Luckily, Clarkson and I lived relatively close to each other. I got home, opened the garage door, and pulled out the dolly. It would look a little silly pushing this down the street, but at least it would be possible.
What made it worse was that I never learned whether or not it was easier to push or pull a dolly. Pushing it helped with handling, but pulling it meant you wouldn’t worry about tripping over it. I switched back and forth a few times as I walked down the street, but eventually settled on pushing it.
After I had been walking for about twenty minutes, it became apparent that I definitely should have brought some water with me. It wasn’t exactly hot outside, but with the extra exertion of carrying and then pushing the Dreamscape around in the sun, the sweat started to make me uncomfortable. I debated whether or not I should turn around to grab some. Maybe I could run home, grab some water and be back within ten minutes, but the thought of leaving something so important lying on the sidewalk didn’t sit well with me, and it would waste far too much time to turn back around. I kept onwards.
Pushing the dolly through the dirt was considerably more difficult than the concrete of sidewalk. I suppose I should have expected as much, but it was still easier to transport it this way than carrying it. Besides, I wasn’t about to leave the dolly here.
I had never gone down this path before. I’m not one for walking in general, and getting here from my house in the first place was more exercise than I usually get in any given day. I had a friend in middle school that lived in this neighborhood, though, so the area wasn’t unfamiliar to me.
The transition from asphalt to dirt and street lights to trees helped a lot with the temperature, too. Today was the sort of heat that you don’t feel at first, but once you're outside it seems to get hotter and hotter. Now that I was in shade and I was walking on dirt that hasn’t been cooking the last few hours I immediately got a breath of rejuvenation. Now the breeze was uplifting rather than punishing.
With this new spring in my step, I actually managed to work up the hope that things would end up alright.
I was expecting a menacing building with broken windows and peeling paint. Something that looked like it could collapse at any moment. Instead, it looked like a normal building. It had two stories, and wasn’t definitely wasn’t built in the twenty first century, but from what Clarkson had said I got the word ‘abandoned’. There weren’t any cars to be seen, and it didn’t have any sliding doors or steel paneling, but from the outside it looked entirely ordinary.
For a minute I was actually unsure if this was place Clarkson was referring to. It wasn’t very far down the dirt road and it seemed to be too well kept, but the whole area had a foreboding atmosphere somehow. I decided that if The Neverland Man took residence anywhere, it would be here.
The off-white door creaked open as I nudged the dolly into it. There were no lights inside, and I couldn’t see very far inside. I took a deep breath and strode in.
As I walked down the hall of what I could only assume was some strange office building once, I came acutely aware of the stillness in the place. The rubber wheels on the dolly rolled smoothly across the tile, but with the heavy air of silence it sounded like a rolling wave of thunder. Most of the doors I passed were closed, but every time I passed one that was ajar I tensed up, waiting for something to jump out at me.
I picked directions arbitrarily, and once I turned the corner a second time I was met with an unnatural glow emanating from a slightly open door further down the hall. It was the bright, unyielding light that comes from electronic screens. Setting the dolly down as silently as I could, I crept up to the door, listening for any sort of sound.
As I approached, I could hear the soft hum of a computer, but there were no voices. I couldn’t hear any movement, either.
Just as I got to the door, I kicked something, making a metal impact ring down the hallway as whatever it was rolled away into the opposite wall. I winced, tuning my ears to listen for any reaction. I held my breath.
There was nothing.
After a minute I exhaled slowly and peeked in through the crack of the door. It was too thin an opening to make out any details of the room, unfortunately. So, I mustered as much as I could manage and edged the door open.
The room was a beacon of light in an otherwise darkened building, but it was still hard to see. The light source was a computer monitor sitting on one corner of the room, projecting its light laterally and casting shadows all around. The screen displayed a huge list of data entries, but I was too far to read anything and looking at the sudden brightness after my eyes had adjusted hurt. I turned my attention elsewhere.
There was a large table in the middle of the room, and there was clearly a woman lying on top. There was a cloth draped over her, obscuring everything except her head, which had wires connected to it, though for what purpose I couldn’t be sure. She had black, straight hair that was cut short, but she didn’t look elderly. I thought she was dead until I noticed that she was still breathing.
Behind the table, there was a dark shape that was directly shadowed from the monitor’s light. Stepping further into the room and closer to the table, I started to make out that it was another figure, sitting on a recliner. This one was obviously male, with grey hair. He didn’t seem to be conscious either.
The Neverland Man. Or Douglas, as Clarkson had called him.
I hadn’t known what to expect walking in here, but two unconscious people certainly wasn’t it. I half expected a mad scientist’s lab filled with potions of eyeballs and yak blood or something. At least I would get to make use of the Dreamscape.
I didn’t feel comfortable setting up in here, though. I noticed a few stray chairs after looking for them, but the idea of going to sleep in the same room as somebody trying to end the world made me uneasy. I wonder why.
Exiting the room again, fear of the unknown eliminated, I went back to the dolly. I tried the door nearest to the monitor room, but it was locked. I went a little bit further and opened up the next room. This one had no lights, of course, and it was near pitch dark. After feeling my way around for a bit, though, I did manage to find a chair to sit down on.
I pulled up the Dreamscape, inspecting the little screens on it. I tried scanning for the two nearby Perils (since both people seemed to be alive), but oddly enough I could only find one. It was nearby, which told me that it was one of their dreams, which wasn’t surprising. Then it occurred to me that obviously the Neverland Man wasn’t in a Peril. He would probably be using some technology to be entering other people’s Perils. Did he kidnap that woman for testing? Was he torturing her inside one of her nightmares?
Maybe I could stop it. I didn’t think I could beat the Neverland Man at his own game, but the real world was a different story. Perhaps I could destroy the technology he was using, forcing him to stop and calling the police. But no, I wasn’t sure how far that would get me. Even if I did manage to get him arrested there was no way to know how long he’d be in jail. It wouldn’t stop him, and it wouldn’t help the people that had already caught the Dream Flu. Whatever needed to be done would have to start with going into this Peril.
I slipped the blindfold on.
I opened my eyes to a small, empty room. It was clearly in a state of disrepair, with the drywall peeling and the floorboards rotting. A deep, reddish light shone out from the cracks of the only window, which was boarded up from inside. I heard a muffled scraping sound nearby, but I couldn’t tell where it was coming from. Remembering what was happening, I focused on my task. I had to find that woman.
Standing up, I went over to the window to get a better look of what was happening outside. I stepped on shattered glass I hadn’t noticed before and I was looking down when something tried to leap through the window, crashing against the wooden planks.
Jumping back, I realized what was happening, as I cautiously returned my gaze to outside. There were zombies.
I turned around to figure out where I really was, and saw an open door. I ran through and crashed straight into a figure that had crossed into my line of sight at the worst possible moment. We tumbled down onto the floor.
I scrambled to my feet, backing away, when I realized it wasn’t a zombie. It was a middle-aged man that stood before me, and he was also getting to his feet.
“I’m sorry, sir!” I said, helping him up. “Would you mind telling me where I am? I’m a little confused. I’m looking for somebody. Black, short haired woman.”
“I don’t think you understand,” the man replied, smiling at the ground. It was a smile mixed with grief and something else I couldn’t be sure of.
“I know who you are,” he continued.
“You do?” I asked.
“Yes. You’re Andrew’s boy. I’m Douglas. You’ve come to stop me.”
I took a step back in shock. This man didn’t look as old as the one in real life, or even the figure in Clarkson’s dream. In the very least his hair wasn’t gray enough.
“You’re looking for my wife, I suspect,” he said. “You won’t find her. This isn’t her Peril. It’s mine.”