Below is an except from the first chapter of Hooked, the companion novel to my debut, Wendy, Darling, which came out last year. Wendy, Darling is itself is a sequel to and reimagining of the classic story of Peter Pan, originally written by J.M. Barrie. There are some elements of Hooked that function like a sequel and some that function like a prequel, but at the same time, it aims to be a complete story in itself, exploring how Peter Pan’s greatest enemy came to be and following what happened to him after he managed to escape Neverland.
First, here’s the synopsis:
Once invited, always welcome.
Once invited, never free.
Captain James Hook, the immortal pirate of Neverland, has died a thousand times. Drowned, stabbed by Peter Pan’s sword, eaten by the beast swimming below the depths, yet James was resurrected every time by one boy’s dark imagination. Until he found a door in the sky, an escape. And he took the chance no matter the cost.
Now in London twenty-two years later, Peter Pan’s monster has found Captain Hook again, intent on revenge. But a chance encounter leads James to another survivor of Neverland. Wendy Darling, now a grown woman, is the only one who knows how dark a shadow Neverland casts, no matter how far you run. To vanquish Pan’s monster once and for all, Hook must play the villain one last time…
London – 1939
The wave curls above him, poised, laden with panic.
He remembers drowning.
Limbs weighted and wanting to drag him down, lungs screaming with the thwarted desire to expand, mouth poised to open traitorously and let in water instead of air.
James gropes for the table beside him, for the pipe, but the smoke is already in his lungs. He remembers to breathe out. His lungs stop screaming when he does. The smoke coils in the air above him, hanging there a moment, teasing the outline of a shape, but when he looks again, it dissipates.
Right off the bat, I wanted to let readers know that James (aka Captain Hook) is not an average human. He has died and come back to life multiple times, and he remembers each death, leading to a fair amount of PTSD. He also has trouble telling the here and now from the there and then, made worse by the fact that his primary coping mechanism for his trauma is opium.
Hunger gnaws at him and he pulls in another lungful. As he does, James feels himself doubled, a ghost rising from his skin to move about the flat. Slipped out of time, he feels himself once again taking the actions he took moments ago – his hands shaking with need, guts cramping, sweat slicking his skin. He hears the wooden box rattle, the scant amount of opium inside dwindling every day.
A dizzying sensation as he watches himself, feels himself, rolling tar into a sticky ball, pulling it into long strands, filling his pipe. He feels smoke in his lungs. Only a small slip this time, minutes not hours or years, but still, it is disorienting. And it has been happening more and more frequently, his unmooring from time. His guts cramp again, the urge to vomit, and in the next moment, he slams back into his body where he lies on the chaise, gasping for air.
He remembers drowning.
The drug should blunt the effect, stave off the memory of the deaths he suffered again and again at the hands of a mere child, a boy. It used to, but now it only makes the sensation worse, stretching him thin between two worlds, this one and…
James refuses the name. He’s not there; he is here, in London. Home.
Not only does James have trouble separating past and present, but sometimes he finds himself literally dislocated in time, reliving moments from his past. Like many portal fantasy worlds, going all the way back to folk stories of humans stolen away by faeries returning to their own world to find years have passed when they were only gone a few moments, time works differently in Neverland than it does in our world. In my mind, after so long spent in Neverland, James would continue to feel the effects of this, even living in London, experiencing time differently than everyone else around him. Even though he escaped Neverland, he still feels the pull of it and it refuses to fully let him go.
But what manner of home is it without…
He glances to the wooden box beside him. What will he do when the opium is gone? He’s an old man, feeling his age now as he never did before. His fingers, once quick-slipping into pockets to relieve them of their bills, once quick with a blade as well, have slowed. What skill does he left to live by?
He lets himself lie back, a rough chuckle taking him and turning into a cough. If he were any other man, he would fear. It would be a race to see what would take him first – starvation, withdrawal, or madness. But he’s always been too stubborn to die, too determined. Weary as he is, above all, he knows he will survive.
James lifts the pipe again, using his flesh and blood hand. The other, wood, gleaming warm in the light and chased in silver, rests in his lap. He draws breath and holds it.
“You promised me you’d be careful. Your dreams are dangerous things, James.”
The voice is a knife, and James whips around. Another fit of coughing leaves his eyes streaming. Through the blur he sees Samuel standing in the corner, hands folded neatly in front of him, expression mixing admonishment and sorrow.
And, as if all that weren’t enough – being caught between two worlds, suffering trauma and coping with it by turning to drugs – James is literally haunted by the ghost of the man he loved and lost. Or, at very least, he hopes the haunting is literal. After all, he himself has died and come back hundreds of times and so he wants to believe that some part of Samuel might still be around too. This persistent idea that Samuel is waiting for him in Neverland kicks off all the troubles that ensue throughout the rest of the book as James opens a door that should have remained closed, giving Neverland access to our world.
James forgets how to breathe entirely. He forgets the ache in his leg and the fact that when he walks now, he needs a cane to steady him. He’s halfway to rising, going to Samuel, when a twinge in his thigh brings him crashing to one knee beside the chaise. Pain spikes from the point of impact and catches as a gasp in his throat. And still, he almost crawls to the surgeon on hands and knees, a pitiful thing, ready to bury his face in the hem of Samuel’s coat.
But James forces himself to straighten.
“Fuck off.” The words come out smoke-roughened, harsh with emotion and the effort to speak with conviction. “You’re not real.”
It’s unkind, but then so is Samuel’s ghost.
“I don’t want you here.” James tries to curl his lips into their old sneer.
He pulls the memory of striding the deck in a swirl of blood-red coat, men trembling before him, around him like armor. He must be that, not this pathetic creature, brought low with need. Samuel isn’t in the room with him; Samuel has been dead for fifteen years.
Even in his grief, James has a twisted sense of his own identity and feels the need to present an invulnerable face to the world. He spent so long being Captain Hook that he doesn’t quite know how to let go of the sneering villain who doesn’t need anybody and cares for no one but himself. At the same time, Hook is also his defense mechanism. When he’s feeling emotionally vulnerable, he pulls Hook on like a second skin in an effort to convince himself that he isn’t hurting. He lashes out, causing pain so he doesn’t have to feel it. After all, vicious pirates don’t cry or experience heartbreak, right? Right…
Yet the grief hasn’t lessened. Always the wave of it is there, ready to swamp him if James lets his concentration falter for even a moment. If he lets his guard down, time comes unstuck and the pain is just as fresh as it ever was – worse than dying, worse than every time he’s drowned.