A Thing Named Peter
Before Peter was Peter, he was a thing. He lived amongst the trees and slept under the stars. He knew every matter of beast, or so he thought. A curious creature crossed his wooded paths. Strangers, who like him, walked upright on two legs. In almost every way they were like him.
Except these creatures accomplished something he could never do; they died. Odd, he thought, contemplating the cycle of birth and death from his tree nest. Their kin bury them, and then new ones were born. He saw this cycle among the other forest creatures, but never one of his kind. The fascination grew into an obsession. He stalked the humans from the trees, the reeds on the riverbeds and from their windowsill.
Soon they told stories of him, warning their children of a forest child who hunted them at night. It was ridiculous, Peter thought, he wasn’t a child. Short yes, he did resemble the youth in appearance. But he had watched the trees sprout from acorns. An eternity had past before one of the humans ‘discovered’ the forest was even there. Also, ‘hunting’ was the incorrect word.
He was curious about the children when they ventured off on their own. How was he to know they couldn’t scale rock walls as well as him, or that they couldn’t breathe under water. Each encounter born new fascinating information. So, what if a few didn’t return, the cycle will always continue. He thought a creature who was accustom of dying would understand.
But unexplained death, especially if the member was healthy, scared them. It created fearful stories and curses around firepits. Once he tried to get close, but they didn’t speak his language, calling him mute. These creatures spoke with their lips, it was something he considered old fashion.
There was also the issue of aging; in a blink they went from toddler to elder and Peter couldn’t fake that. But he knew he needed to live among them to discover their secret; the secret to dying. They grew from tribes to villages and with that he discovered something new.
One night, a feeble mother left her newborn in Peter’s woods. The predators would make an easy meal out of it and judging by the regret on her face she knew it too. Once she left, he pulled himself into it. Squeezed into its soft pliable skin, wedged his way between the bones and stayed there. He felt warm for the first time, the world seemed larger and darker.
After a while, Peter convinced himself to crawl, then walk, and before dawn he had found the mother. She cried when she saw him, a body trembling, sob. The father scooped him in his arms, Peter didn’t know love but he recognised the expression in his eyes. She cared for him, but out of obligation. He knew nothing of ‘a mother’s love’. And the dejected woman was incapable of showing it too him.
He spoke to her through her dreams, trying to discover the meaning of death. He even told her to try it on him, but it failed. He, even in that form, could not die. But that didn’t stop him.
People became his playthings. He took on new forms, invaded their homes and played until there was nothing left. Sometimes he followed a particular family if they were interesting enough. It was all a game to him; nothing they did could compare to what he could do to them.
By the time Dylan came around, he had already lived with the family in the farmhouse. It began when a group of humans rallied to together to build their home. Peter assumed he would have many humans to play with. But upon its completion they left; and Peter, dreading the thought of a lonely life, stayed.
There was no one for miles. Since his discovery humans lived in tight knit villages; now they chose to live miles apart. Nonetheless, it made it easier for him, fewer suspecting eyes meant he could get closer. All he had to do was wait. And it didn’t take long for one of the young to venture into the forest.
On a moonlit night, Peter, like he had done before, snatched the child and took his place. After years of practice, he’s mastered the art. Like a painter, he drew his audience in and memorized them.
Few suspected their son was a fake, but Peter enjoyed the company. He was different, yes, he knew they knew, he heard the parent’s whisper at night. But none acted on their suspicions and that was why he succeeded. He learnt their fears, their insecurities and in time he played with them. He twisted their dreams and their senses, he polluted their mind, all for one fatal goal.
It was a son who got another man’s wife pregnant who hung himself in the shed. He took the reason and secret to their grave. Peter liked secrets, humans had so many. When he learned they would do anything to keep the world from knowing, he had the ultimate playground. Humans whispered, said he terrorized the family and farm animals. But he didn’t know terror. He felt no pain, could never die, what did he have to fear?
Then he met Evelyn, the farmer’s youngest daughter. But Peter’s lease of the son’s body was almost over. He discovered humans went through a particular change; something he could not mimic. Which meant it was time to dispose of the flesh and move on. But something about Evelyn made him want to stay.
The elders of his kin would say she had the sight, for she knew he wasn’t what he was. Who are you? She asked. Every time he replied: I am your brother. But she always countered: No, he died, so who are you? Her parents chided her, a morbid story they said. But he knew she, for some reason, knew the truth.
He didn’t want to leave; he couldn’t abandon the chance, that for the first time, he had a real friend. But the time for him to dispose of the vessel was upon him. They talked about how he wasn’t growing, the lack facial or other hair at all. Time ran out, but first he needed to say goodbye.
Down the hall, in the very back room was Evelyn’s bedroom. Being the youngest she slept with her oldest sister in the cramped bed. Tonight, the youth were at a dance, but she remained. He went to her room; her rosy cheeks nestled against the pillows. He brushed a wayward lock from her face. Her brown eyes fluttered open, locking onto his.
“Evie, I need to leave now. Don’t tell ma.”
“Why, where are you going?”
“I need to leave.”
“Is this because Ma knows you aren’t really Robbie?”
“I am Robbie,”
“Don’t lie to me. You don’t look like any of us. You have those pointed ears.”
“Evie, I have to go, but I want to say goodbye.”
“You can’t!” she clung to him, “don’t leave me, you’re my only friend. What can I do to make you stay?” He was her friend? Even if he found a new family to prod, he would lose the only person who wasn’t afraid of what he was. That was when he promised to return. She sprung from the bed and pointed to the attic door in the corner. “When you come back hide there, then I’ll visit whenever I want. It’ll be our secret.”
They found Robbie’s body in the river. The family wore black and everyone cried. Except Evelyn, who’s sing song voice floated from her room. They thought her strange; rationalizing that she was too naïve to understand death. They explained away her imaginary friend; he was a substitute for her dead brother. But Evelyn told anyone who asked that Robbie simply lost his skin and wore an invisible coat.
Time passed, like it did for all humans. And when Evelyn was to marry, she stayed in her family home, tended to her aging parents, and raised her own children. Peter watched from the attic and visited her in her sleep. They had adventures and shared secrets; it was the best feeling in the world. But then she would wake up, and carry on with her day being someone else’s wife, mother, and friend. All the while he remained in the attic.
The world in the attic was boring; he wanted more and he wanted Evie to himself, like she was before. He promised her he would never harm her children, but she never said anything about her husband Rich. He observed him from afar, tolerating his place in her and her children’s life. But the truth was Rich took her away from him. And when he began questioning her ‘make believe’ world, he became a threat.
It had been a long time since Peter terrorized a human, but old habits die hard. Rich was imperviable to missing objects reappearing in odd places around the house. The strange noises at night only managed to scare the children. Although it was difficult to sleep when the toddlers woke him throughout the night.
He grew irritable, worked long hours at the plant; did as much as he could to avoid the house. Evelyn was suspicious, but Peter lied. He told him it was in her best interest when he started to manipulate her dreams. She confessed to him one night, as the children slept, that Rich was having an affair. His plan was working.
What Peter didn’t count on was the power marriage had over a couple. Their so-called faith tied them together. To his dismay, they spent a night talking, arguing, and sobbing as their fears found a voice.
The pain Peter had imposed on them welled to the surface. Although never explicitly said, they almost accused him of tearing their marriage apart. The visits to the attic stopped. With new resolve, they vowed to be better partners and parents. And for three months they were happy.
But Peter was not.
For three months Peter plotted, chewing on the man’s demise like a cow chewed grass. As the winter slipped into spring, he made his move. It started with the usual nightmares and whispers in the dark. Then the voices echoing the secrets humans only tell themselves. She’s better off without me. Then the plant closed, the crops failed, and the youngest got in an accident. The final nail in the coffin was the whisper: they’ll be happier when I’m gone.
He never read the letter Rich left behind. She buried him where she found him; under the tree they carved their initials in decades prior. She dug the grave herself and never spoke of it to anyone.
Rumors spread, saying Rich ran away with a waitress in the next town over. Despite the glares from the folks at the store; she never corrected them. The happy trill in her laughter died the day she found him. From then on, she slipped into silence.
The day she hammered the attic door shut was the last day she spoke to him. I can’t hate you, but I’ll never forgive you. Once she finished, she glued new wallpaper over every wall. Every year on her wedding anniversary she added a new layer.
The family always wondered why, it was a spare room crammed with junk, why bother updating it? But he knew. Despite his attempts, Rich was never dead (not to her) and she made sure he knew. Her husband lived on, while Peter existed, abandoned in the attic.
And there he sat, watching the golden sun rise and fall over the scorched wheat fields. The world passed by the window and changed into something he didn’t recognize.
He could’ve left, found another human to torment, but he couldn’t leave Evie. Although long dead, he felt her presence wandering over the farmhouse. Like a whisper he would feel her touch or a few notes from her favorite song on the wind. So, he sat, and sat, until the red pickup truck pulled into the driveway.
And there she was; stepping out of the truck like a ghost from the grave. Evie stood in the dusty driveway regarding the home like an old friend. Her hair and clothes were different, her voice more demanding than he remembered but he was sure if was her. But during his study of life, one fact he learned was death was permanent.
If she wasn’t Evie, then who was she? A man accompanied her and pulled a leather tool-bag from the truck bed. He watched from the attic. Listened from the cracks in the floorboards. Each moment causing the thrill of the hunt to surge through his body.
After their departure he waited, plotted, and schemed. He imagined the ways he could play, the words he could twist, the tears they would cry. He laid dormant for too long, alone, and quiet, but no more. A second chance fell into his lap and he wasn’t going to waste it.
Then the boxes came, the farmhouse shuddered to life as men squeezed furniture between the crooked doorframes. The woman walked through the house, unsure and guarded; processing family secrets. Whether she knew of him he didn’t know, but she kept herself outside of his reach.
As he pondered a way to break through, to make her his friend, an unexpected development changed his course. A boy arrived, with his own set of boxes. A grin creased his lips as he watched him sleep, a new friend was long overdue. Peter befriended Dylan; he saw in the child a vulnerability too tantalizing to ignore.
Dylan talked about the school bully, and unjustly being Peter related to. He lived in the world of his books, a land of make believe and saw Peter as an outlet for the difficult thoughts in his head. Peter felt needed again. No longer dismissed but valued. Like with Evie, someone deemed him important and he wanted it to stay that way forever.
But like Evie before him, Dylan could never be his alone. It became clear, through the boy’s ramblings, that his life was split. Shared, was his word for it. Either way he lived in two homes, splitting his time between both his parents.
He couldn’t allow himself to lose Dylan like he lost Evie, this time he wasn’t taking chances. The split time between two households was not in his favor. Dylan belonged with him not in another home far away. No, it would not do.
They couldn’t take Dylan if he took him first. It was easy, easier than he imagined. Dylan wanted to escape, be worry free and not grow old. He talked about Neverland, a place free of adults and full of adventures.
It didn’t take much to convince him that Neverland was real, although his kin called it a different name; it did exist. It was a place for his kind, a never changing realm full of danger and beauty. A place mortals sang about around campfires. A far away home where no mortal could leave.
But the details didn’t register with Dylan, the thought of Neverland caught fire in his brain. And as the boy slipped from the realm he knew into the foreign fields of the Fae, Peter slipped into his skin. A bit out of practice but he made it work. The world was different than the last time he walked amongst the humans.
Sounds were louder, smells were stronger, lights were brighter. A sensory overload met him with every step. The dead of night was his only solace. But there wasn’t much time for rest, he only had a short window to act. He knew a mother’s instincts were strong, and Maggie would start to question why her son never slept.
“Peter, what’s going to happen to my dad?” the boys desponded voice echoed in his head.
“He’s going to go away.”
“Is he coming to Neverland? It’s lonely here Peter. I miss my bed, my room. I miss mom and dad.”
“You aren’t alone Dylan, you have me. We’ll always be friends, and once I do this one thing, we won’t have anyone to interrupt us again.”
“If you say so…”
The whir of the windshield wipers decided Jake’s fate. He wasn’t as idiotic as he appeared; he managed to avoid the previous ploys. But time was running out. As the pelting rain obscured the darkening highway Peter unzipped the bookbag on his lap.
Precise fingers sought their prize; gripping the plastic handle with mischievous delight. His heart pulsed, thumping against his ribs, until it was about to burst. But his steady hand pulled the merciless blade free. He waited, until Jake was distracted by the radio, then unleashed the furry within.
One precise stab, the edge so sharp it met little resistance as it sunk through the flesh. The wipers stuttered over the glass, and Jake’s eyes stood transfixed on the kitchen knife. He waited, poised as the human calculated his next move.
Two blazing headlines peered through the windshield and forced Peter’s hand. He yanked the blade from the meaty flesh and Jake grabbed the wheel. A hard pull, which launched Peter from his seat to the dashboard. He clutched the knife before piercing Jake’s chest which sent the truck veering across the opposing lane.
Jake’s terrorized scream filled his chest with resounding satisfaction. Like a cornered wolf the man fought back; gripped his wrists with a force saved only for the desperate dying.
But Peter wasn’t the child Jake believed he was. He had hunted larger prey, devoured them, and rested in their carcass. A grown human was nothing in comparison; a declawed pet at most. A source of amusement for all those to see. He removed the knife a second time, a gurgling sound bubbled to the surface. The blood was filling the man’s lungs as the vehicle smashed into the tree at the side of the road.
The crunch of metal thundered over the storm. Two knees slammed against his chest, knocking the air out of his lungs. Around him the cacophony of cracking glass vibrated the air. The surface crumbled as he fell through the windshield sending him into the turbulent branches.
The rain stung his open wounds; but he never felt more alive. He heaved himself from the hood with newfound vigor, crawling over the debris like an otter over the riverbed. The knife, by Fate’s demand, still clutched in his hand.
Fear, body trembling fear, greeted him. A gaze that confessed the owner had seen an undeniable truth. Death, sweet undefeatable death, was at their door. The blade cut Jake’s skin like a trout swimming down river. Crimson blood dribbled, then spilled over his bare neck.
Suppressing a laugh, Peter watched the pink skin fade and become ashen as the life drained from the flesh. The rain, as soon as it appeared, vanished. Leaving them alone along the silent highway. Dylan’s voice exploded in his head, the tears and sobs fill every dark corner of him mind.
What did you do! Monster! Dad? Dad! DAD!
He sat on the dash, his knees to his chest, squeezing his palms flat against his ears. He even slammed his head against the roof in a desperate attempt to quell the racket.
You killed him! DAD!
“Jake!” Her voice called from outside. The flashing headlights of another car flicker, “oh god! Jake!”
Peter crawled over the lifeless body, kicking open the door and pulled himself from the wreck. Unaware of his ripped clothes, the glass in his hair, or the blood spattered over his attire; he stepped onto the road. The headlights cut through the dismal grey, when his eyes adjusted, he saw her.
His Evie standing behind the open car door. In her arms, a sleeping Dylan rested on her shoulder. A calm fell over them; staring into each other’s eyes. From the way she cradled him, he knew she knew. A mother’s intuition was rarely wrong. As she stood there, mourning her son, her eyes demanded answers.
“What are you?” her voice bit through the raging wind.
Mom no! Leave her alone!
“You already know.”
The highway was empty, only two yellow lines connected them. Her lips trembled as he watched Dylan’s flesh ashen, then crack. Like sand from an hourglass, flakes of charcoal dance in the swirling wind. The shell of a son she will never know disappears into the forgotten recesses of her mind.
Her eyes stare transfixed onto him as his beguiling voice floated into her thoughts. A melody from long ago, from a land far away, in words born beyond time itself. It spoke of loss, of secrets and a world where pain didn’t exist. As the enchanting song took hold, Dylan’s body crumbled. Dust to dust, ash to ash; the remnants whirl over the landscape.
“Where’s Dylan?” the corner of her pink lips quivered.
Mommy! Please no!
“Why are you sad?” He took a step towards her, “what’s the matter Mommy?”
“What did you do to my son?”
“But Mommy… I am your son.”