Black talons, coated in thick, slimy gloss tap on the windowpane. Slowly, agonizingly slowly, the thin glass cracks. Uneven lines race each other across the glass. A young boy hears the soft cracking, jostling him from slumber. The creature taps again, and a small hole allows the moist breath of the animal to seep into the room.
The boy is paralyzed with fear. He lunges for the bedroom door, but pain jolts through his legs. He desperately attempts to lift his legs; the creature’s hand bursts through the window. Shards of glass skate across the slick hardwood and slice the boy’s sweaty ankles. His lip quivers, and a whimper tumbles out of his mouth. A tear rolls down the crease of his nose.
The creature, no longer separated by the glass, crawls towards the boy. Its claws create spidery patterns on the wooden floor. An ear-splitting screech echoes in the room. Quickly, the creature captures the boy in its talons, covering his Spider Man pajamas in bubbling goo. The boy releases a bloody scream, and he closes his eyes.
I arch my back and hurriedly rip the quilt off my body. I rub my blood-shot eyes with the back of my hand. My labored breathing stings my raw throat. I force my sweaty palm to drop the dream catcher clutched between my fingers. The clock on the nightstand vibrates; my shift is over. I stand, shove my feet into the leather shoes perched on the shelf, zip up my jacket, and throw the empty dream catcher into the shadows.
The door closes, and locks, behind me. The narrow hallway is flooded with people. All of the people look the same: exhausted and scarred. I suspect that I appear the same. A woman greets me, “Hey Bill, how was your shift?” My eyes linger on her shiny forehead, slick with sweat, and her blotchy cheeks. Similar to a robot, I utter the same word I have uttered for six years, “Fine.”
She shrugs her shoulders and falls into rhythm with my steps. Together, we snatch our files from the labeled cabinets. A paycheck peeks out of the corner of my folder. The more dream catchers I empty, the more pain I endure, the more money I make. “How many did you empty today?” The woman, Sheryl, asks me. My mind pauses, so I open the file. I respond numbly, “103.” Her eyes widen, and she enthusiastically throws her hands into the air. “How do you do it Bill? I mean, is there a secret?” I shake my head, open the door, and burst into the daylight. I jog, stretching my legs, and run towards my car. “No secrets,” I yell, “just dreams.”
My car bakes in the afternoon sun. The silver car door handle burns my skin. I fumble with the key, and a girl’s voice rises behind me. “Hey, can I talk to you?” I spin around, completely forgetting about the car. A black tank top paired with cut-off jeans accents her curvy figure. Her blonde hair is streaked with pink dye, and her toenails are painted the color of twilight.
I lean my body against the car. “What do you want?” I ask. She steps closer and sweeps a lock of hair away from her emerald eyes. “I want to do what you do,” she eagerly states. A chuckle escapes my mouth; “You want to work in a factory all day?” I gesture towards the catcher; the building in which dream catchers are emptied. “Don’t lie to me.” Her voice is smooth and carries the hint of venom.
I turn my back to the girl and begin unlocking the car. “You empty dream catchers.” She lunges towards the car. “Somehow, all of the dreams disappear.” I continue to fumble with the key, careful to ensure that she does not see the surprise in my eyes. “Listen kid, I don’t know what you are talking about.” I hop into the car and begin to shut the door. She snatches the handle and rips the door open. The file slips out of the side door pocket, and the papers fan across the fiery pavement. Before I can bend down, she drags the file towards herself. She shoves the papers in my face. The first paper, in large block letters, reads: 103 DREAM CATCHERS EMPTIED. “It looks like you do know what I am talking about,” she sneers.
I release a heavy breath and step out of the vehicle. “Do not tell anyone what you saw,” I threaten. She hugs the file against her chest, “I won’t, but under one condition.” I raise my eyebrows, and she raises hers. “You have to teach me how to empty a dream catcher.” I firmly grasp her delicate hand and shake, “Fine. You have a deal.” Her lips curl upward, and her eyes sparkle. “When do we start?” I gaze towards the building. I slam the car door. “Now.” She throws the file into my arms and sprints in the direction of the catcher. I sulk after her, doubting my decision.
A heavy force weighs on my arm as I pull the door open for the girl. “What’s your name?” Her eyes intently scan the empty hall. She continues to observe, “You can call me Ray.” Her legs pull her in various directions. Eventually, she locates the shaft. Thousands of dream catchers fall from the shaft, are separated, and then delivered to different rooms. “So, this is where they all come from?” She asks me over her shoulder. Her eyes widen in wonder. She lifts a glass panel and reaches into the shaft. She closes her eyes and allows the feathers attached to the dream catchers to brush against her pale skin. The nightmares are hidden in the pure beauty.
I gently grab her arm and drag her in a different direction. I quickly direct her into the room. The room is bare. A container, filled to the brim with dream catchers, is enclosed in a clear, sealed box. I retrieve the key, unlock the door, and carefully select a dream catcher. “Lay there,” I order. Ray eagerly plops onto the gray bed sheets. I throw the dream catcher to her; she examines the specific design. I shuffle through a drawer. A small syringe winks at me from the corner of the drawer. I nervously pick up the syringe, and I attach a thin tube of watery liquid.
Ray notices my actions, but she remains calm. “This injection will prevent you from waking up until each dream is over.” She sits up, “Okay, inject me, let’s go!” Her happiness sickens my stomach. “I can’t guarantee what you see; these are someone else’s nightmares.” I point towards the dream catcher. She nods her head and places her warm hand over mine, “I know,” she whispers. I plunge the needle into her neck, and she instantly falls asleep.
For hours, I sit in a plush leather chair and watch. I watch her writhe in imaginary pain. I listen to her scream. I smell the sweat roll down her skin. Her eyes flutter open, and tears violently flow down her cheeks. “Ray, calm,” her screams silence my words. She jumps to her feet and sprints towards the door. Her hands shake uncontrollably, and she is unable to undo the simple latch. In panic, she yanks tufts of her pink hair. Beads of sweat drip from the tip of her nose. I leap forward, grab her body, and she falls into my arms. Anger thickens in her voice, “Do you enjoy it? Do you like to see people’s most terrifying nightmares?”
She pounds her fists against my chest and stomach. “You are a sick person!” She screams. Eventually, she crawls to the door and opens it. She steps into the hallway. Before she leaves, she captures my attention. A dot of dry blood covers the small hole on her neck. The sweat dampens her cotton shirt. Her dark makeup is smudged beneath her eyes. She runs her fingers through her sweaty hair and glares at me, “Just tell me why you do it,” she demands. Disgust lurks in her voice. “It’s not a choice; it’s a punishment.” Puzzlement washes over her face. She slams the door, and I hear her footsteps bound down the hallway. I stand and hobble towards the container of dream catchers; it is draped in shadows. I choose a bare dream catcher, the kind that always hold the worst dreams, lie on the bed, and I plunge the sharp needle into my neck.
Caroline Donovan attends Archmere Academy in Wilmington, Delaware. Her passion is writing, but she also enjoys playing sports. She competes in athletic events throughout the year. Caroline is a huge fan of John Green and has read all of his novels. She aspires to be a bestselling author and use her unique perspective to change the world.