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Wendy, Darling

A.C. Wise's fiction has appeared in publications such as Tor.com, Clarkesworld, Liminal, and The Year's Best Dark Fantasy and Horror 2017, among others. Her collections The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves the World Again, and The Kissing Booth Girl and Other Stories, were both published by Lethe Press. In addition to her fiction writing, she is the author of the Women to Read, and Non-Binary Authors to Read series and her blog, and the monthly Words for Thought review column at Apex Magazine. Find her online at acwise.net and on twitter as @ac_wise.
There is a boy outside her daughter's window.
She wakes with this certainty, and hurries through the darkened house to her daughter's room. In the doorway, her pulse skips--recognition and panic in one missed beat.
He hovers just beyond the glass even though the window looks out from the second floor. Of course, she thinks. And no, no, please no. His shadow stretches long across the bedroom floor. He taps and the windows swing open. Once invited, always welcome--that's his way.
He swoops a circle around the ceiling, calling a cock's crow. Her daughter wakes, rubbing her eyes as Peter lands at the head of her bed. It's her daughter he sees first, not her standing in the doorway. He speaks her name, looking at the little girl in the bed as though nothing in all these years has changed.
"That's me." She is the one to answer, and that's when he raises his head and sees her at last.
He frowns, confusion at first, then a pout, then he says her name again.
"You grew up." He plants scornful hands on his hips, mouth settling in a sneer. "What did you go and do that for?"
"I lived," she says. "It happens. For most of us at least."
Her life hasn't been perfect, but it is hers. She held onto it, and held onto the truth all these years, even when Michael and John forgot. She survived the injections, the calmatives, the water cures, all the treatments meant to save her from her hysteria, even as the idea of hysteria itself went out of fashion. How fortunate for her. And at the end of it all, she married well. Now she has a beautiful daughter.
A beautiful daughter who turns her head to look up at Peter. Who opens her mouth, but doesn't have time to speak before Peter lets out another whooping call.
"Then I will take this Wendy instead." He doesn't bother to ask if that is her daughter's name. Her name doesn't matter to him.
He launches into the air, swooping around the room once more, shedding fairy dust in his wake. In the doorway, she is not fast enough. She has aged and he has not, and her legs are not as swift as they once were. The boy dives, catching her daughter's hand and pulling her into the air. They are out the window even as she reaches after them, her fingertips brushing her daughter's heel before they are gone.
She is still at the window, back at the window, after the inspectors from Scotland Yard have come and gone. After they asked her a dozen questions, then asked the same questions of her husband instead. After the looks exchanged over her head as though she couldn't see. After the gentle hands, the cups of tea, the there, there, darling, you rest now, let me take care of everything.
"Come away from the window, darling." Her husband touches her shoulder, his hand warm and strong.
"He took her to Neverland," she says.
"What's that, darling?" Is he asking her to repeat herself because he didn't hear? Or is he giving her a chance to say something sensible instead of indulging in flights of fancy? The doctors at the hospital were full of traps like this, asking her questions, but unhappy with her answers when she told the truth.
She turns to face her husband. His is the face that greets her every morning, kisses her brow against bad dreams every night. So kind, so loving. So lucky to have made such a good match, her brothers and their wives say. Especially after all the trouble she's been through, they say, and they don't say, but they think, after all the trouble she's been.
He is a good man. She knows that. Patient. Solicitous of her health. Hardly letting her take a step without his guiding hand lest she fall.
In this moment, she hates him.
He is a man without imagination. Never doing her harm, not knowingly, but he has never believed her. He has never once taken her word over those of the doctors and her brothers, even though she is supposedly the woman he loves. You are confused, darling, he tells her, you must rest.
"He's taken her," she says more loudly, meeting his eyes so he cannot mistake her. Her husband frowns, then replaces the expression with a fond smile.
"There, there, darling. The police are doing everything they can. They'll find our girl and bring her home."
"I know where she is." She tilts her head up, chin jutting, eyes hard.
Beneath his moustache, her husband's smile is indulgent.
"Now, darling. You don't want me to call your brothers, do you?"
The ever-present threat, cloaked in kindness. Surely her brothers will talk sense into her when no one else can. After all, they were there that night all those years ago when an intruder broke into their nursery. And if her fantasies have persisted where theirs have not, well, what can be expected of women, after all? Her brothers were also there not so many years ago to sign the papers committing her to the institution, for her own good of course. But look how far she's come. She should be grateful for such caring siblings.
"Of course." She breathes out, tightens her smile until her jaw aches and her eyes sting. "You're right, dear. How silly of me. The police will take care of everything. I'll just go rest. You will fetch me if you hear anything?"
"Yes, darling. Of course I will." He kisses her brow.
Darling, darling, darling. Not a name anymore. A weapon. A word to soothe, to dismiss, to hush. Be grateful, darling. Be still, darling. Her name taken from her and turned against her. So what does she have left?
She has her memories, and she has her womanly arts. The first thing that ever made her of use to Peter--her skill with a needle and thread.
She retreats to her room and drags a chair across the door. Kneeling, she retrieves her sewing box from beneath the bed. Needles, bobbins, pins, and spools of thread. Beneath them all, her little scissors, wicked and clever and bright. Stitches, even ones ever so carefully made, can always be undone. After all, she's had years to practice. Nothing to do in that white-walled place except sew. Take her medicine. Be good, be calm. Remember. And lie. Pretend to forget.
But she hasn't forgotten. She remembers everything about Peter; she knows him better than he knows himself. Without his shadow, he is nothing. Not the Pan anymore, a memory of a god with curving horns and a pipe at his mouth. Not a little bird filled with magic. Just Peter, a boy so terribly afraid of the world he hides on an island, kidnapping mother after mother to care for him, kiss his wounds, and tell him everything will be okay.
Snip snap. She tests the scissors against the air. Still sharp. She slips them into her pocket and opens the window wide. He took her daughter; she will bring Jane back. Peter can't hide from her, she knows exactly where to find him. Once invited, always welcome. That's the way it works with him.
Wendy smiles. She closes her eyes and thinks very happy thoughts indeed.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, June 9th, 2017


I mentally pitched the story to myself as "Peter Pan meets Taken." Beyond finding the concept amusing, the story gave me the opportunity to explore the fundamentally creepy nature of Peter Pan, and the serious topic of women's voices and experiences being dismissed. Wendy does indeed have a very particular set of skills, though, so who better to take on the boy who wouldn't grow up than the girl-turned-woman he tried to force to be his mother?

- A.C. Wise

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