The Neverland Wars - Audrey Greathouse

The evening was still bright and young when the music started. Gwen had played all day in the backyard, and her dolls’ plastic faces were smudged with dirt to prove it. They had gluttonously devoured all of Gwen’s mud pies, and she was intently plucking daisy petals, one at a time, to determine if some unimagined boy was somewhere out there, madly in love with her. She had to start over with several daisies. Her eight-year-old hand did not have the requisite coordination for the task.

When she found a purple-edged daisy, she was too engrossed with its size and color to notice the music. Instead, she promptly plucked the flower and ran, barefoot, into the kitchen where her mother was still cleaning up from dinner. Mrs. Hoffman took the flower and got down a tiny vase. Gwen stood on tiptoe to kiss her swollen stomach. “It’s for my little sister.”

Her mother gave her an adult smile, putting the vase back into the cupboard. “I’m not sure it will keep until she gets here, Gwen. Maybe we should press it in a book.”

On the living room couch, her mother helped her press the daisy between the pages of a book, and when the doorbell rang, her father answered it. Gwen wandered back outside to play more, unconcerned with the two harried men at the door.

It was only then that she heard the enchanting music pushing its way through the evening air. She could tell it was far away, yet she could clearly hear it. Picking up her stuffed lion, she clutched him to share her excitement and his courage. The melody felt familiar but new. She wanted to follow it.

Her mother emerged at the back door in a very different mood. “Gwen, it’s bedtime! Time to come in!”

The peculiar music was so much more interesting though, and she was reluctant to give up her playtime. Her mother walked out and took Gwen’s hand, leading her in despite her objections. With only her lion in hand, she asked, “What about my dolls?”

“I’ll bring them in later,” her mother promised, but she locked the door as they headed inside.

There were two men, dressed like grown-ups, standing in the entryway with her father. One had a map, and he was muttering about the perimeter they’d established. Her father was pulling on his overcoat. “I’ve got to go,” he said, walking over to give his wife a worried peck on the cheek. “He’s close. Watch Gwen.”

“Where’s Daddy going?”

“To do business with his work friends,” her mother answered as Mr. Hoffman's brisk pace led him out the door with the two men. “Now let’s get you upstairs to bed.”

Gwen brushed her teeth and was ushered into her nightgown. It seemed awfully early for bed, and horribly unfair. She wanted to know where her father was going, or at least stay up until he returned. Her mother was adamantly against it. Soon, Gwen was left snuggly in bed, alone in her room, and wide awake.

She wanted to stay up though. It was still light out, and Gwen remained curious about the music. Slipping out of bed, she tiptoed over the carpeted floor to draw the blinds and open her window.

It was hard for her little hands to lift the heavy window pane, but she opened it enough to let the music in. There were pipes somewhere; it sounded closer than it had before. Her first thought was that it was an ice-cream truck, but this was not a trite melody broadcasted over a crude speaker. It was soft like a lullaby, yet energetic. Its complicated rhythm and endearing melody made it sound like the soundtrack to a wonderful dream.

Her mother came in, having heard the sound of the window opening. The girl assumed she was in trouble and explained, “I want to stay up and listen to the music.”

Gwen was too young to understand what panic looked like on her mother’s face. “Oh Gwen, no, close the window. There’s no music out there. Let me wind your music box.” Her mother shut the window, locking the top so that Gwen could not open it again. She wound the music box, and Gwen trudged back to her bed as mechanical tones replaced the beautiful sound of the fluting.

“I want to stay up!” Gwen insisted. “Like you and Dad. I want to stay up until he gets back.”

Her mother tucked her in, again. “No, not tonight.”

“When can I stay up?”

“When you’re older. When you grow up, you’ll be able to