I’ve always suffered from bad dreams.
I’m not sure where the suffering came from—or used to come from, rather. But memories from my childhood aren’t complete without remembering the night terrors, without vivid recollections waking up with a cold sweat, the shakes, only being able to wake up at all because of the screaming. I could never remember what I was so scared of, which irritated my parents to no end. Because how could you help someone if you couldn’t figure out the root of the issue?
My mother, though, she was persistent. It was a beautiful spring day—you know the type, where all the windows are open and white curtains are flowing thanks to the cool breeze, sun cascading to set the hardwood floors aglow. She’d just got home from antiquing and handing me a large wooden box.
“I got you something,” she told me.
Wary, I opened it. Inside was a dream catcher, purely white: white hoops, white string, white beads and feathers hanging down, pristine, as if untouched. I was still young, but old enough to know what they were meant to do, the superstitions surrounding them. Old enough to be angry that my mother would suggest such a thing would work. I told her as much.
“But they could,” she tried.
“Perhaps for someone who believes in them,” I remember snapping. “Or someone who deserves such protection.”
My mother let that comment slide, instead taking my hand and forcing me to meet her eyes. “Just try. For me.”
I was begrudging, but, as I always did with my mother, I relented.
That night, with the dream catcher hanging down from the window placed above my bed, I slept until the sun decided to wake me up the next morning.
Since, I’ve never had a waking nightmare.
“Until now,” you point out.
I nod, unable to keep my hands from shaking. Occasionally, I swipe at my left hand with my right, desperate to keep them off me. But when I blink, I realize they were never there in the first place, even though I could feel the sharp pinprick of their legs brushing against my skin, taunting me.
We have her, I can imagine them saying.
But they are never there, no matter how confident I am that I saw them.
And now you’re looking at me funny, like you’re unnerved by me. What you should be doing is your fucking job and then you wouldn’t have to deal with me, as I know that’s how you feel; another wasted afternoon dealing with a hysterical mother. But it all comes back to you and your inability, your ineptitude.
Why can’t you find her, I scream inside my head, but I force myself to remain calm on the outside.
“And you don’t believe it’s because you moved this dream catcher into your daughter’s room?”
“I did that months ago and still slept without fear,” I remind you, angry at your tone. How obvious can you be that don’t believe me; don’t believe in the power that I was once skeptical of, too? But I can’t waste time thinking about my once believed false opinions. I can only focus on my daughter, unable to shake my own guilt. The very thing that saved me—the very same dream catcher my mother had gifted me with, so many years ago—is what took away my daughter.
“And why do you think that?” you ask.
I stare. I hadn’t realized I’d spoken that last thought aloud. “How many times do I have to go through this with you, before you’ll finally get it through your head?” I snap and I don’t waste effort feeling guilty about my rudeness, even if the appalling thought of my mother’s shock at my lack of manners sneaks its way into my brain.
“Just one more time. I need to make sure we haven’t missed anything.”
I sigh, but I push forward, speaking quickly, not bothering to hide my irritation. “Evie…she…she was sleeping, truly sleeping. First time in weeks that I hadn’t woken up because of her crying.” I don’t admit that I let her night terrors go on for so long because of my own fear that mine would return, after I passed my dream catcher down to her. “I slept through the night, too, and my husband is away overseas. Or did you forget that detail, too?”
“Please, Mrs. Carthack,” you say, though you don’t sound very apologetic. “I just want to make sure I have the entire story straight. I want to find your daughter as much as you do.”
I bit down my initial remark, non-believing. Instead, I continue, forcing myself to not look at my hands, even though I can feel them calling on my skin. “I woke up and got ready for work, letting her sleep in as long as I can before she had to get up and get ready for school. The poor thing hadn’t had a restful night’s sleep in so long, I didn’t want to rob her of it.” But if I had checked on her sooner, perhaps she’d still be here with me. I push the thought away, not wanting to focus on my own guilt. It’ll have plenty of time to shine in the spotlight of my own head after I leave the precinct—which, by the look on your face, can’t be soon enough.“When I went upstairs to check on her…she…she…”
I choke down a sob.
“And the evidence you saw?”
“The window was closed, as I left it. Nothing was disbursed, nothing amiss.” Aside from little Evie vanishing. “Except for the dreamcatcher. I almost missed it. And had the sun not be shining through the window at that precise moment, I might of—”
I cut myself off. Did you just sigh, irritated? I lean forward, grabbing one wrist, trying to make you understand. I didn’t just make this up. “It wasn’t meant to be noticable, I’m sure of it. How many times had you walked into a stray strand of a spider’s web, not realizing you had walked straight into it? But looking closely, I saw it.”
“Every piece of string within the catcher was covered in spider’s silk. My fingers almost got stuck after I touched it!”
“I believe you, ma’am. However—”
“Do you?” I ask, finally taking my hand away, burying them underneath my legs, hoping to squash the spiders crawling on them as I do so. “You’re doing a piss poor job of it. My daughter has been gone for two weeks. Two weeks, officer. How—”
“Ma’am, I’m really sorry. But without any witnesses to interview or the item in question to even exam, I’m afraid there is nothing more than we can do here.”
I sit back, stunned.
“What?” I whisper.
You just promised me you wanted to find her. You just told me you wanted to go through the details of the case, one more time, to ensure you didn’t miss anything. That’s why I’m here. You can’t just close the case without finding her! She’s out there, somewhere. They kidnapped her and we don’t know why and you’re just going to abandon her. You can’t! It becomes a mantra inside my head. You can’t, you can’t, you can’t…
But you do.
You at me in the eye, for the first time showing any ounce of emotion aside from annoyance. “I really am sorry. But I’m afraid we must close your case.”
I look down at my hands again, pulling them out from under me to set them on the table, watching them shake. Watching as a single spider climbs across my palm and begins weaving through my fingers, crossing over knuckles and picking at my nails. But I don’t push it away, not this time.
What’s the point?
I’m not sure how long I sit there, consumed by my own thoughts—long after you leave, I’m sure. But I don’t notice you leave nor the passing of hours as time continues to push forward, even though my world has just been shattered. My little girl is missing, taken by some unknown force who not only stole her away, but stole the dream catcher that could have been used to find her. It was gone after you responded to my call, rushing upstairs to show your men the evidence I had found. Instead, sitting on the window sill, was a note that everyone in your unit apparently couldn’t see, not even when I shoved it in their faces, pointing it out with tears running down my face.
Now, it was all I could see, as if it had appeared on the table in front of me.
A note, barely legible, thanks to all the tiny spiders crawling on top of it when I found it; spiders I had crushed by slamming one bare fist against them, smearing black blood and tiny, disconnected limbs over my entire, closed palm.
But underneath, one line had been written.
It was never about you, it said.
All we’ve ever wanted was her.
What was I supposed to do about that? How was I supposed to figure out what that meant, who took her and how to get her—my daughter—back, especially now that you aren’t even going to help? No, now, I am truly alone.
At night, I no longer sleep.
Instead, I only toss and turn.
And wake up screaming.
Nicole Evans is a writer of fantasy and science fiction. She is currently unpublished and is working fervently to get the “un” removed from that statement. With eight completed drafts in various states of revision under her belt, she has no plans of stopping. And she really can’t wait for you to read these stories.
Considering she has run out of space for putting rejections letters up on her wall, Nicole now uses her spare time doing the typical things that nerds do: blogging, dying repeatedly during video games (which she believes is retribution for the characters she’s killed), wishing she was the character she is currently reading about and trying to fight off the real world by living in her own head, with varying degrees of success. Nicole has a degree in Creative Writing and a minor in Film and Media Studies, and works as an evening librarian assistant. You can find her personal blog here. You can read all of her Muses stories here.