I turned my attention away from the subtitles of the news station to see if Clarkson was paying attention. We sat in a local diner, one that had television sets interspersed around the restaurant so customers could pay attention to the news instead of the people they were spending time with. The TVs were muted, though, and you had to read the subtitles to get more context than the big headline at the bottom of the screen. Right now, that headline read ‘Dream Flu Spreading’.
Clarkson sighed as he looked down at his food, a plate of no longer hot omelet and toast. The only thing he had touched since the day before was his cup of coffee, with the rest of the steamy goodness sitting in front of him, though he gave it no notice now. Clearly, he had been watching the TV, too.
“What do we do?” I asked.
“We move forward,” he said simply.
“But what about all of those kids? Taking them two at a time isn’t working anymore, Clarkson. We have to do something better.”
“I know.” His voice came out a bit harsher than I was used to, as if he was getting impatient with me being around all the time.
“Then what’s the plan?” I asked again.
“We move forward,” he repeated, more slowly this time.
“But if we keep doing what isn’t working this problem is only going to get worse!”
“I realize that, Ben. I’m working on the solution,” he said.
“You have more secrets, you mean.”
“Two heads working on the same issue solves it faster,” I rebuttled.
“Look. I appreciate your willingness to help, but this is my issue and I have to solve it myself.”
“Isn’t that what you said about the dreams? When my help turned out to be invaluable? We’re helping twice as many kids as before now.”
“This is different,” he said. “And this isn’t going to be an argument. I will handle it myself, and if I need your help I will ask for it. That is that.”
“What is the Neverland Man?” I asked.
He froze at the question, stunned.
“You know what it is, don’t you? It’s in every Peril I’ve seen. It must be related to them.”
“It is,” Clarkson replied, taking a sip of his coffee.
I was about to ask him again, to press him further, but in that moment, I noticed the dark circles under his eyes. I didn’t see the energetic teacher happy to see his students. I saw a tired man realizing he’s losing a war.
At least I knew I wasn’t going crazy, though. As far as I knew, I was the only one who had seen the figure, so hearing that it wasn’t just in my head was relieving. The way Clarkson didn’t really offer any information pointed to the fact that it was related to the heart of the issue, though.
For all the time I had spent with him this past week, and for all I had learned about how to use the Dreamscape, he had never offered any information regarding its origin or anything along those lines. Why did it even exist? It seemed too convenient to have magically come into existence at the same time these Perils started happening. You wouldn’t invent something perfect for combating this new problem if that problem didn’t already exist, so the two were definitely related somehow. On another hand, the Neverland Man was involved in every Peril to some extent, at least as far as I knew.
Maybe the Neverland Man was some sort of virus that the computer had developed.
I turned my attention back to the television.
...fifteen children have already been admitted as of this morning, and while their conditions are stable, there is no news yet as to how…
“All we have to do is relieve Perils more often than they occur,” I said.
“Lately four or five Perils have been happening every night.”
“So we help the kids that are less likely to get admitted to the hospital when they don’t wake up right away,” I reasoned.
“Yeah. We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing.”
“What if we told the hospital what was really going on? Why those kids aren’t waking up from their dreams?”
“Not an option,” he stated.
“But maybe they could help us! They’d have to believe us now. We have fifteen pieces of evidence that what we’d be saying is true!” I pointed towards the television, though of course the subtitles were different now.
“Ben, right now, with what is happening, people aren’t dying. That’s the important part. Perils don’t kill the dreamers, but they can kill the people that are intervening. People like us. If we get more people to do this, inexperienced people, they may die. Which is an issue that we don’t have to worry about if they don’t know how to help.”
“I guess I can’t argue with that,” I said, deflating.
“We can go save those kids once we handle the issue.”