A Speck on the Horizon
A mango, thought Peter. The perfect weapon.
The scrawny sunburned boy, dressed in a tattered shirt and pants torn off below scabby knees, brushed the unkempt reddish hair out of his face. It fell right back into his eyes as he bent to the sandy soil and scooped up the plump red-and-yellow fruit sphere, a bit bigger than an orange. The mango was squishy to the touch, too ripe for eating. But it was just the thing to drop on somebody's head from a great height. And Peter knew precisely whose head he wanted to drop it on.
Holding the sweet-smelling mango in his left hand, Peter raised his right hand over his head and, pointing his index finger skyward, sprang up and rose swiftly from the earth. It was a dramatic takeoff, and totally unnecessary: Peter -- an expert flyer now, after three months' practice -- could float easily upward in any position. But he enjoyed impressing the other boys.
"Peter!" shouted young James as he trotted toward the mango tree. He was followed by the rest of the Lost Boys, as they had come to call themselves -- Prentiss, Thomas, and, lagging far behind, Tubby Ted.
"Where are you going?" asked James, his thin voice cracking.
"To pay the pirates a visit," Peter announced. "I've a delivery to make." He held out the oozing, overripe mango.
"Please, can't I come?" begged James.
Peter was silent for a long moment. The only noise was the distant sound of surf pounding on the reef outside the lagoon. Then, reluctantly, Peter said, "'fraid not, James. You can't . . . I mean . . . You know."
"Right," said James. "I can't fly."
James said it matter-of-factly, but Peter saw the now-familiar look of disappointment in his eyes. He saw it also on the faces of Prentiss and Thomas, though all he saw on Tubby Ted's face was mango pulp, as Tubby Ted had decided it was time for a snack. (For Tubby Ted, it was always time for a snack.)
Peter hovered for a moment, feeling a flicker of guilt. It seemed that more and more lately, he'd been having his best adventures alone. He almost decided to return to the earth and to carry out his attack by land, so his mates could join in the fun. Almost . . .
But walking took so long, and if they were on foot, the pirates might catch them. No, flying was the only way to do this.
"You'll be safer here," he said. "I'll be back soon! We'll have a game, or a snake hunt."
"But," said James, "I -- "
"Sorry!" interrupted Peter, shooting skyward, not looking back. He soared above the treetops, his pangs of guilt changing to irritation tinged with self-pity.
It's not my fault I can fly and they can't, he thought. Besides, they're safer back there. Can't they see I'm looking out for them?
These thoughts were quickly driven from Peter's mind by the sweeping view that greeted him as he shot into the radiant blue sky between two small, puffy, bright white clouds. He ascended at a steep angle, keeping his body parallel to the dark green mountain ridge that rose sharply to form the backbone of the island.
As he cleared the summit, he could see the whole of Mollusk Island. Far below, on the side he'd come from, was the shimmering blue-green expanse of calm, protected water that the boys called Mermaid Lagoon. Peter could see the tiny figures of a half dozen mermaids sunning themselves on the broad, flat rock they favored. One of the figures waved -- probably their leader, the one known as Teacher. She was quite fond of Peter, a fact that both embarrassed and pleased him.
Peter returned the wave, then continued his aerial survey of the island. Curved around the blue-green waters of the lagoon was the island's widest beach, a semicircle of soft, sugar-white sand, fringed with coconut trees. Behind the beach, in a small clearing nestled at the base of the mountain slope, was the boys' home -- a dome-shaped driftwood hut, covered with palm thatch, that they'd erected with the help of the Mollusk tribe. A quarter mile from their hut, in a bigger clearing surrounding a massive tree, was the Mollusk village itself, where gray smoke was drifting skyward from several cooking fires.
The Mollusks -- whose chief, Fighting Prawn, owed Peter his life -- had proved to be generous hosts. They'd shown the boys how to spear fish, which fish to spear, how to clean and cook them, where to get fresh water, how to keep a fire going, what to do when a hairy jumping spider the size of a squirrel leaped on your head -- all the basic skills of island survival.
Peter suspected that Fighting Prawn also had men posted in the jungle to keep an eye on the boys' hut, lest the pirates decided to pay a visit. This had been reassuring at first, but as the weeks and months passed, Peter had become more and more certain that the pirates didn't dare venture to this side of the island, where they would be greatly outnumbered by the Mollusks. His fear had turned to confidence, then to cockiness. In recent days he'd taken to amusing himself by flying across the island to the pirate encampment and taunting the pirate who had once terrified him, and the entire seafaring world -- Black Stache.
But Peter had given him a new name.
Peter looked down the other side of the mountain, toward what the boys called Pirate Cove. On a bluff overlooking the cove was the pirates' fort, a squat structure made of logs that had been laboriously hacked down with swords and bound with thick jungle vines.
Reaching the apex of his ascent, Peter eased to a stop and hovered for a moment. He was about to begin his descent, when he heard a sound behind him. To a normal person it would have sounded like bells -- tiny, perfectly pitched, melodious bells. Peter could hear the bells, but he also heard words inside his head, and they were not happy words. He sighed and turned slowly to face a most displeased Tinker Bell, her silvery wings buzzing furiously, her tiny face red and pinched with anger.
"I did not run off," he said, though he knew he had. "It's not my fault if you don't keep up."
More bells. Peter cut them off mid-tinkle.
"Listen, Tink," Peter said. "You're not my mother or father. I have no mother or father. I don't have to answer to you. I don't have to answer to anybody."
The sound of more bells: musical and quieter now.
"Yes, I do know that," Peter said, also softening. "I understand perfectly well that Lord Aster left you to look out for me, and I appreciate it. But that was when I was new to . . . to all this." He gestured at his airborne body, then the island below. "It's different now. I've learned a lot. I can take care of myself. I don't need a fairy watching --"
He was interrupted by an angry outburst of shrill bells. Tinker Bell disliked the name "fairy," which she saw as a slight to her heritage.
"Sorry," said Peter. "I mean, I don't need a birdwoman watching over me."
More bells. Instructive.
"What dangers?" said Peter. "There's nothing on this island for me to worry about except old Captain Hook down there, and he's too scared to come near our side of the island with the Mollusks about. Even if he does come, how's he going to catch me if he can't fly? Face it, Tink, nothing here can hurt me. Nothing."
"Well, that's your opinion," said Peter. "But I don't agree, and I don't plan to stay up here all day arguing with a . . . a birdwoman."
He turned his back on her, angled his body to start his downward swoop. Tinker Bell flew in front of him, still tinkling.
"Fine," Peter said, impatient now. "I can't stop you from coming. Just don't get in the way, okay?"
With that, he gripped the mango, let out a whoop, and began his dive toward the pirate fort, his mind focusing now on his plan of attack. He was so intent on landing the mango on his target that he failed to notice two things: one was a small human form below, making its way laboriously up to the summit of the mountain. Had Peter looked closely, he would have seen that the form was James, who was determined that, this time, he would not miss out on the adventure.
The other thing Peter missed was a speck on the horizon -- a tiny dark shape, far out to sea.
A speck that was, ever so slowly, growing larger.
Excerpted from PETER AND THE SHADOW THIEVES © Copyright 2012 by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. Reprinted with permission by Disney Editions, an imprint of Hyperion Books for Children. All rights reserved.
Peter and the Shadow Thieves