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Nightmare Catcher

by Shelly Jasperson

Lightning filled the room with brilliant, ephemeral light and only seconds passed before thunder growled like a territorial Doberman.

Minnie tossed in her bed, sweating copiously and gripping the sheets as if they might fly out of her hands the moment she let go.

In her dreams she heard shouts of terror and angry arguing. She violently shook her head from side to side, trying to escape the sounds.

For the past two weeks, Minnie had woken up screaming. Her head would drip with sweat, her pupils would widen, and her hands would become clammy and shake.

Her mother used to rush to her side and cradle her, rocking her back and forth until Minnie stopped crying. But for the past three nights she had been left alone. Her mother hadn’t come and she had to sit in the dark and wonder what was going to jump out at her when she closed her eyes.

Every morning her pop tarts or pancakes would go uneaten and her bloodshot eyes dripped at the corners. All day she walked around like a zombie, only fulfilling the motions of everyday life to appease everyone else. Inside, she was constantly aware that she would have to go to bed that night. It was all she could do to stop screaming during class.

The worst part was she didn’t even know what she was afraid of. The moment she woke up, her memory would fade and the visions would go away, leaving her with the undiminished feeling of terror.

Her mother decided to take action.

She gracefully walked into Minnie’s bedroom, head held high as always, and attached a little circle to Minnie’s bedpost. She flung her long dark hair behind her shoulder and kissed Minnie on the forehead.

“What is that?” Minnie asked.

“A dream catcher,” her mother said before her cell phone started singing. She put up one finger and then turned to leave the room. It was business, as usual.

Minnie stared at the dream catcher, wondering why her mother had decided to start decorating her headboard. She hoped she would stop there, before her entire room looked like their stale, high-class living room.

But this “dream catcher” didn’t resemble her mother’s designing tastes. It looked more like something her grandfather might have made in the sixties to decorate his Volkswagen van.

It was composed of soft blue-stained leather that surrounded the circle and silver strings that made a pretty spider-web-like design in the middle. But her favorite part was the feathers that draped down off the strings.

Minnie touched them delicately with her soft white fingers.

She couldn’t enjoy it for long. The sunlight faded and her room darkened, allowing the pale moonlight to seep through the window and crawl across her floor like eerie fingers.

Minnie gasped as the fear sent cold tingles to her stomach and a ball in her throat. She jumped into bed and hid under the covers.

Why did she have to sleep at night, when the darkness and terror invaded her mind? She couldn’t help but wonder if she might see dead things the moment her eyes closed. She wouldn’t let herself fall asleep. Not tonight. Not ever again.

She got up slowly and turned on her night-light before rushing back under the bedclothes.

It was warm inside, but Minnie couldn’t help shivering.

To take her mind off sleep, she took out her favorite book and started it at the beginning.

I won’t fall asleep until I finish it, she thought.

It was a long book, more than three hundred pages. Minnie knew she could read it all night and never finish. She felt safe behind the story; her mind wouldn’t wander.

She leaned back against her yellow headboard and began.

She had barely started chapter two before her eyes closed and her head fell against the dream catcher.

For the first time in weeks, her mother didn’t hear screaming coming from Minnie’s room. Just as a precaution, she walked down the hall and knelt outside Minnie’s door, trying to listen for any struggling or whimpering. She didn’t hear anything but deep breaths and sighs of comfort.

Minnie had slept peacefully through the night.

Her light blue eyes weren’t surrounded by red lines and her whole body felt refreshed. She stretched, yawned, and never wanted to leave her bed.

Her mother, balancing on her highest stiletto heels, bustled into Minnie’s room, worried that she had missed something, but Minnie was still in bed, snuggling amid the lavender sheets.

For the first time in days, Minnie’s mother felt relieved. She kicked off her heels and crawled into Minnie’s twin bed.

“You made it,” she whispered.

Minnie practically danced down the stairs to breakfast after changing and ate more than she had in weeks. Her pancakes were doused in syrup and her glass of orange juice was emptied three times before she was satisfied. She felt alive; she had finally woken up.

“Are you wearing that today?” her mother asked anxiously from behind a plain bagel and the newspaper.

Minnie looked down at her apparel. She was wearing a blue shirt and a pink skirt her mother had bought for her.

“But you gave this to me,” she said.

“Can you change?”

Minnie shrugged and went back upstairs. Nothing could upset her today.

With a full stomach and a smile, Minnie hopped onto the school bus ready to learn.

That night she snuggled comfortably between the sheets without fear of what would happen when she closed her eyes. She couldn’t explain why, but she knew her nightmares were over. It was as if someone had come into her brain and taken them away.

The next day was just like the one before, exciting, vibrant, and fun. Minnie felt her nightmares were behind her forever. She performed better in school and repaired friendships she had lost when her body had closed down.

She skipped home from the bus stop and when her mother came through the door, Minnie had made dinner for her.“It’s wonderful, dear,” her mother said between bits of cereal. “I’m so proud of you.”

Minnie wondered why her mother was proud of her for making cereal. Any four-year old could have done the same. She didn’t even use the oven.

Still, Minnie sat down and poured herself some Frosted Stars. She drank her mother’s diet soda and smiled broadly, feeling grown up.

Her mother followed her into her bedroom, where Minnie got tucked in and was told a story. Her mother brushed the hair off her face and smiled sweetly.

Minnie smiled too. Her mother had red lipstick on her teeth.

She squirmed around when her mother kissed her good night and she wasn’t even afraid when her mother turned out the light and closed the door.

Minnie dipped beneath the covers and burrowed around her bed. She came out at the foot and peeked around, as if emerging from a cave.

It was then that she noticed the room wasn’t completely dark. The lavender curtains were closed and the door was shut, but Minnie could distinctly see flashes of light every now and again, like a television screen was flickering in her room.

She followed the light to its source and found it was her dream catcher.

A faint glow came from inside, where the silver strings connected in an intricate pattern. But just beyond the string, Minnie watched a strange vision through the dream catcher. She turned it around, but could still see something just beyond the strings.

Out of curiosity, she watched the images as they moved about inside the dream catcher.

A wide red mouth, feet moving quickly, red paint masking the floor... it somehow felt familiar to Minnie, though she couldn’t discern why.

A shiver started at her head and ventured through her entire body. That mouth in the dream catcher was screaming. The feet were running away. The red paint was blood. She was watching her nightmare of the past two weeks. She couldn’t bear to see it, though curiously, she couldn’t look away. Her mind was locked on the dangling dream catcher as she felt all the anxieties, stress, and terror come rampaging back.

She shook out of pain, she trembled out of fear, and she couldn’t stop her mouth from drooling a little. Her body simply shut down.

Then she remembered.

She gasped deeply. In her horror she had forgotten to breathe.

Three weeks ago she had been kidnapped. She had been stolen away as she walked home from the bus stop.

She had been thrown into the back of a van with six other children and been taken to a small gray house hours away. They had taken away her cell phone, her socks and shoes, and even her teddy bear hair clip from her last birthday. Minnie had anxiously looked from one child to the next for some kind of reassurance, but they were all as terrified as she was.

They had been dumped in a dark basement, where she could constantly hear feet above her head and droplets fall in the corner. A large man Minnie vaguely remembered had come from another room and had smiled at them viciously. Then he had begun the torture.

Minnie hadn’t known what was happening in the other room, but for days she could hear screaming and when the man came out, he was covered in blood every time. It made her shriek every time she saw his face and her whole body shuddered. She looked at the other children, who had similar expressions, but couldn’t talk to them because of the tape. They were dirty, hungry, and crying; Minnie knew she could never really forget what they looked like, sitting there waiting to die.

Then she had been dragged into the room. It was small and dank with concrete floors and only one chair in the center.

He had sat her down in the chair and grinned as he tore the tape off her mouth.

She had screamed until her throat was horse. The large man had just watched her, sweat staining the armpits of his stretched off-white shirt, a smile forming on his bulging face.

Minnie had remembered where she had seen him before. He was the man who helped her mother at a home fix-it shop. He had worn a large orange vest and had talked her through buying a new sink for the downstairs bathroom.

After Minnie had been done screaming, he had cut the rope off her wrists. She had struggled to reach his eyes, but he had always kept her hands back. When he had cut the rope off of her ankles, he missed and her ankle had begun bleeding.

Minnie tore herself away from her memory to look down at her right ankle. It had a scar as long as a pencil; she hadn’t noticed it for weeks, but she knew her mother had. Every time she had worn shorts or her pink skirt, her mother looked horrified and then asked her to change.

Minnie had sat in that small room only as long as her ankles were tied. Once the rope had been cut, she jumped up and headed for the door. The large man had been right behind her but she hadn’t cared. She would have rather died trying to get away than be caught in that basement any longer.

He had grabbed her once, but because he had been covered in blood, she had slipped out of his grasp and run upstairs and out the door.

She had screamed, cried, and run until someone had found her, bloody, emaciated, and injured.

And now she sat on her comfortable bed, watching it all happen again. Once it ended, it began again. It was a memory, not a dream, and memories don’t fade away after one or two reassuring nights. Memories stay with you forever; they pop into your head as you sit quietly on the school bus, they flash past your eyes as you buy your first car, they mock you mercilessly as you watch your pregnant belly get bigger and bigger.

Minnie watched the dream catcher again and again until the morning, when her mother walked in and found her frozen on her bed, staring at the nightmare that would never leave her.

Copyright © 2008 by Shelly Jasperson

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