Disclaimer: Peter Pan isn't mine. Please don't sue me.
As you will well-know, fair reader, when we last saw Wendy and the boys, Peter had left them only with the promise from Wendy's mother that she should come back for a week, once a year, to do his spring-cleaning. It was a generous promise, and one which well-satisfied the boy, but did you really expect him to remember it? Peter, who could often have an adventure, struggle for his life, and then have forgotten before it was time for tea? He is only a boy, with a boy's memory, so we cannot blame him too much for forgetting. To a boy like Peter, what is happening today is always far more important than what happened yesterday.
Indeed, he remembered to come twice, and that is far more than many would have expected of him. Twice he came lightly through the nursery window to where Wendy and Michael were waiting eagerly of him. Only twice, and then perhaps there were other Lost Boys for him to raise, other pirates for him to fight, and he forgot the light at the window and the children he had once known and came no more.
It was just as well, for while he was away, Wendy had to grow up. It is not a thing to feel too sad about, for when she actually tried it Wendy found that growing up was a thing that she enjoyed immensely. Watch her as she grows -- sixteen now, and at her first dance, blushing and pretty in her new dress, then eighteen, and there is a handsome young man paying court to her, and then twenty and now it is her own baby safe and cushioned in a cradle just as she had once wished Michael would be her baby. No, do not be sad about her growing up, for no one could be happier about it than Wendy herself.
Nana is gone now, for dogs do not live so long as people I am afraid, and the boys are boys no longer, but young men instead. They have no time now to play at games of Indians and Pirates, for their time is taken up more properly by grown-up things.
All, that is, except Michael.
He had been younger than the others when they left Neverland, and he had not forgotten it so easily. Perhaps it would have been better for Michael if Peter had never come back at all, because Michael could never let go of the idea that if he had visited before he might do so again. Years passed, and every spring still, he would cajole Wendy to wait with him at the window in case Peter came. Just in case, and then they could escape to Neverland once more, to games, and adventures, and things that were ever so much more exciting than the arithmetic and algebra that he had to deal with at home.
The others jeered at him for it. They had grown by now to an age where they could not believe in Peter Pan any more, and Neverland and magic seemed like nothing more than silly stories. They had always lived here, they were sure of it, and so it must be so.
None of their teasing phased Michael. He knew, he remembered, and that memory, and the hope that Peter might come back was worth more to him than whatever they might have to say about it. Wendy knew too -- or at least she thought she did. Over time the memory slid away until it seemed no more than a dream, but she loved her little brother and would never hurt him by admitting it.
But then, as you will recall me telling you, Wendy became a grown-up lady and a girl no longer. She had a husband now, and that husband was not so enamored of the idea of his pretty wife waiting by the window to fly off with strange boys.
That put an end to the waiting, for Michael knew well enough that Peter would not come for him alone. He might come for Wendy, but that was because Wendy was a mother, whereas he was only another Lost Boy. He would not fly away and have adventures again, and so he had to content himself with the ordinary adventures such as you and I can have here at home. While the other boys stayed in the city, Michael strayed into the countryside, finding that he could play there just as much as work -- for you must know of course, that all grown men have to work.
Work he did, as an engine-driver, but when he had free time he hunted animals -- just as he had once with the Indians. He rode horses too, for riding a horse fast enough, he said, could almost feel like flying once had. The others laughed, and rolled their eyes at his fancy -- all except Wendy who warned him to be careful. She worried that sometimes he might ride too carelessly, too fast.
She was right to worry, for when you fall from a horse, you cannot catch yourself before you hit the ground as you do in flight. Michael didn't listen -- couldn't listen, couldn't have this adventure taken from him as Neverland had been. It was only a matter of time before his horse tripped one day, sent him flying through the air to land in an awkward crumpled heap.
It turned out that to die was indeed an awfully big adventure.
He looked impossibly young when they put him in the coffin. Mrs. Darling wondered to herself if it wouldn't have been best to let him go with Peter Pan and stay in Neverland on that last visit rather than to bring him home to his mother and father. Better, perhaps, to have him in Neverland, and having forgotten about them and alive than at home and knowing them and dead.
It was too late for such thoughts now. The funeral was a somber affair, and afterwards everyone seemed to get on with life as quickly as possible, as though by drawing away from such a sad event they could pretend it had never happened.
One thing remained a mystery though. It is true light can play odd tricks at times, yet even those have their limits. It should not have been possible for the light to fall in such a way that Wendy saw Michael's shadow outside the coffin, and yet she swore it was so. Moreover, she insisted that in that last moment, as the coffin lid fell, she saw it cut off the edge of the shadow quite neatly, and the shadow went skipping away on its own.
It was impossible of course, and they all told her so -- especially John. He held such fancies and whimsical thoughts responsible for his brother's death, and he was determined that they should not continue. There should not, he insisted, be any more talk of this Neverland, nor of Peter Pan, nor even of dancing shadows. It was only silliness, just a game they had played as children, and as they had seen such fancies could be dangerous.
So upset was he, that they complied, at least in his presence. Still, Wendy insisted privately to her husband that she had seen it, and now and then when two or more of the Lost Boys were alone together they might say wistfully "Do you remember that place we used to ply about when we were small? What was it now -- Neverland?"
As people grow older though, they have less and less time to talk of such games, even if they wanted to. Even after a death, life must go on -- and see, the boys are doing well for themselves too. The twins work in an office now, and so do Nibs and Curly. You may watch them any day going about the city, carrying their briefcases like any respectable gentlemen. Slightly married a lady of title, and is now nothing less than a Lord of the Realm. He behaves very grandly about it, although the others tease him about it horribly. The shy, unassuming boy that was once known as Tootles is now a judge, in a wig and gown and demands a great amount of respect around the city.
As to John, he is married himself now with children. Doubtless, he loves them very much, and yet he behaves awkwardly with them. They are never allowed the daydreams and fantasy other children are. John never tells them stories of Father Christmas, or the Easter Bunny, and you may be very sure that he never encourages them to believe in such a thing as fairies. He is afraid, you see, that if he feeds their minds on flights of fantasy, they may behave as his brother did, and dream too hard and never come back to him. He loves them too hard for that so instead he feeds their minds on history and long lists of Kings and Queens, algebra and arithmetic, proper spelling and grammar. This may all seem very stilted and boring to you, but no one was ever lost in a daydream of algebra and so he feels he is safe.
Time passes, and Wendy's baby has grown into a little girl by now -- a pretty child called Jane. She and her husband have moved now into the house where she grew up, for Mr. Darling cannot handle stairs so well any longer and prefers to live somewhere smaller. They are happy there, and Wendy -- in complete defiance of her brother's wishes -- tells Jane many stories of Neverland, and the times she flew away through the nursery windows with a little boy called Peter Pan. She is no longer quite sure she believes those stories herself, and yet sometimes, when her husband is not looking and Jane is sleeping, she finds herself lingering at that window, watching just in case he should return.
Sometimes she thinks she sees him -- or at least she sees someone. Just the merest shadow out of the corner of her eye, and then it slips away and is gone again. But it is only a shadow, just a flicker of the imagination, and besides who would believe her if she told them?
They are all growing older now, ever so much older than twenty., and it is a sad fact that everyone who grows up has to die sometimes. Mrs. and Mr. Darling went first as you might expect, Mrs. Darling slipping away peacefully in her sleep one night, and Mr. Darling following not too long afterwards. They cried for the first, but not so much for the second, for it seemed right that they be together somehow.
Next though, comes Curly. That is more of a shock, but that was because you never really notice the people you grew up with getting old. Curly is not a little boy any longer. His once-blonde curly hair is littered now with streaks of white and gray, although he's no less prone to getting into a pickle than he was as a child. Indeed, so accustomed are the others to him getting into scrapes and out of them again, that as they stand around his hospital bed they find themselves almost waiting for the moment where he would sit up and apologize for putting them all to so much trouble.
The moment never comes, and the nurses gently shoo them out of them room in the end. The whole family had gathered to say their last goodbyes there, and as Wendy reaches to take Jane's hand and lead her out, it was only chance that makes her follow the little girl's eyes instead, and see the shadow as it vanishes into the corner of the room.
One after the other they slip away now, as they grow older and age takes them. You do not wish me to describe all of the deaths I am sure, for not all of the deaths that come as the body gives out are quick, and a good many of them are not dignified. Let me just say that they go one at a time with years between deaths, first Nibs, then the twins (together, for even as adults the twins had always had to do things together), then Tootles, and then Slightly (and you may be sure that his death got reported in all of the finest newspapers).
That leaves only Wendy and John, both old now, both with children who are themselves grown up. John is as relentlessly practical as ever, and Wendy still watches by the Nursery window when no one else is looking. She fancies she sees more shadows in the house now, but perhaps that is only her imagination.
It is by the Nursery window that Jane finds her one day, dropping in to visit her mother. Wendy's cheek is pressed against the glass, and she is smiling, but her body is cool to the touch and she does not open her eyes when Jane calls to her.
That leaves the house empty, for Jane has moved out not, and is raising her own family. Wendy's husband, given the choice, much prefers to go stay with his daughter than to stay alone there without his wife.
It seems eminently practical under such circumstances that John's son should move his family into the house. His children -- John's grandchildren -- are growing older now, and they can well make use of such a fine nursery.
Remember then, that this is John's child, taught from birth to believe in reality rather than in silly stories. Realize that he has taught his children -- two girls, and one boy -- in much the same way he was himself raised. They are practical people, all of them, with no time for fantasies and imagination.
Imagine the fuss that comes when after only a few weeks of living in that house, the house where Wendy had always been so happy, they refuse to stay there, say that they are afraid to stay there. The house is filled with ghosts they say, with the sound of children laughing when there is no one there, with shadows that flit away when you try to look at them directly. They cannot explain it, and they do not understand it, but they will not stay in that house.
Wendy's husband is properly astonished by all such claims, and says that the house was certainly not haunted when he lived there. Jane too denies any knowledge of any ghosts. Both of them visit the house, and find it just as empty as it was when they left it, with no sign of any hauntings.
John, of course, scoffs at the whole thing. There is no such thing as ghosts, and didn't he bring his children up better than to believe in such nonsense? Still, his son is insistent, and so one day finally the old man makes his way over to the old family house. Stairs are hard to negotiate now, so he does not try to drag himself up to the nursery, but lights the fire downstairs and settles himself now in a chair in front of it still snorting to himself at his son's foolishness. Ghosts, indeed! There's no such thing as ghosts.
It is a while before his gaze settles on the wall opposite. Certainly his own shadow should be there, thrown by the light from the fire, but that does not explain the eight smaller shadows surrounding it. Nor does it explain the way his own shadow is moving, not echoing John's movements as a good shadow should, but dancing joyously as if welcoming the return of old friends.
"Well, then!" The words are an exclamation of astonishment. John cannot deny these existence, not the evidence of his own eyes. He watches entranced as they dance and play against the wall, now jumping about in frantic sword fights, now jumping about on the shadows of the furniture.
It brings back memories, despite his determination to stifle them. Memories of fighting pirates, of fighting with Indians -- and helping them, when if suited them -- of a room under the ground which you could only reach by squeezing down your own special hollow tree, of excitement and adventure and -
But those had only been childhood games, hadn't they? Only stories, and it is dangerous to go mixing the imaginary with the real. Still, he can not deny that the shadows leaping over the walls -- those seem real enough, and try as he may he can find no rational explanation for their existence.
It cannot last forever. The fire dies down, and the shadows begin to drift again towards the corners of the room. John's own shadow struggles to follow them, yet finds it cannot, tethered as it is to John's feet. It turns to him, holding up its hands in such pitiful entreaty that he cannot help but feel he should do something.
Another memory comes to the surface -- Wendy's story of how she had reattached Peter's shadow by sewing it to him. It is only a story, John reminds himself again, but still what he be sewn can also be cut free and now he finds himself turning to look frantically for scissors -- quickly now, for he has no more wood and the fire is nearly out.
Two good cuts is all it takes, and the shadow goes leaping across the wall again to its companions, and the nine dance out of the room, each shape seeming eerily familiar. Shadowless, John settles back in his chair to dream of people he used to know.
There is no complaint of ghosts in the house again. The people who find John's body there in the morning say that it was simply that his heart gave out -- not altogether unsurprising in a man his age. Those people those never saw the nine little shadows dancing up the stairs together, and then out of the window to get to Neverland the only way they knew how.
Second star to the left, and straight on 'til morning.