Screamcatcher | Audio*Read By Janice Herbal
By Sheila Crosby
Sheila Crosby lives on a small rock in the Atlantic. She's a mother, writer, photographer, translator, tour guide, librarian, gardener, belly dancer, English teacher and software engineer. One of her primary school teachers once told her scornfully, "Well, you've got a good imagination," and she's been proving the truth of it ever since. Her website is http://sheilacrosby.com.
My cat ordered a dreamcatcher over the Internet. The first I knew was the package arriving in my mailbox, together with the invoice.
I glared down at him. "Tom, how many times have I told you – using my credit card without permission is fraud."
"Pirrrrrrrk." Tom rubbed his head against my shin and looked up at me with pleading eyes, the way he did when I cooked steak. For someone who spoke no English, he was damn eloquent.
Besides, Tom had suffered from nightmares lately. I'd seen him writhing in his sleep, and sometimes crying, too. He'd lost weight and his coat looked rough.
"All right then, but this is absolutely the last time, understand?"
Skeptical or not, I hung the dreamcatcher over his basket.
It worked. Tom snoozed peacefully again, and woke up refreshed, instead of with a jerk, ears flat and eyes staring. He stopped cringing at every noise, and he began to look like his old self again. For six months, I was a convert.
I wondered where all the bad dreams went. Did the dreamcatcher destroy them? Perhaps it was my imagination, but I thought the dreamcatcher was beginning to look bloated, like roadkill in the heat. I didn't altogether like the idea of so many bad dreams crammed together.
Critical mass came as a shock.
One Friday I relaxed with a bottle of Spanish wine, and by ten I was feeling all soft and dreamy. I stared up at the dreamcatcher, rather the way you stare into an open fire. Tom lay snoozing on my lap when he began to whimper. I stroked him, but he twitched and writhed. The nightmares were back.
Then I gasped. Smoke rose from the ring of the dreamcatcher. Red eyes glared in the netted threads. The back of my neck prickled. As the smoke grew thicker, a rat's face grew round the eyes, pointed and evil, with blood dripping from the metal teeth.
My guts froze. My heart gave a sick lurch and began to hammer at my ribs.
A gigantic rat, as big as a dachshund, dropped from the dreamcatcher into Tom's empty basket with a thump. Before I could scream, it launched itself at me.
Instinctively, I covered my face with my arms. The rat crashed into them, scrabbled for a grip, and fell to the floor.
I staggered to my feet, spilling Tom, who hissed and fled.
Before I could run too, the rat darted after Tom.
I grabbed the first thing to hand, a broom, and chased it as best I could on shaking legs. I followed the rat and Tom into the kitchen, whacking at the rat and missing. My hands burned from the rat's scratches, and my grip was slippery with blood and sweat.
The rat cornered Tom in the angle between the fridge and the oven, and he faced it, his back arched and his fur on end.
I struck at the rat, but missed as it lunged at Tom. They merged into a yowling ball, leaving me nothing to hit at.
When they separated, Tom was bleeding all over.
I swung the broom at the rat again, and this time I hit it. But the broom went straight through the rat, as though it were just smoke, and clunked on the floor tiles.
My knees trembled and I felt sick. The rat could bite Tom, but I couldn't hurt the rat.
The smell of smoke grew stronger. I grabbed the fire-extinguisher from beside the stove. It was too heavy to swing, so I discharged it at the rat as the rat leaped again. Tom and rat disappeared under the foam, but Tom went on yowling.
Smoke still poured from the living room. I ran back and found the dreamcatcher in flames, so I squirted that too.
Tom's yowls stopped.
My sobs were loud in the silence as I ran back to the kitchen.
When I cleared away the foam, there was no sign of the rat. I found Tom, scratched, bitten and trembling, but alive. I took him to the vet, who cleaned and stitched, and injected a whimpering Tom with antibiotics.
Thank goodness it was the weekend, and I could stay home. Tom wanted to be carried all the time, like a tiny kitten. I didn't want to be alone either.
I triple-bagged the ruined dreamcatcher and dropped it in a dumpster six blocks away.
I had insomnia three nights running, and I was a wreck on Monday. I told my co-workers that I suffered from nightmares – true – but insisted I couldn't remember what they were about. So they took up a collection and bought me a dreamcatcher.