Last year, author Aiden Thomas made history with Cemetery Boys, the first fiction book by a trans author and with a trans main character to make the New York Times bestseller list. Their next book, Lost in the Never Woods, puts a dark spin on the classic tale of Peter Pan, and io9 has an exclusive peek!
Here’s a brief summary, followed by the full cover by artist Loika:
It’s been five years since Wendy and her two brothers went missing in the woods, but when the town’s children start to disappear, the questions surrounding her brothers’ mysterious circumstances are brought back into the light. Attempting to flee her past, Wendy almost runs over an unconscious boy lying in the middle of the road...
Peter, a boy she thought lived only in her stories, asks for Wendy’s help to rescue the missing kids. But, in order to find them, Wendy must confront what’s waiting for her in the woods.
Here’s an excerpt that captures that unsteady reunion between a teenaged Wendy and the mysterious Peter—who, as it turns out, is very real indeed.
Cecco cleared his throat. “You said something fell onto the hood of your car?”
“Like a tree branch?” he prompted.
“No—not a tree branch, it was like . . .” Wendy thought about the strange black thing she had seen. It hadn’t been solid enough to be a branch. It was murky and whatever it was made of swirled and shifted, like if you tried to touch it, it would just slip through your fingers.
But how on earth could she describe that to the police? “It dented my hood and scratched my windshield.”
“Like a tree branch,” Smith insisted, shifting moodily. Wendy lifted her chin and tried to sound firm. “No.” Of course he didn’t believe her. “I don’t know what it was, but it wasn’t a branch.”
“The medics said there were no signs that the victim”— Wendy grimaced at the word—“was hit by a car,” Cecco continued. “And you said he talked to you. Did he say what had happened?”
“You said he knew your name.” His voice went all soft again. “Do you know him?”
She opened her mouth to say no, but the word lodged in her throat. She hesitated.
Wendy’s eyes shifted to the nurse’s desk.
Nurse Judy was watching the two officers talk to Wendy, startled. Her face was splotchy red, and for a moment, Wendy thought she was going to stomp over and tell the officers off. Instead, she marched quickly in the direction of the break room.
Wendy’s grip around her legs tightened. Her breathing quickened. She hoped Smith and Cecco didn’t notice. “No.” But she didn’t sound nearly as confident as before. She couldn’t tell them that she thought she had almost run her truck over a boy she only knew from make-believe stories.
Wendy’s head gave a painful throb. “Are you sure?”
Smith’s cold gray eyes narrowed. “How did he end up in the middle of the street?” he asked. “Did he come from the logging roads?”
Wendy finally looked directly at the faces of the two officers. She smiled, squinting her eyes. “Maybe he fell out of the sky?”
Smith’s lips pressed into a hard line, the muscle in his jaw clenching. It gave Wendy a small feeling of satisfaction. Cecco uselessly rubbed at the back of his neck. After cutting Smith a nervous glance, he pinned his attention back to Wendy. “How does he know your—?”
“What’s going on here?” The voice was quiet but stern. “Mom,” Wendy breathed.
Her mother appeared, standing between the two officers. Mary Darling was in a pair of faded blue scrubs, her light brown hair done up in a messy bun. Her hands were at her sides, fidgeting, as her sharp brown eyes looked back and forth between the officers. The stern authority she’d once had was belied by sagging shoulders and dark circles under her eyes.
Wendy stood up, pushing past Smith and Cecco to get to her mother’s side.
“Are you all right?” Mrs. Darling asked, giving Wendy a sidelong glance. “What happened? Your father—?”
“No, I’m fine,” Wendy said quickly. Her mom could sort this all out, she could make sense of all this. “There was this boy—”
“Mrs. Darling, we need to talk to your daughter,” Smith cut in.
“And why is that, Officer Smith?”
He took off his hat, clearly ready to launch into an explanation.
Everyone turned. The blue drapes around the boy’s bed rustled. Nurses ran behind the curtains.
She couldn’t make out what the doctors were saying over the frenzied shouts of her name. There were two loud bangs as metal trays were knocked to the floor.
Everyone was staring at her. The nurses, the doctors, the officers, her mom.
Her head spun. All other sound became muffled and garbled, except for his piercing yells.
This felt like a nightmare. Her chest heaved up and down and her hands curled into fists. She walked toward the curtained bed.
“Wendy.” This time it was her mother, lightly placing a hand on her shoulder, but Wendy shrugged it off. She passed nurses who openly stared at her and moved out of her way.
She was close enough now to reach out and grab the cotton drape. She hesitated, noticing how hard her hand was shaking. Wendy yanked it back.
Nurses darted around. Men in blue scrubs on either side of the boy tried to grab hold of his arms. His legs thrashed under the waffle-knit blanket. There was a doctor with a needle and a small glass bottle.
But then everything stopped and it was Wendy looking at him, and him looking back. She could see now that his hair was a dark auburn, glints of red showing even in the dull hospital light. The color of late-autumn leaves. He was dressed in a blue hospital gown. They’d apparently cut him out of what he had been wearing.
“Wendy?” He wasn’t yelling anymore. His head tipped to the side as he squinted at her with those brilliant blue eyes.
Wendy couldn’t find her voice. She had no idea what to say. Her mouth was open, but nothing came out.
A wide smile cut across his face, revealing a small chip in his front tooth, and deep dimples. Those starry eyes of his lit up—the ones she’d never been able to capture in her dozens of drawings. But that wasn’t possible . . .
“I found you,” he said triumphantly. He continued to struggle against the two men holding him back, the smile never leaving his face. That look made heat bloom in Wendy’s cheeks and sent her stomach flipping.
The doctor stuck the needle into his arm and depressed the plunger.
“No, don’t!” The words flew from her mouth, but it was too late. The boy flinched but couldn’t pull away. Almost immediately, those brilliant eyes went glassy.
His head swayed, and he sank back into the hospital bed. “I knew I’d find you.” His speech was slurred and his eyes began to wander around the room in a daze, but he was so happy—so relieved.
Wendy slipped past a nurse and stood next to him. “Who are you?” she asked, gripping the bed rail.
The boy frowned and his eyebrows pulled upward, trying to stay awake. “You forgot about me?” His eyes swept back and forth in search of her face.
Wendy’s heart raced. She didn’t know what to do, and she was acutely aware of everyone watching. She had so many questions, but the sedative was quickly pulling him under. “What’s your name?” she asked urgently.
His drowsy eyes finally found hers. “Peter.” He blinked slowly and his head dropped back onto the pillows. He let out a small, drunk-sounding laugh. “You’re so old . . .” His eyes slid shut and he went still, except for the slow rise and fall of his chest.
The movement around her started again. People were asking her questions, but she couldn’t hear them. She was swept up by people in scrubs, gently pulled away from Peter’s side. Wendy suddenly felt like she was going to vomit. Saliva pooled in her mouth as the room swayed around her.
You forgot about me?
Wendy buried her face in her hands. Her heart pounded. She could still smell the soil and wet grass of his skin. She squeezed her eyes shut and images of trees and twilight between leaves flashed through her vision.
Hands rubbed her back and guided her into a seat where she put her head between her knees, clasped her hands behind her sweaty neck, and pressed her forearms against her ears.
How did he know her? Why had he been looking for her? And who was he? He couldn’t be Peter Pan, her Peter. He wasn’t real, he was just a made-up story. Wasn’t he?
You forgot about me?
There was so much that she had forgotten—huge gaps of time just missing from her memory. What if he was one of them? What if he knew what happened?
Suddenly, the thought of him waking up terrified her.
Excerpt from Aiden Thomas’ Lost in the Never Woods reprinted by permission. Copyright Swoon Reads.
Aiden Thomas’ Lost in the Never Woods is out March 23, but you can pre-order a copy right here.
For more, make sure you’re following us on our Instagram @io9dotcom.