And With Belief Came Wings

Second Place winner / 2021 Wintermute Spec-Fic Awards

And With Belief Came Wings is a harrowing, ultimately touching portrait of two familiar fantasy characters in a real-life setting...this story deserves recognition for its beautifully rendered central conceit about belief.

Alexandra Munck, 2021 Contest Judge

Wisteria is too young to understand what it really means to be the daughter of Peter Pan and Wendy Darling when she first asks her mother about flying.

“Mama?” Wisteria says. She is only six years old. Her father has left the house, too unhappy to look at either of them. The last time he did this it took him over a week to return, and Wisteria’s mother had wept at the window every day, as if she’d feared he wouldn’t come back. “Where does Papa go when he leaves?”

Wisteria’s mother shakes her head. She is also young – Wisteria knows this because when she gets dropped off at school, the other kids’ parents always talk about Wisteria’s mother’s age and Wisteria in the same sentence. Far too young, they say of Wisteria’s mother, to have a child. Wisteria doesn’t understand that either because her mother has always seemed so very old to her. Shadows find home in the crooks of her mother’s face, have done so as long as Wisteria can remember. It’s because she is always so exhausted.

“He doesn’t really go anywhere,” her mother murmurs. Her face has more shadows than usual.

Wisteria attributes it to sadness. Tears have a way of sucking you dry, leaving gaunt and aching faces in their wake that are perfect for shadows to gather in. She might only be six years old, but this is something she knows intimately.

“You can’t go nowhere though,” Wisteria points out.

“Well – he’s trying to go someplace, but he can’t go there anymore.”


Her mother pauses from her place on floor, where she has a half-sewn dress laid out over her knees. Bitterness sharpens her voice to needlepoint when she says, “Neverland.”

“Where’s that?”

“Second star to the right, and straight on until morning,” she says, but it again makes no sense to Wisteria. She doesn’t think it’s supposed to though, so she keeps quiet. “But he can’t get back there.”


The answer to this question is complicated, Wisteria will learn. Her mother hesitates, as if she is unsure how much to say.

“He can’t fly anymore,” her mother finally says, settling on the kindest truth. “You need to fly to get to the stars, but he lost his ability to.”

“Dad can fly?”

“Not anymore,” her mother repeats.

“Could I fly, then?” Wisteria asks. It occurs to her suddenly, and the possibility makes her breathless.

“You’d have better luck than him,” her mother mutters.

The very next day, Wisteria tells all her classmates that her father can fly and that she can fly too. It leads to Mary covertly distracting the teacher while a handful of them sneak out of the classroom, climbing the stairs that get to the roof.

Wisteria jumps off the building and hits concrete.

Wisteria survives, and the adults deem it nothing short of a miracle. But Wisteria knows better. She felt it, that moment of weightlessness, right after she left the roof. For a second, she hung suspended in midair, higher than the buildings spread out before her. Wind whipped through her hair and the sun shone like a spotlight on her face. Then someone behind her had screamed, the sound so full of fear that Wisteria had felt the emotion reverberate in her chest. She had faltered, like a trapeze artist windmilling on a wire, and finally had fallen. Her flight had come back to her a split second before she hit the ground and she’d managed to pull up, somewhat breaking her fall. She walked away from the incident with only a broken arm.

She tells her parents about what happened when they come to the hospital. It leads to them being led away by concerned nurses who scold them for telling stories like that to impressionable children.

Wisteria’s parents are not happy after that. Papa especially – the day she’s let out of the hospital, she’s led home in stony silence, and that night, he yells at her for the first time. Wisteria flinches every time spit flies onto her face but manages to keep quiet until he tires himself out. He stomps to the room he shares with Wisteria’s mother and then he yells a bit at her for telling Wisteria about Neverland and nearly getting Wisteria killed.

“Why was Papa so mad?” Wisteria asks her mother while she’s being dropped off to school the next day. “I thought he’d be happy that I can fly. When I’m old enough-”

“You can’t fly,” Wisteria’s mother snaps at her. “Are you trying to kill us?” Then she clamps her mouth shut, like she’s said too much.

“Fine,” Wisteria says, not because she doesn’t believe she can fly but because she promised her parents she wouldn’t try again. “But why’s he so mad about it? When I’m old enough, I can take us both to Neverland.”

“He doesn’t want to be old,” Wisteria’s mother says angrily. “You don’t understand anything! Just get out of the car!”

Her mother’s words prick at her all day. Wisteria doesn’t want to admit how much they hurt her. It’s made worse by the fact that as soon as she shuffles into the classroom, all her friends avoid her eyes. She tries to talk to them all day, tapping them on the shoulders and sitting with them at lunch, but they don’t talk back.

“It’s our parents,” Mary tells her. Wisteria manages to coax it out of Mary by giving her some of her lunch “They don’t want us playing with you. They’re saying you’re a witch or depressed or something, and that it’s better to just not talk with you.”

Maybe her Papa had the right idea with the whole not getting old thing, Wisteria thinks crossly as she sits by herself at recess. Adults ruin everything.

Wisteria gets the true story of why her father doesn’t like her being able to fly over the course of the next six years. It’s because the yelling increases and, in fits of rage, Wisteria’s parents shove pieces of their story in her face. It goes like this:

Wendy Darling met Peter Pan one fateful night when he’d lost his shadow and, while Peter had been in hysterics, Wendy had deftly caught the escaping shade and had sewn it back onto his body. They had been young and entirely enamored with one another. Enough that when Peter suggested Wendy and her brothers come to his home Neverland with him, Wendy had thrown caution to the wind and jumped out the window with him.

Neverland, her mother would one day tell Wisteria, was a world filled with magic, one where children couldn’t grow up. Wendy and her brothers spent years with Peter on one of Neverland’s islands, battling pirates and tricking mermaids and making playmates of fairies. But Wendy and her brothers eventually grew to miss their parents so they’d decided to leave, much to Peter’s dismay.

The heartbreak he’d experienced was so powerful that it had broken Neverland’s hold on him and caused him to age for the first time in centuries, devastating Peter even more. It had always been his dream to stay a child and watching his youth slip further and further away with each passing day kept his grief fresh and his wounds raw. He’d been unable to heal and so time ensnared him.

But when they were both sixteen, Wendy had called for him again. She had tried to forget Peter to no avail and so she once again ran away to Neverland to be with him. Her dream had been to stay with him forever, and for a while, it had seemed possible. Reuniting had frozen them both in time, leaving them both happy – Peter had his childhood and Wendy had Peter and with Neverland’s magic, they would’ve stayed young and happy together forever.

But then they had Wisteria. And nothing makes a person grow up faster than having a child.

Her father, Wisteria realizes, resents her. And her mother had started to as well. She thinks her father might even resent her mother, for bringing him to this world. He’d started sleeping on the couch instead of their bed. Wisteria’s room is right across from theirs; she often hears her mother crying well into the night.

School doesn’t get better either. The other kids still avoid her, all the way through elementary school. The girl who jumped, they call her. Wendy wants to scream, to tell them she’s not suicidal, but knows better than to do that – it’ll just be used as further evidence that she’s cracked. She learns to live with the loneliness and even though it doesn’t help her case, she begins eating lunch on the school roof. She sticks her feet over the edge, like she’s dipping her toes into water, but every time she does it, she knows that if she were to jump, she would not float. She’s never able to conjure the same feeling as before, the one she felt when she first flew, and without it, she knows she can’t fly.

But she still longs for it. That feeling of weightlessness, the idea that nothing could touch her.

“I don’t understand why you want to be a child,” Wisteria says one day after her father gets home from a late shift, in a burst of anger. “Being a child isn’t fun at all.”

Her father shoots her a startled look. For a moment, he stares at her and something like sadness enters his eyes. “I’m sorry,” he says. “You shouldn’t feel that way.”

Wisteria’s too shocked to reply and it seems to sadden him even further. He drags a hand over his face and looks away.

Things get worse when she hits high school. She foolishly thought that a new school would mean new chances, but in her classes are the same kids from kindergarten and in the hallways are the same whispers that follow her. Wisteria begins to wish she were somewhere else and with a jolt, she thinks of Neverland.

When it comes to her parents, Wisteria’s heart overflows with bitterness. She’d long given up trying to earn their affection; and now, she knows she shouldn’t have to. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t care about them, even if she hates herself for it. So when her father forgets his lunch one day – brown-bagged leftovers, sitting forlorn on their dinner table – she grits her teeth before she grabs it. His newest job is only a five-minute walk from her school. It’d be cruel not to take it to him.

Her father has worked a host of jobs over the years and his most recent gig is at a local gas station. Wisteria had never actually visited him at work before so it’s a shock to both of them when she steps through the doors. Her father looks up from his place at the cashier’s station, already speaking. “Joe’s Gas and Snacks, how may I help-” He cuts off, finally registering his daughter. “Wisteria?”

Wisteria takes him in.

He looks…washed out. His red hair glows dully under the store’s crappy lights and dark bags pull at his eyes like hooks. Wisteria realizes she’s staring when his eyes narrow at her and she quickly puts the bag with his sandwich on the counter. “Brought you lunch,” she says. “You forgot it.”

Her father eyes the bag and looks at her. “Thanks,” he says. His voice is harsh but quiet, and it unsettles her. She leaves on fast feet, periodically glancing behind her until she’s back at her high school.

She notices more things after that. How her mother has worked the same job for fourteen years and never gotten a raise, even though she brings work home every day and the dim lighting of their apartment causes her needlework to frequently falter to the point where she stabs her own fingers, leaving her hands a map of scars. How her father looks with exhaustion at the bills that form a pile on the corner of their kitchen counter and how every time their landlady visits, his shoulders tighten in a well-worn manner as if facing a familiar fear. She even looks at their apartment with new eyes, noting the leak that hasn’t been fixed for two years and the peeled paint that reveals crumbling walls.

She had known that money had been an issue for their family – she had been on reduced lunch programs for as long as she could remember and she overheard her parents’ heated arguments about food and rent almost every month. But the extent of their problems hits her like a slap to the face. She feels stupid that she hadn’t realized how poor they were.

And then she looks at her school, at how her classes are filled with the same kids from kindergarten, and she realizes she hadn’t known because in her neighborhood, there wasn’t any other way of life. In the fourteen years she’d lived here, she heard of very few people leaving. No one had the money to, so they stayed. She thinks of her parents, of the stories of Neverland that they would tell her when they got drunk and felt like reminiscing, and her heart aches for them. They went from living an adventure to working thankless jobs that sapped the life from them, in a place they could never escape, and they did it not for anything grand like happiness or health or love but to keep themselves afloat, because staying alive – such a basic thing – had become a struggle for them overnight.

Wisteria still dislikes her parents, but she thinks she understands them now. She now knows that they must love her, at least a little bit, or that they had at one point. You don’t give up what they did for her unless you love that person. But you also can’t love a chain without resenting the shackle, because that’s what Wisteria was to them: something that kept them tethered to a life they didn’t want, a life that made them so deeply unhappy that they couldn’t find any reason for joy in it at all.

Being her parents’ daughter had literally killed them. Wisteria’s heart cracks with guilt and for the first time – but not the last – she thinks about her school’s roof. Only this time she doesn’t wonder if she’ll fly if she jumps off of it.

“Why can’t you go to Neverland?” Wisteria gets the courage to ask her father one day when he returns home from work. She managed to catch him in one of his quiet, reflective moods, but the question still feels like putting a match in the vicinity of the fuse of a loaded cannon.

Fortunately for her, he’s well on his way to drunk. He has a beer bottle in his hands and two more lined on the counter, still cool to the touch because he’s just taken them out of the fridge. All he does is blink at her, slow and contemplative, and mumble, “I can’t fly there anymore.”

“Why not?” Wisteria dares to ask, because that was what she really wanted to know. The Neverland question had eased them into the conversation but Wisteria wanted answers. She wanted nothing more than the feeling of freedom that would come from flight. She wanted to know what would make that possible.

“Belief,” he says. “People have to believe in you for you to fly.” He pauses. Presses the cold beer to his head and closes his eyes. “And your mother…she doesn’t believe in me anymore.”

Oh. Wisteria looks down at her hands. She feels her fingers tremble at the information. That explained a lot, she thinks, remembering a group of eager kids and the scream that broke her flight. It explained so much, actually, and it also meant Wisteria likely wouldn’t fly again.

Because Wisteria, for all her attempts to net affection, had never succeeded in getting anyone to believe in her.

She resigns herself to a flightless existence after that. It’s less painful to dismiss an impossibility than it is to kill a dream, so Wisteria crushes all the buts and what ifs and tells herself to focus on other things. But schoolwork is a struggle and though she thinks about maybe joining a club, Wisteria feels her stomach plummet at the idea of trying to talk to other people. She hasn’t really talked to anyone else besides her parents in too long; she wouldn’t fare well in conversation.

She still eats lunch on the school roof. There’s nowhere else for her to go and even with all that open sky above her, she feels trapped.

She wonders if this is what her parents felt when they found out they were having her.

She can already see how her life will play out. She’s seen it happen to other kids around the neighborhood. If by some miracle they get into college or a vocational school and they have the money to attend, then they get to leave. But Wisteria will be in the second group, the people who stay behind. These kids work the same dead-end jobs as their parents, stay in the same neighborhood as their parents, never have enough money to be comfortable or rest easy. She sees her future in her parents’ eyes and she knows that’s how it’ll play out even if she doesn’t want it. She’ll turn into them, people that are too sad and tired and angry to love their daughter, and she won’t be able to stop it.

The roof is starting to feel unsafe for her. She doesn’t trust herself on it with only her thoughts for company. She wraps her arms around herself and shivers in the wind. She tries not to imagine herself falling.

She’s sitting in her math class, half-heartedly working through a set of quadratic equations, when the girl behind her accidentally knocks her iced coffee forward. The cold liquid seeps through Wisteria’s shirt, startling her so badly that she jumps.

“Oh my gosh,” the girl behind her says in a rush. “I’m so sorry! Oh my – does anyone have some napkins?”

“It’s fine,” Wisteria says, carefully peeling her shirt from her skin. It was her favorite shirt, a distant part of her mind notes.

She goes to the nurse’s office for a change of clothes. To stop her from dripping all over the floor, the nurse has Wisteria sit on the bed reserved for sick kids, which is covered in that disposable white paper sheet you find in doctors’ offices. Wisteria stares down at it and suddenly, she’s six years old again and back at the hospital, heart soaring despite her broken arm because she’d known what it was like to fly. She’d felt the wind in her hair, the sunlight on her skin, had been brave enough to throw down a gauntlet to answer a challenge. She’d jumped off that roof knowing she could fly and that had been enough.

Wisteria bursts into tears. Above her, the nurse tries to soothe her in a worried voice, but Wisteria can barely hear him through the sobs that threaten to break her.

She doesn’t want this life for herself. She had fooled herself into thinking she could be okay with it, but she knew she wouldn’t be. She wanted more for herself than what she had, she wanted more for herself than what her parents ended up with, and if she resigned herself to this life without even trying to be happy, she knew in her heart that her dreams would become her Neverland and she’d let the fact that she’d never be able to reach them embitter her, just like they had her mother and father.

“I’m fine,” she tells the nurse. “I’m fine, I promise. No, you don’t have to call my parents. I promise, I’ll be okay.”

She stumbles out of the nurse’s office in a haze. A few kids give her strange looks but Wisteria doesn’t care. She knows what she needs to do.

She climbs to the roof of her apartment building a few days later. Her parents haven’t come home yet; her father won't arrive for a couple more hours and her mother will come soon after. But Wisteria doesn’t need a couple hours, only a couple minutes. And she doesn’t need anyone for this next part either. She takes a deep breath and approaches the roof’s edge. Her belief in herself will have to be enough.

She steps off the roof and floats.

Wisteria knew that she would even before she walked to the edge, even before she took that fateful step. That same feeling she’d felt as a child had flowed through her, as powerful as a torrent, and her confidence had been unwavering. She stands on air and breathes, feeling the wind caress her. The sun’s muted rays wrap her in a blanket of warmth. She closes her eyes and lets the moment drag on, quiet and peaceful and bursting with possibility.

Her problems are not over. Not by a long shot. Even if she leaves right now, she is a child and has no money – the world will not be kind to her.

But there is one place she can go. A place where none of that will matter.

Wisteria’s face tilts upwards. The sky washes pale as the sun dips lower and lower and in it, she can make out the faint outline of the north star. Her eyes turn to the star second to the right of it and wind whirls at her feet, as if getting ready to push her up, up and away.

Her heart beats steady as a drum as she flies.

Surina Venkat is a writer from West Melbourne, Florida who has short stories and essays published in Wretched Creations Magazine, Flash Frontier, and more. When she isn't reading or writing, she can be found on a run with her dog or listening to a podcast.