The Fear Catcher by Erik McCrain

Getting out of bed had become easier for me.

It used to be impossible for me to get out from under the covers. I put a dozen alarm clocks on the other side of the room. When all of them blared at once, it forced me to get out and shut them all off. Even then, there were times that I just kept under the blanket, sweating and shivering, until someone came and pulled them off me while I screamed.

The fix was stupidly easy: a dream catcher that my Mom got from a gas station. Just a wooden circle with a pleather web in the middle and some fake feathers dangling underneath. I had zero faith in it, but she taped it above my bed anyway. It was kind of insulting. I didn’t remember having bad dreams; I just woke up terrified.

Yet, it worked. For the first time since I was ten, I could get out of bed whenever I wanted. It was great, like I had gotten extra hours in the day. It turns out actually getting a full night’s rest makes everything better. I got better friends, better grades, and actually looked like a normal human being.

I wasn’t really normal, though. I couldn’t go to a sleepover. I mean, I thought I could just bring the dream catcher with me, maybe joke about it a bit to break the ice, but that didn’t work. I couldn’t touch it. Just thinking about peeling it off the wall made me break out into the same cold sweat I had under the covers. Even if someone else took it down, there was no way I could have taken that thing anywhere.

But all that was fine. I still had friends over and thought I could probably just ask someone to move the dream catcher when I went to college.

Soon I noticed it wasn’t looking right. Sometimes, brown and red stains are on it, and never in the same places. The fake feathers are wilted and singed, like someone held them over a candle. I think I’ve seen the web beating like a heart. I can’t get close enough to really tell.

Mom can’t see anything, and my therapist thinks I’m projecting whatever I was afraid of onto it. I know what I see, and I know enough about my psychosis to know when I’m seeing things and when the world’s actually broken.

Maybe the dream catcher is doing what it’s supposed to. Maybe whatever was in my dreams was bad enough that I blocked it out every time I woke up, and just kept the fear with me. That might mean that it is catching whatever I was dreaming about. Maybe it’s just getting full.

I have no idea how to wipe off nightmares, not that I even could get close enough. There are close to fifty dream catchers nailed to the walls now. Fail safes for when the first one breaks. I have no idea if that’s how it works. I don’t want to risk checking.

The pleather strips keep getting tighter, tenser on the wooden frame. It’s only a matter of time before it snaps.

I’ve been staying awake for three days, then sleeping with the alarms close to my head. Sleeping as little as possible might make it last longer.

There has to be a lot caught in that web. A single night was enough to turn me into a sniveling mess. It’s been taped to the wall for more than a year.

If I’m lucky, I just go back to hiding under the covers.

But tonight Mom asked me why the dream catcher smells like meat.

It’s been over a week since I’ve slept. I think Mom and Dr. Noct are trying to drug my food.

I can’t stay awake much longer. I don’t how I’ll wake up. I don’t know if I will wake up alone.