremble in his voice.

I don’t have a name.

“How long have you been up there?”

I remember watching them build this house from the forest.

“But you can’t be that old, you look about my age.”

The seasons change but I stay the same.

“I’ll call you Peter; he didn’t grow up either.”

That’s a nice name, yes, I like Peter.

Once named, Peter wasn’t some stranger in the attic, he became a friend. He talked to him about the school bully and his fear of losing his parent’s love. Peter was a safe place and the world seemed brighter. They laughed and told jokes and for once Dylan wasn’t alone. But the trouble started when his mom went to the store for milk. He was in his room, building Lego when Peter’s voice drifted from the hallway.

Hey, Dylan, do you want to play hide and seek?

“How can we play if you’re in the attic?”

You can come up and we’ll play up here.

“Mom says I’m not allowed.”

She doesn’t want you alone in the attic, its dangerous, but I’ll be here with you.

“How do I get up there anyhow?”

Remember the back room with the wallpaper? Go there and I’ll show you, it’ll be our secret.

The attic was a faraway place, that until now, was beyond his grasp. Excitement and fear swirled in his chest like a chocolate ice cream cone. Enthusiastic jitters melt into dread as the doorknob clicked open. Past the dresser and a bookcase was the fading wallpaper with the curled edge. Peter directed him to peel it off, an inch at a time, the faded flower paper revealed a locked door.

This way Dylan, you’re almost there.

 An icy draft whispered of adventure through the cracks in the varnished planks. He lifted the ancient latch and the door creaked open, dislodging plumes of dust from forgotten crevices. He paused, listening for the car; but nothing. He followed Peter’s sing song voice, hugging the unfinished wall as he climbed the narrow steps. The song, the rhythmic nursey rhymes his mother sang, caused his feet to pause. Something urged him to return to the safety of his room. But the lulling song pulled him forward into the darkness. Trapped somewhere between was Dylan’s life; hanging precariously in the balance.

He reached the second door, at the top of the stairs. His heart told him the agonizing truth; he reached the point of no return. Like the Lost Boys in Neverland, he was to embark on a journey few understood. The door swung open revealing a room bathed in sunshine, casting shadows over the dilapidated furniture and boxes draped in old sheets. Two windows sat at either end; the one next to the stairs faced the shed. On the chipped painted windowsill was a row of tin soldiers, poised in an epic battle. Their colorful paint worn off long ago.

Beside the other window, on the far side of the room was a dusty striped mattress laying on the floor. A limp pillow rested on top, beside a bundled wool blanket in the corner. An empty glass sat on top of a makeshift table compiled of a stack worn books with faded covers. Tiny forgotten toys, marbles and pop caps littered the floor. A dresser, with broken drawers and a cracked mirror faced the bed. Rows of pictures, coated in dust, and soot stood like a broken shrine to a past he never knew.

Each picture had the same little boy; with a youthful face full of vigor and a prideful grin. The last photo was of his great grandma on her wedding day. Staring from the attic window was a familiar boy. One who escaped the clutch of Father Time and the pain that accompanies him. Did he know the path to Neverland? Was he one step closer to the land in his dreams, a place beyond human reach, where he was free forever?

What do you think?

“Peter, is this you?” A chill slithered over his spine as he held the gilded frame.  

Who else would it be?

“But how, why?”

You ask a lot of questions Dylan. But you never ask the important ones.

“Like what?”

Like why does your dad want to take you away from here, away from me?

“I told you, it’s the rules that the adults made.”

There’s the problem, they make all the rules and don’t care about what we want. They think that because we’re kids that they know best.

“But they do, they’re older.”

I’m older! His voice rattled the attic timbers; raining dirt over his head. I’ve watched them die, give birth only to die again. What makes them better, know more, than me?   

Frigid fingers crawled over his skin, chilling the blood in his veins. Writhing ethereal chains rattle from the shadows, clamoring over the dry planks and clamp around his wrists and ankles. His heart slammed against his heaving chest, on the verge of smashing through the ribs. Menacing faces stretch over his vision, swirling into a blur, before swimming into his mouth; drowning the scream bubbling in his throat. Beyond the ghouls, stared a familiar sight; pale smooth skin and the darkest eyes he ever saw. A mouth crammed with pointed teeth grinned as his eyes shut. As his heart slowed, his limbs grew heavy as lead. His blood swooshed in his ears until he forgot there was a world beyond the darkness. Its rhythmic pulse lulled him into a dreamless sleep. He had sought the fable Neverland, but now, as he laid curled in the corner of the attic, he wished he never heard about it.

Don’t worry Dylan, no one will take you away from me now. Just like in your book, you’ll be in a place where we can be together forever.

End of Part Two of Four

Want more?:
Chapter One: The Divorce