FOR THE BRIEFEST of moments, I’m positively graceful.
The wave surges behind us then picks us up like flotsam, the green gloopy tsunami choked with other bits and pieces of debris ingested by the massive whale. Including a gangplank, its edges weathered smooth, its tip curved and aerodynamic.
With inspired athleticism belying my awkward prepubescence, I leap up and land on the wood, standing upright as it’s borne aloft by the crest of the bile. Planting my feet firmly on the plank, I surf the wave, laughing with glee as I’m carried forward towards the whale’s yawning jaws and to freedom.
Then a half-digested squid slams into my head and I’m knocked off my makeshift surfboard, straight into the noxious soup of the beast’s digestive fluid.
One day I shall write a poem about this, which shall likely start with the line: ‘Oh, foul and hideous churning sea of viscous bile’. That day however is not today. Today I am more concerned with wondering how much it’s going to hurt when I splash down into the surface of the ocean, at least a hundred feet below.
With a gag reflex as powerful as an erupting volcano, the whale has jettisoned us like a brace of cannonballs. To my left, I see Pan hurtling through the air, turning ungainly somersaults as he hurtles from the mouth of the choking beast. I too am equally helpless, flailing about in the air like an octopus having a fight with a particularly slippery hammock.
Only Tink remains relatively unscathed, having escaped the worst of the whale’s vile gloop, and managing to flit through the skies with no visible signs of distress.
‘Captain!’ Her voice is urgent. ‘Fear not! I shall impart you with a sprinkle of my magic. Close your eyes!’
I screw my lids shut, which makes the sensation of spinning head over foot in mid-air seem all the worse. Then I feel it: a tickling, like a feather on my soles. A tingling rising up through my body, making me feel light as air.
No — lighter.
I open my eyes and laugh uproariously as Tink swoops away in a triumphant loop-the-loop.
‘Look, Pan!’ I shout to my ailing shadowless comrade. ‘I’m flying!’
But of course he’s not listening. He’s spinning through the sky, tracing an inevitable arc towards the harsh and unforgiving sea below.
‘My magic needs replenished,’ says Tink, fluttering close to my ear as I glide through the air. ‘I cannot save him, Captain!’
Part of me — the part which justifies my reputation as the scourge of the seas — feels a surge of elation, of long-awaited triumph. The delicious irony of it: of me, Captain Hook, swooping through the skies as Peter Pan plunges to his doom like a dainty green housebrick.
But the other, lesser-known part of me wins out. The part which drips with compassion, which delights in random acts of kindness; the part which toils over rolls of of parchment, creating sparkling odes of emotion-wracked poetry.
And, it has to be said, the part which reminds me that if Pan expires on my watch, SB is unlikely to grant me the pardon I so greatly seek.
‘Hang on!’ I call to the hapless boy, soaring down to where he is falling towards the ocean’s surface. ‘I’m coming!’
I fumble in my britches and pull out Pan’s feather. Though it pains me to do so, I press it into the boy’s grasping hand, then swoop off to a safe distance.
It works. Pan slides the feather back into his sickeningly jaunty cap and laughs with glee as his descent slows, transforming into a graceful and controlled flight.
‘Why thank you, James!’ His tone almost grinds my teeth to dust. ‘You are indeed a true hero!’
I glare at him, looking for a trace of sarcasm on his perky features. Surprisingly, there is none. ‘It was nothing,’ I grunt grudgingly, almost wishing I had left him to plummet.
‘There, ahead!’ Pan points. ‘Look!’
I squint through the gathering gloom of the dusk. In the distance, I see it: the unmistakably garish neon monstrosity of Pleasure Island. Searchlights bounce off the clouds; airships and blimps buzz around the island like bloated bluebottles; every inch of the place is aglow with unnatural flickering lights, advertising every illicit slice of hedonism known to humanity.
And there, tethered to the docks, a cruise ship, almost as large as the Great White Whale itself. And atop its funnel, a fluttering flag with a forlorn-looking teddy bear emblazoned upon it, which proclaims the vessel to be under the ownership of the band of young ruffians we seek.
‘Looks like the Lost Boys have found themselves a worthy ship,’ quips Pan, clearly impressed. ‘Those things are like floating palaces.’
‘Then it is just as well you have a pirate of my calibre at your side,’ I say through clenched teeth. ‘For whom storming palaces is almost an everyday occurrence.’
Tink turns a pale shade of puce, pointing at the streak of smoke shooting from the ship with a trembling finger. ‘Captain,’ she gasps. ‘I think this palace may be a little different to those you are used to. Look —’
But her words are lost in the blast of the anti-aircraft missile which blows us from the sky …