Configuring the Dreamscape on the table, I sat down in one of the armchairs and pulled the blindfold over my eyes.
Clarkson’s dream was unlike anything I had ever seen. Instantly I had the sensation of falling, and I came to realize that I had been placed near him as we both plummeted to the Earth.
All around me I could see asteroids and even some distant planets, but all the while the huge blue disc grew larger and larger. There were no handhelds. Clarkson fell ahead of me, still unaware of my presence.
“Clarkson!” I shouted, or at least tried to. No sound came out. Right. Space.
I flailed my arms around, trying to ‘swim’ my way over to him. It didn’t help. I never got any closer. There was nothing I could do to help him out of this Peril.
The horizon broke the halfway point, and we entered the atmosphere. The ground slowly started changing colors to a dull green as we got closer and closer. We passed through clouds, and I tried to grab something. Anything, but nothing worked.
Suddenly, Clarkson turned his body around during his freefall, and noticed me. His face of resignation turned to both hope and terror.
“So are you,” I replied. “The world needs you! I can’t stop the Dream Flu on my own!”
He shook his head. “It’s too late,” he said, solemn. “I’ve lost control. That’s what falling often signifies in a dream. A lack of control.”
He turned back towards the ground. “I’m sorry. Ben. You’re on your own. You should leave before we hit the ground.”
“I’m not leaving without you. Please. I don’t know nearly enough to be able to do this alone.”
The ground seemed to be speeding up as we descended towards us. Rather, it seemed we were accelerating. It was close now. In only a few seconds…
“Ben. You have to go.”
“Ben! We don’t have time to argue!”
Just moments before we landed, he widened himself and slowed his fall, catching me and holding me tight as the impact came.
We didn’t stop. We didn’t even slow down. The two of us continued to fall as we dropped through the Earth now, as if we zooming through some enormous and unending cavern.
“The Peril can’t hurt you,” I reasoned. “This dream is going to continue until we get you out.”
“That was quite rash of you. For all we knew I would have fallen through and left you on the ground anyway.”
I hadn’t thought of that. “Then it’s lucky I’m here.”
“It’s too bad, then,” another voice chimed in. “That our dear friend here is not going to leave.” It was deep, and gruff. It was like somebody that didn’t want to waste his breath on people under him.
A figure appeared before us, towards where we were falling. This thing didn’t seem to be falling, though. It was just… there. He wore the suit he always did. Watching and waiting.
The Neverland Man. Only this time it was different.
He had a face. He had greying hair and sharp eyes, and the smirk of a villain that knew he had won. He stared at Clarkson with a severity I had never seen on anyone before.
“Ben,” Clarkson said so both of them could hear. “Allow me to introduce you. This is a colleague of mine. His name is Douglas Stone. We invented the Dreamscape.”
My jaw hung open as I tried to find the words to express my shock. They didn’t come.
“I invented the Dreamscape,” Douglas retorted. “All you did was ruin my work, Andrew. And now I’ve finally caught you.”
“It doesn’t have to be this way.”
“You’re right, Andrew. A lot of things could have been different. But you made your choice. Now I’m making mine. Now you’ll stay here with the rest of us.”
And with that, he was gone, leaving me and Clarkson to continue falling through the underground cavern endlessly.
“What did he mean ‘the rest of us’?” I asked.
“I made a mistake, Ben,” he replied quietly. “Douglas is punishing me for it. He has control over the Dreamscape and I’m not going to be able to leave.”
“He caused the Dream Flu just to get to you?”
“That’s part of it, yeah,” he nodded. I’ve spent years warring with him, reversing the Perils that he’s been causing. But he’s done something. He’s grown too strong. Now he’s beaten me.”
“We can still find away.”
“There is no way, Ben. I’ve been his main goal this entire time.”
“So he’ll stop, then? Now that he has you he has no reason to spread the Dream Flu.”
Clarkson shook his head, which looked odd given the fact that we were still falling. “I don’t think so. I think he wants everyone to suffer the same fate as he and…” he trailed off.
“What happened?” I asked. “What did you do?”
“It’s not important.”
“Well that’s a lie if ever I’ve heard one.”
“I’m not going to tell you.”
“That’s more like it!”
We were both silent as a moment, staring off as we fell infinitely downwards.
“So what do we do?” I asked.
“You’ll have to stop him,” he said.
“Alone? How am I supposed to do that?”
“You need to go to the source. I know where Douglas is.”
“You do? Where?” I felt like I was about to be told the details of a rumor that had been floating around.
“In a facility at the edge of town,” Clarkson explained. “Off the road that leads into the hills. He was always afraid somebody would steal his research so when we tried out new things we would go there.”
“But that doesn’t answer my first question. How do I stop him?”
“I honestly don’t know,” he said, resolved. “He’s not the man I once knew. But he’s not a bad person. He just has his priorities a little mixed up.”
“You call plunging the world into some twisted ‘eternal nightmare’ a ‘mix up of priorities’?”
“Remember what I told you when this all started. Everyone is battling something. Douglas is no different. Now go,” he finished. “We don’t have much time left. Take the Dreamscape.”
I swallowed and let out a deep breath. “I’ll come back to make sure you’re okay once this is all over.”
He smiled, and with that, I dismissed myself from the Peril.
The rest of this journey I would have to take all on my own. In a way it was a vindication of my ability that Clarkson trusted me to finish what he had started, one way or another.
I looked to the white box that sat on the coffee table, green lights and screens flashing with data. “Alright you complicated science contraption,” I huffed. “We’re going to go save the world.”