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Linking to us
by Geraldine McCaughrean
McElderry/Simon & Schuster, 2006
Click here for ordering information.
" I'm not going to bed," said John -- which startled his wife. Children are never ready for bed, but grown-ups like John are usually hankering for their pillows and eiderdowns from the moment they finish dinner. "I'm not going to bed!" said John again, and so ferociously that his wife knew he was very frightened indeed.
"You have been dreaming again, haven't you?" she said tenderly. "Such a trial."
John scrubbed at his eyes with his knuckles. "I told you. I never dream! What does a man have to do to be believed in his own house?"
His wife stroked his shiny head and went to turn down the bedclothes. And there on John's side of the bed, something bulged up through the coverlet. It wasn't a hot-water bottle or a teddy bear or a library book. Mrs. John folded down the sheets. It was a cutlass.
With a sigh, she hung it on the hook behind the bedroom door, alongside the quiver of arrows and John's dressing gown. Both she and her husband liked to pretend it was not happening (because that's what grown-ups do when they are in trouble), but secretly they both knew: John was dreaming of Neverland again. After every dream, something was left behind in his bed next morning, like the stones around a dish after a serving of prunes. A sword here, a candle there, a bow, a medicine bottle, a top hat...The night after he dreamed of mermaids, a fishy smell hung about the stairs all day. The wardrobe was piled high with the dregs of dreams -- an alarm clock, an Indian head-dress, an eye-patch, a pirate's tricorn hat. (The worst nights were when John dreamed of Captain Hook.)
Mrs. John plumped up the pillows with a brisk blow of her hand -- and a gunshot rang out through the whole house, waking the neighbours and terrifying the dog. The bullet shied about the room, bouncing off the lamp-stand and smashing a vase. Cautiously, with two fingers, Mrs. John drew the pistol from under the pillow and dropped it into the bin, like a kipper found to be not quite fresh.
"They are so real!" whimpered her husband from the doorway. "These wretched dreams are just so real!"
All over London and even as far afield as Fotheringdene and Grimswater, old boys were dreaming the same kind of dreams. Not young, silly boys but boys grown-up: cheerful, stolid boys who worked in banks or drove trains or grew strawberries or wrote plays or stood for Parliament. Cozy at home, surrounded by family and friends, they thought themselves comfortable and safe...until the dreams began. Now each night they dreamed of Neverland and woke to find leftovers in their beds -- daggers or coils of rope, a pile of leaves or a hook.
And what did they have in common, these dreamers? Just one thing. They had all once been Boys in Neverland.
"I have called you all together, because something must be done!" said Judge Tootles, twirling his big moustache. "It is not good enough! Gone on far too long! Won't do! Enough is enough! We must act!"
They were eating brown soup in the library of the Gentlemen's Club off Piccadilly -- a brown room with brown portraits of gentlemen wearing brown suits. Smoke from the fireplace hung in the air like a brown fog. On the dining table lay an assortment of weapons, the sole of a shoe, a cap, a pair of giant bird's eggs.
The Honourable Slightly fingered them thoughtfully: "The flotsam of Night washed up on the shores of Morning!" he said (but then the Honourable Slightly played the clarinet in a nightclub and was inclined to write poetry).
"Call Mrs. Wendy! Mrs. Wendy would know what to do!" said Judge Tootles. But of course Wendy had not been invited, because ladies are not allowed in the Gentlemen's Club.
"I say we should let sleeping dogs lie," said Mr. Nibs, but nobody thanked him, because dogs are not allowed in the Gentlemen's Club either.
"Mind over matter!" exclaimed Mr. John. "We must just try harder not to dream!"
"We tried that," said the Twins mournfully. "Stayed awake all night for a week."
"And what happened?" asked Mr. John, intrigued.
"We fell asleep on the London omnibus on the way to work, and dreamed all the way to Putney. When we got off, we were both wearing warpaint."
"How perfectly charming," said the Honourable Slightly.
"Last night we dreamed of the Lagoon," added Second Twin.
There was a murmur of heartfelt sighs. Each of the Old Boys had dreamed lately of the Lagoon and woken with wet hair, and dazzle in his eyes.
"Is there a cure, Curly?" enquired Mr. Nibs, but Dr. Curly knew of no cure for an outbreak of unwanted dreams.
"We should write a letter of complaint!" boomed Judge Tootles. But nobody knew of a Ministry for Dreams or whether there was a Minister of State for Nightmares.
In the end, with nothing solved and no plan of campaign, the Old Boys sank into silence and fell asleep in their armchairs, their brown coffee cups dropping brown drips onto the brown carpet. And they all dreamed the same dream.
They dreamed they were playing tag with the mermaids, while the reflections of rainbows twisted around and between them like water snakes. Then, from somewhere deeper down and darker, came a hugely slithering shape that brushed the soles of their feet with its knobbly, scaly hide....
When they woke, the Old Boys' clothes were sopping wet, and there on its back, in the middle of the Gentlemen's Library, was a prodigious crocodile, lashing its tail and snapping its jaws in an effort to turn over and make supper of them.
The Gentlemen's Club emptied in the record time of forty-three seconds, and next day Members everywhere received a letter from the management.
The Gentlemen's Club Brown Street, off Piccadilly, London W1
23rd April 1926
We regret to inform you that the Club will be closed for redecoration from 23rd April until approximately 1999.
Your obedient servants,
In the end, of course, it was Mrs. Wendy who explained it. "Dreams are leaking out of Neverland," she said. "Something must be wrong. If we want the dreams to stop, we must find out what."
Mrs. Wendy was a grown woman, and as sensible as can be. She had a tidy mind. For six days in any week she strongly disapproved of dreams littering up the house. But on the seventh, she was not quite so sure. Recently she had begun hurrying to bed, eager for that twilight flicker that comes between waking and sleep. From behind closed eyelids she would watch for a dream to come floating towards her -- just as once she had watched at her bedroom window, hoping against hope for a small figure to come swooping through the local stars. Each bedtime her heart beat faster at the thought of glimpsing the Lagoon again, or hearing the cry of the Neverbird. Above all, she longed to see Peter again: the friend she had left behind in Neverland all those years before.
Now Neverland was rubbing against the Here and Now, wearing holes in the fabric in between. Tendrils of dream were starting to poke through. All was not well. Somehow Mrs. Wendy knew it.
"Perhaps the dreams are messages," said one Twin.
"Perhaps they are warnings," said the other.
"Perhaps they are symptoms," said Dr. Curly, putting his stethoscope to his own forehead and listening for the dreams inside.
"I'm awfully afraid they may be," said Wendy. "Something is wrong in Neverland, gentlemen...and that is why we must go back."