Saturday, June 16, 2012
The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up
I initially introduced myself as Martin Barrie, and suggested that I was his uncle. Neither of these facts was true, of course, but it was the only way I could insinuate myself into his good graces. It probably didn’t hurt that I was a dwarf, shorter than he was himself, and so appeared childlike, and that was the manner and character in which I presented myself. Though I claimed to be his uncle, I was able to explain it in such a way that I was actually a great deal younger than him. At the time, nobody asked questions that might’ve required further details.
At that time, he was already acquainted with the Davies clan, but this was before that peculiar summer in 1901, when together with George, Jack and baby Peter, he created the boy who wouldn’t grow up.
What I’m about to tell you is strictly confidential, and at any rate is hardly to be believed, so even if you tell someone, they’ll forget it within a day, and will maybe dream about it in years to come, wondering if you really were fooling with them, as they had originally assumed. They might even remember that they dreamed of it years ago.
The truth is, my name isn’t Martin Barrie. If I tried to tell you what it really is, I’d have to teach you an entirely new language, and a new way of speaking, one that you are quite capable of, but would require years to master, and so my speaking my name now would only baffle and amuse you. I am only attempting to educate you at the moment, briefly, so that you can go about the rest of your day, and decide for yourself whether you will believe me long enough to tell someone else.
My experiences here began a long time ago, long before I introduced myself to him as his uncle, several centuries earlier. I crash-landed into the Americas in 1590 in what you will recognize as the Roanoke colony established by Sir Walter Raleigh and John White three years earlier. At first, I ingratiated myself with a local tribe of natives called the Croatans, a process I found exceedingly simple. Once settled, I suggested to my new friends that we visit the English colony that had so provoked their curiosity. They were hesitant, but I insisted, and owing to my remarkable nature, they were inclined to follow me.
We found the colony to be dismantled, the Englishmen attempting to pack up and depart back for home. Again I asserted myself, suggesting to the Croatans that they offer whatever assistance they could. The Englishmen, who were in truth panicked by their experiences and frightened of the natives, found themselves agreeing to whatever the Croatans proposed, and in turn, the Croatans were eager to accept my advice. That was how the word “Croatoan” was later to be found etched into a post of the abandoned fort.
The Englishmen, however were restless, and truth be told, so was I, so I further proposed to the Croatans that I be allowed to ensconce with the Englishmen to the sea, having now absorbed the nature and culture of these people and become thoroughly intrigued by them. Like the Croatans, they were easy to bend to my will, though I had no overtly evil intentions then or now. We embarked on the seas, where we remained seafarers for several generations, the Englishmen constantly aging and I remaining exactly as I’d been since my arrival.
Many years passed. We became pirates, preying on the vessels of many nations, never setting to port for more than a few days at a time, remaining self-sufficient. I became good friends with these men, with their children, and their children’s children, and formed an inexcusable bond with them. There was one episode that particularly endeared one of the many captains of our ship to me, when we traveled around the coast of Florida. We were in need of supplies, and the captain was especially brave, even though there were reports of alligators in the area. We survived well enough, except that he lost a hand in the affair, and replaced it with a hook. It was said that he ever after kept vigil in case the alligator came back for more.
At some point, and I can’t remember precisely, this time of tranquility was disrupted when one of these able crewmen realized what I was. I suppose to that point I hadn’t properly considered my relation to the people of your world, had never considered myself to be an “alien,” notably for the fact that I had now been among you for many of your lifetimes. Exposed and cornered, I did the only thing I could think of, and temporarily took to safety into the air. By your terms, I flew away.
From that point onward, I was no longer welcome aboard my own ship. I found an island and made it my own, welcomed by its natives, who reminded me of the kind Croatans. My former shipmates had the misfortune one day for a sad reunion when they became aware of my new circumstances, though in their efforts to pursue me ran aground of the shoreline, and were never able to dislodge themselves. We became permanent adversaries.
Permanent, that is, until I grew tired of their games, and looked for other shores. I became curious about the homeland of the Englishmen I had originally liberated from the colony. In all the years and all that I had learned since my arrival, it had never occurred to me to explore this world, let alone visit the place of origin for those I had spent the majority of my time with.
That was how I came to meet him, and in the manner I chose, since I didn’t wish to provoke another incident such as the one that had damaged my tranquility. At first he was only curious about the invented portions of my alias, but the more time we spent together, the more I shared about my time on this world, leaving out key elements, although now I regret some of that, since as I understand it the fate of the colony at Roanoke has been a constant source of curiosity for your historians.
It was my time with the pirates that most seemed to intrigue him, and perhaps the relationship that developed after my expulsion. He spent many evenings chatting with me, always after his afternoons with the Davies boys, and I suppose it’s no wonder that after a time, his imagination began to blend these twin elements of his life together.
I don’t regret lending a portion of my history to someone else’s story, one that has had a lasting impact, and never being able to claim my rightful credit. What use do I have for pirates and flying boys who can’t grow up? In some ways, that’s exactly what I know, and is exactly what my time here has been.
I wonder if I could not have made all this more sensational, with visceral descriptions of my time with those pirates. Perhaps one day I will, because those were good times, the best times I had here on Earth, even better than with the Croatans, or the island that will never again be found, except, yes, it was, many years after my time with the author, during what you call WWII.
I suppose there’s time for a little more. This, then, may be considered the rest of the story, how the boy who couldn’t grow up finally did, in a manner of speaking. As it happens, we will be able to revisit the pirates, too. It may help to explain how they were able to sustain their stagnant existence for so many decades.
In short, they became obsessed with me. As the years advanced, long after the time I had spent with them, or even as their enemy, they continued to define their whole lives around the need for revenge. In my absence, they antagonized the natives of the island, never bothering to repair their ship, never bothering with contact with the outside world. Pirates were always naturally self-sufficient, but these pirates became downright unnatural. They developed a tradition of adopting for the character of each captain the pattern set by my unfortunate but resilient friend, the one who’d lost his hand and replaced it with a hook. In this instance, reality mirrored fiction which mirrored history.
I became aware of this when I revisited the island. I had no cause to believe any of what I’d left behind had been perpetuated by any other means than the story that had resulted from my brief time as Martin Barrie, so I was astonished to learn that the pirates had so far degenerated that they now persisted in a form that had been extinct in the greater world for many years. My appearance, I’m afraid, only made things worse. I came in flying.
The year was 1944. During the midst of WWII, American forces inadvertently stumbled across the island in their ongoing efforts to stymie the Japanese. It was another man named Barrie, ironically, who led the Americans, who in turn were completely baffled by the existence of pirates shipwrecked on the shore. They quickly initiated a process that would ultimately reincorporate these men back into civilized society. They tried to do the same with the natives, but a strange series of events convinced them otherwise.
The pirate captain had escaped, and I felt it was my duty to subdue him. I was joined in these efforts by a selection of native warriors, whose only weapons were spears, but that was still more than the guns the pirate captain possessed, bereft of bullets for many generations. The pirate captain’s only ally was a bumbling aide, long harassed, as perhaps his ancestors had been, who finally had enough when even he was abandoned. He struck a deal with me a week after our search through the island’s jungles had begun, and so that was how the pirate captain was finally snared, and relinquished to the custody of the Americans.
The former aide of the pirate captain became a close friend of mine. He was the first person I confided my full history to, and he only fainted for a moment when he learned that I was, indeed, an “alien.” I almost felt bad to admit that I had been stranded here with no hope of ever returning to my people, because he quickly rebounded with considerable eagerness about future prospects, new adventures, and voyages beyond the stars. “Second star to the right,” I corrected him.
Still, even he grew old, in time. To the calculations of humans, I have aged many centuries, but to my own people, I am still very young, and I believe my time on Earth has actually stunted that process. I am in some respects, as the writer immortalized, a boy who never grew up, and just perhaps, forever cursed to remain that way. But I think I’m finally maturing. That’s how I ended up in the circus.
I know, I know, I’m working on it.