PETER IN NEVERLAND CHAPTER THREE
"Hey, look lads, we got a new one!" a young teenage boy voice chirped excitedly. "He's not a bad one either!"
Peter opened his eyes. He was still in the park, of course, where else would he be? He was still standing on the patch of grass, there was the park bench, right in front of him, and the park trees were over there where they always were.
Except that they weren't. They were much closer than he thought they were, and a lot more of them, more like a proper wood than a few park trees.
And there was a boy, a boy perhaps a little younger than him, dancing up and down and pointing at him, calling others to come and look because they'd got a new one.
A whole classful of boys emerged from the trees that looked like a wood and made their way towards him, some running, others walking more sedately, like boys who knew all about their own importance.
The boys made a circle around him and then the circle parted to let through a taller boy, a dark haired boy who, Peter thought, must have been at least a Year Nine boy, a Year Ten boy when school started again.
The boy walked all round him, inspecting him as though he was something strange, something unusual, and when he'd finished his inspection, he said, "You're right Ginge, he is new, and he isn't bad at all."
The boy who'd called out did have red hair, Peter noticed, so that was why he was called Ginge obviously, looked triumphant.
"See, told you," he bounced gleefully up and down, "Ages since we had a new one, an' I spotted him first!"
"You did, Ginge, you did, so well done you," and Ginge looked well pleased at being told he'd done well.
"I'm Jack," the tall boy said, holding up his hand for Peter to slap, "I'm the leader here."
"I'm Peter," Peter said, and wondered if he should say anything else, "No teachers, or a Scout Leader or anything like that here?" he asked.
"Nah," Jack grinned, "Nothing like that. Just boys and the pirates here, that's all."
Peter nodded, recalling that the man had said there would be no grown-ups except the pirates in Neverland. "Is this Neverland?" he asked timidly, expecting a howl of laughter at his childish foolishness.
"Where else did you think it was?" Jack was nice, he grinned but he didn't make Peter feel small and silly. In fact, Peter thought, Jack did seem nice, really nice. Although he was an older boy he didn't look like the sort of boy who took advantage of younger boys, not the type who gave sneaky punches and pinches.
Actually, Peter found himself thinking that Jack looked nice in a different way as well; he was definitely well fit, there was no mistaking that, cos all Jack was wearing was a sort of grass skirt thing, and that was more of a mini-skirt than a proper one, it didn't reach to even half-way down his thighs.
"He must have something on underneath," was the thought that popped unbidden into Peter's mind and he blushed a bit when he realised he'd thought it, but his blush didn't stop him from sneaking another look at Jack's short grass skirt before he forced his wicked eyes away to look at the other boys for the first, proper time.
None of them was wearing anything on their top halves, Peter's eyes registered. Some wore what had obviously once been shorts, but were now so ragged and torn they were not really even worth putting on. Others had shorts in a bit better condition, and quite a lot wore grass skirt things like the one Jack was wearing. None of them seemed to be the least bit embarrassed about how little they had on, and, for some reason, Peter felt overdressed in his Tee and Rugby shorts.
Jack continued to size Peter up and came to some sort of decision. "Harry," he called, and another boy eased through the circle to join him.
Harry also looked like a Year Nine boy, perhaps half way through Year Nine if that was possible considering it was the summer holidays. Harry had an untidy mop of light brown hair that he kept having to flick away from his eyes, and like Jack, he was pretty fit with a nice smile.
"Why do I keep thinking these boys are fit?" Peter asked himself, but couldn't come up with an answer.
"I think you should take Peter into your gang, "Jack said to Harry, "I think he'll fit in there best."
"Whatever you say, Jack," Harry agreed before really looking at Peter. "He does look a little shy, I agree. My lot won't give him a hard time, you can bank on that."
"I'm not really all that shy," Peter defended himself, "Just confused, really."
"Oh, you'll soon get over that, but I still think Harry's gang will be the best place for you."
In the distance what sounded like a school bell rang four times. There wasn't a school in Neverland, so why a school bell? Peter was about to ask when Jack called out, "Afternoon break lads. Go grab your drinks quickly, then back to the woods. Still another couple of hours of pirate time."
"You stick with me," Harry said putting an arm round Peter's shoulder and leading him away from the grassy clearing.
"Ain't no pirates, Jack," a reedy voice cheeped, "Their ship ain't there."
"Don't mean they haven't left a small group behind, catch unwary boys," Jack called back, "So keep your eyes peeled and your ears open till five bells."
There was an awful lot Peter wanted to ask Harry, but jogging along beside him it was difficult to order his thoughts. He did manage to pant out, "Five bells?" though.
"Pirates can't hunt us after five bells," Harry sort of explained, though, as explanations go, it didn't explain a lot to Peter.
They jogged through trees and into another grassy clearing and Peter stopped dead in his tracks. Even for a fantasy this was just too silly. Four trestle tables faced him, each table bearing eight glasses of what looked like orange squash and a large plate of chocolate digestives.
"Looks like the elves knew you were coming," Harry said in a way that made it seem he thought he was talking sense, "They've put out a glass of squash for you as well."
The crowd of boys divided up into four groups of eight, without any pushing or shoving or other real boy behaviour, and each group descended on a table, cleared it completely of drinks and chocolate digestives, and, having cleared their tables, headed back into the trees.
"Elves?" Peter asked Harry.
"Who else do you think is going to get our food for us?" Harry answered, and Peter thought it best not to enquire any further.
They played around in the woods then, climbing trees, playing at pirates and boys, hiding and hunting each other. Peter thought some of the boys were a bit old to be playing pretend games like pirates and boys, himself included, but everyone joined in so he did as well.
The older boys were the pirates, and Peter thought that was what was meant when the boys talked about there being pirates around, it must be, Peter decided, a favourite game.
He was up in a tree, hiding, when he saw a younger boy sidle carefully out from some undergowth, look around to see if he was safe, and start to make for a tree to climb. He never got to the tree, a bigger `pirate' boy seemed to appear out of nowhere and tackle the youngster to the ground.
"Got you!" Peter heard the bigger boy say, "You know what happens when you're caught by a pirate."
"Yes, Jack," the smaller one said with a huge grin on his face.
"I'm having you tonight, okay?"
"Course, Jack," the young one giggled, "Straight after seven bells?"
"Best wait for a few minutes after that, let everyone settle down."
"Okay, Jack, see you later," and off the youngster skipped. Whatever it was that Jack wanted him for later, it clearly wasn't something the kid was bothered about.
The school bell gave five rings and boys began to appear, no longer trying to hide from the `pirates' who seemed to be no longer `pirates'; the game was obviously over. Peter climbed down from his tree and was following the crowd of boys to wherever it was they were all going when Harry found him.
"Look, Peter," Harry said in a way that made it clear that what he had to say was important, "I know it'll probably be really awkward for you, but later on, after supper, when we're all round the camp fire, you'll have to tell everyone how you came to be here. It's nothing special, really, everyone has had to do it when they arrived, so don't be scared of it."
"I think I'll sound very silly," Peter muttered, "If I say how I got here."
"Oh, don't worry about that," Harry put a friendly arm round Peter's shoulder, "Everyone thinks they sound silly at first. But that's not the awkward bit," Harry's hand gently squeezed Peter's shoulder, "After you've said your bit, the boys can ask questions. The idea is we all get to know as much about you as quickly as we can, and some of the questions will be a bit ……. well…..you know."
Peter wasn't sure that he did know, and, for some reason he had this strange feeling he really didn't want to know.
"Come on," Harry squeezed Peter's shoulder again, "The elves will have supper ready by now."
Of course, Peter didn't believe for one second supper was provided by elves, but whoever it was that made it, they certainly knew how to make a good stew.
Supper over, they all gathered around a blazing camp fire. The weather was still warm, certainly warm enough for none of the boys to seem to want to put any extra clothes on, and though it was blazing away, the fire didn't seem to be giving out any extra heat.
Peter couldn't help thinking how strangely familiar everything seemed to be. That was odd, because there was nothing at all familiar about things from the perspective of a twenty-first century English schoolboy on his summer holidays; nobody had a phone for a start, and how was a boy supposed to exist without his phone or tablet? You couldn't send text messages, you couldn't call anyone, and, perhaps most important of all, you couldn't watch any porn.
Peter tried to focus on the glimpses of thoughts he had that seemed to be somehow familiar. That school bell for a start; it seemed like the boys' whole day was organised by what sounded like school bells, just like boys' lives were organised by real school bells in term time at school. Then the was that bit with the orange juice and chocolate digestive biscuits; not that you got those at Peter's school, but ……….the `Google' in his head whirred and came up with a result – `afternoon break or early tea in an English minor public school in the last century'.
Light slowly began to dawn in Peter's brain and he collected all the other clues he could think of. Jack was Head Boy, Harry, and two other boys were Prefects; the boys were divided into four gangs, like Houses in those old fashioned schools; what the boys referred to as `elves' must be their name for the Matron, the Cook and other school staff who were always only ever in the background, never real characters. The whole place was just like the setting for a boys' adventure story of a hundred or more years ago; not quite the same fantasy as `Peter Pan' and not `Tom Brown's Schooldays' either, but something along a similar plot line.
"Cracked it," Peter mentally grinned, even the talk about himself he was apparently supposed to give when they all gathered round the `camp fire' fitted in; that was to be his `initiation ceremony' – every new boy in every school in any of those old stories Peter had read as a kid had to go through some form of embarrassing initiation ceremony.
That only left the `school' game of `boys and pirates' to explain, and why, when Jack, as a pirate' had captured a boy, did Jack say, "I'm having you tonight," and tell the boy to report to him after seven bells?
Peter asked Harry that, but Harry brushed it off, saying instead that he would pair Peter up with Ash, because they'd get along, and Ash would be able to fill him in on all he wanted to know.
Peter was surprised when no-one laughed at him when he told his story, and no-one said rude things when he told them everything – Harry had impressed on him that he must leave nothing out, because telling fibs or leaving things out just wasn't the `done thing old chap'. He'd blushed rather a lot when he told them all about his toy and how it had got longer and how his hairs were dead neat now, and there were a few, carefully anonymous, calls for him to show and prove, but that was only to be expected, and he laughed them off because there was absolutely no way he was going to `show and prove' the bit about double cream instead of skimmed milk!
It really wasn't that bad at all, not anywhere near as bad as some of the initiation things boys had to go through in some of those stories, and Harry put his hand on his shoulder again when he'd finished and said he'd done `jolly well' and would fit in well with Harry's gang.
Peter was a bit surprised when he was introduced to Ash, because Ash looked like the sort of boy who'd get seriously bullied in Peter's school, let alone in a minor public school of a hundred or so years ago.
Peter thought Ash seemed to be the same age as he was, in fact, as Ash told him later, he was one month and three days older than Peter, the same height, but where Peter was slender, Ash was super-slender. He wasn't skinny slender, just that there wasn't a lot of him, but what there was seemed healthy enough, there were even hints of boy definition on his bare chest and long legs. Ash was one of those boys who wore a grass skirt thing, and Ash's grass skirt was really very short.
His hair was almost white and his eyes grey. "My name's really Edwin," he said, "But everyone calls me Ash because of my hair."
But the real thing about Ash, the thing that would have made him a target for relentless and cruel bullying, was that Ash looked more like a girl than a boy. He wasn't at all good looking in a boy way, he was more than just pretty in a girl way! For a moment Peter wondered if he really was a girl and not a boy at all, but as he was bare chested there was no doubt that he was a boy and not a girl.
"Harry says we've got to share," Ash said in a rather sweet voice that matched his pretty, girly face, "I hope that's all right with you?"
"Sure," Peter agreed, and, though he mentally slapped his own wrist for being rather naughty and dirty, thinking that, as Ash's grass skirt was so short, his toy must be in danger of showing a lot of the time if he had nothing on underneath it.
"You fallen on your feet," one of the gang called out, and another said, "Fallen on his front, more like," and the whole gang, including Harry and Ash, laughed at a joke Peter did not understand.