She had gone through every relevant chapter that would be on the test, and written a summary of everything important on a colored flashcard tucked into nearly every page. The note cards listed important dates or descriptions of important people, but it also sometimes said things like “Read more about ‘Treaty of Versailles’: Pages 237-238”, with the card neatly placed in between those pages.
At first, I wasn’t impressed. She had obviously written these cards out for herself to study on first, and given them to me so it was convenient. But I started to realize just how much effort she had put into helping me study. While reading, a white flash card slid out of the front cover of the book. The card said “KEY” in capital letters at the top, and it listed the importance of the colors of every flash card. Green was stuff I simply had to memorize, like dates. Red was general knowledge stuff I would need to know, like all of the primary reasons for the first and second world wars, but the light blue flashcards were exclusively for me. The key said, specifically “This is important stuff people will laugh at you for not knowing, Hardhat.”
It dawned on me that she couldn’t have used these cards for herself. Blue cards aside, the contents of the other colors were written in such a way as to suggest that the information I would need to know was written by somebody already equipped with that knowledge. I wasn’t sure how many flashcards there were, but it was well over three dozen. The cards weren’t full of information, but the text wasn’t sparse, either. Having hand written so many cards must have taken her hours. And it was all for my benefit.
In any case, maybe I really did have a chance at passing this test. I felt bad for leaving Clarkson to fend off Perils on his own, but he had seemed understanding when I told him I couldn’t help him anymore. I guess a teacher can’t fault you for prioritizing school, whatever the case may be. Besides, my help didn’t actually improve anything. We couldn’t get to all of the Perils on a nightly basis anyway, so all my help really did was decrease the effectiveness of the Dream Flu by one per night. Whatever Clarkson had been working on didn’t require my help, so I was pretty much useless.
So at this point I would be letting Amy down if I didn’t pass. I had to repay her kindness some way, and what better way than to simply do as she asked?
As I was reading the note cards, my phone started to ring. Glancing at my screen, a wave of concern coursed through me when I saw it was Clarkson calling. It could only be amazing or terrible news. I don’t think Clarkson would call me if it was good news unless it was to say “Everything has been solved, I have cured Dream Flu, good luck on your test!”
I doubted that would be the case.
Leaning over, I accepted the call, putting the phone up to my ear. “What’s up?”
“Hey, Ben.” His voice came out strained. It was as though he was talking through clenched teeth.
I bolted up, alarmed. “What’s wrong? Is everything okay? Are you hurt?” I held my breath, refraining from asking any more questions. It wouldn’t do either of us any good for me to do anything but listen.
“It was a Peril... I was hurt…” His voice was coming slowly. He needed to take a breath in between sentences. “I’ll be okay… But I need your help…”
Suddenly studying seemed like the least important thing in the world.
“What do you need me to do?” I asked.
“I need medical attention… I need you to come over to my house…”
“What?! Why don’t you call an ambulance?!” I shouted. Then, realizing that I wasn’t the only one in this house, quieted down. “I’m pretty sure they can help you better than I can.”
“My wounds aren’t life threatening… I’ll explain later.”
Sighing nervously, I nodded. It took me a second to realize he wouldn’t be able to see me, so I said “On my way.”
Part of me felt like I was failing Amy for breaking my promise to study. But this was obviously more important. Clarkson was in danger. He needed my help.
Grabbing my house key and wallet, I ran out the door. It was really fortunate Clarkson and I lived relatively close together, barely a mile apart. It took me about ten minutes to run to his house, since I’m not in the best shape in the world.
Luckily, the front door wasn’t locked. I opened it and walked in. I didn’t have to look hard. The Dreamscape was on the coffee table in the living room, cords trailing towards an outlet in one direction and the couch in the other, which Clarkson was laying on. He held a blanket to his stomach as he lay with his eyes closed, trying to relax.
The blanket was covered in blood.
“Hey, Ben,” he greeted me. He said it in the exact same way he had over the phone. I ran over to him, eyes wide with horror, but he held his hand up. “I’m fine. Please just go into my bathroom and grab the medical kit.” He pointed in the direction of his bathroom as he spoke. His speech sounded far less strained, but I got the impression it was because he had been physically preparing to say that sentence for when I walked in.
Regardless, I did as I was told. I ran into the bathroom, threw open the cupboard under the sink and grabbed a huge box with a giant red plus sign on it. Under that it said in large red letters ‘First Aid’. I snatched it and went back into the living room.
Clarkson nodded his thanks when I handed it to him, taking it with his free hand. “What happened?”
“Crocodile bite,” he replied, his face grim. “You won’t want to see it, it’s not pretty.”
At first, I thought he was joking. Then I recalled that he had been inside a Peril. Virtually anything could have happened there. He did a circling motion with his finger, indicating that I should look away. I turned one of the recliners around so that its back was facing him and sat down.
“Will you be okay?” I asked. I heard him open the box and start taking things out, but didn’t turn to check.
“I’ll be fine… Just need to take it easy a few days.”
“So why not call an ambulance?”
“I don’t want anybody to know about the Dreamscape. It’ll make this issue take a whole lot longer if they take it away from me to try to fix everything themselves.”
I found myself nodding. “And a crocodile bite wound--”
“Looks pretty suspicious when you live in an area where there are, in fact, no indigenous crocodiles. They’d search the whole area looking for it. Which would lead to them taking the Dreamscape.”
“I thought you had to drive up to people’s houses to get close enough for the Dreamscape to detect a Peril.”
He was obviously doing something, and didn’t reply right away. After a gasp, he said “I’ve made some adjustments. Its detection radius is over a mile now.”
“Is that what you’ve been so secretive about lately?”
Again, he was quiet at first. “In part,” he said after a moment.
I glanced over my shoulder to look at the Dreamscape. Some of the buttons and screens were flashing, but it wasn’t facing me so I couldn’t make out what they said. “What’s on the other side of that thing?” I heard myself say, almost to myself.
Clarkson sighed. “You’re not going to like this.”
“Tell me anyway.”
“It’s Amy’s Peril.”