By David Madrid
Art by Jake Madrid
The teenager watched his neighbor’s yard from his upstairs bedroom window. Occasionally, late at night, he jumped the fence and stole things from her two little boys.
He didn’t need what he stole. The boys’ toys were little-kid toys, but the temptation to steal was too strong.
The teenager reveled in the misfortune of others and loved to cause pain. His pimply face with a permanent sneer and dead eyes reflected a putrid soul.
He carried a sharp buck knife, and he looked forward to the day he could use it on a human instead of the assortment of animals he had killed over the years. Pets of weak people, left in their yards for them to find.
As time passed, the 17-year-old thief became bolder. He watched for signs that nobody was home next door, and when the family was gone he went into the yard and checked the back door.
Occasionally, the door was unlocked, so he went into the house and stole things. Nothing big and not too much. He didn’t want the family to figure out he was entering their home.
He particularly liked a dreamcatcher hanging in the boys room between the brothers’ beds, but he knew the artifact would be missed, so he didn’t steal it.
Thievery wasn’t the only thing on the teenager’s mind. He entertained a dangerous fantasy. In his imagination, he sneaked into the house to find the two boys alone. He thought of the many ways he could punish and torture the boys.
How delicious it would be to witness their mother’s shock and grief before he dealt with her. Fantasy morphed into a plan. The brute need only bide his time.
One day the teen watched the family leave the house, so he slipped into the home through the unlocked back door. As he contemplated the evil he could commit, he was drawn to the dreamcatcher, which was irresistibly more beautiful than he remembered. It was old and unlike anything he had seen.
What looked like a rat’s skull was attached above the center hole. On closer inspection he realized it was no rat. The skull had sharp fangs that were too big for its head. It was a spooky-looking skull.
The feathers that hung from the dreamcatcher were large, probably from an eagle or some other big bird like that.
A spider-web net had been spun within the hoop, which the teen noticed was not perfectly round. The imperfection of the shape added to the artwork’s appeal.
So the teen, ruled by his base nature, gave in and stole the dreamcatcher, which appeared to be authentically Native American. Now that he thought about it, the boys were kind of dark-skinned and had long hair. Probably Indians.
The smug thief carefully hung the dreamcatcher, which was surprisingly brittle, above the head of his bed.
When the family returned home, it didn’t take the boys long to discover their prized possession gone. They were heartbroken. Not only was the dreamcatcher a priceless piece of art, it had been a gift from their now-dead grandfather.
“This dream snare will capture your nightmares and the evils of the night and hold them captive for as long as it hangs in your room,” grandfather told the boys days before he passed into the other world.
It was as if grandfather knew he was going to die, but he had no fear. He dismissed the drama associated with death. He told his grandsons that death is a transition into the spirit world. If you live a good life here on earth, he said, you can dwell in the essence of the Great Spirit that rules the universe.
“Grandfather,” the oldest grandson Charles asked, “what kind of a skull is that?”
It was an odd little skull.
“It is a nocturnal creature that I fought in the dream world,” grandfather said. “When I killed him, he was seven feet tall and as vicious as a wolverine. I had to use all my dream-slayer skills to defeat him.”
“Then why is the skull so small?” the younger brother Victor asked.
“He was seven feet in the dream world. When I brought his head into this world, it was no bigger than a rat’s head,” the old man said.
Grandfather was full of mystery and stories. He was a world traveler who knew many secrets.
The boys’ mother Ursa told them not to believe everything her father said. While he knew many things, the old man also had a vivid imagination, she said. Mother had heard many of the old stories. She believed few of them were totally true.
But even the old man’s name Balam was mysterious. It was an ancient Mayan name that had lost its meaning in the New World. The brothers believed their grandfather.
He had lived in a time of no TV, cell phones or computers. The boys couldn’t imagine that. Balam told his grandsons that in the old days before technology ruled, people were aware of the invisible forces that swirl around them.
Technology had robbed people of their ability to see or feel the supernatural, the old man said.
The brothers wept over the loss of the priceless dreamcatcher, which had worked quite well. Neither brother had a nightmare as long as it hung between their beds.
The police had little interest in pursuing the theft of a dreamcatcher. They had more important things to do.
The teenage thief went to bed that night satisfied with his new possession and the anguish he was sure he inflicted on the two little runts next door. He couldn’t stop admiring the dreamcatcher. It had an allure, a quality that he could not define. Did the rat skull just smile at him? Naw. That’s crazy.
He turned out the light and fell into a deep sleep.
The creature came at the thief in a rush. It was a tall monster in the shape of a man. The teenager saw that the tiny dreamcatcher skull belonged to this beast whose now giant head resembled that of a Tasmanian devil he had seen on TV.
The man-beast growled and snarled. Sharp claws and teeth tore into the teenager’s body as the dreamcatcher collapsed and released every ghastly nightmare it had caught.
There were horrid apparitions: Giant squids. Great white sharks. An amazingly quick Frankenstein’s monster. Dinosaurs, including T. rex and aggressive raptors. Werewolves. Clowns with long razor teeth.
The bad dreams of little boys gnawed at the bloody pieces of the teenager’s body. The pain was unbearable, and the teen tried to scream, but nothing came out. He tried to run, but his legs were bloody stumps.
The teenager didn’t believe in God, but nevertheless he prayed. He begged for forgiveness as he tried to bribe a God he did not know with promises he would not keep. He prayed that he wake up, but the morning would not come. The carnage went on and on.
That night the boys shared a dream. Wasn’t that impossible?
In the dream, grandfather was alive, and he was young and strong, his hair long and wild. He ran toward the boys, but he wasn’t running to them. He jumped over them and landed in a fierce fight with a big rat-like demon. They instinctively knew the skull on the dreamcatcher belonged to this ferocious weremarsupial.
The boys now knew where grandfather had gotten his numerous scars that he said he received in battle. The brothers couldn’t grasp the realities of such battle until now. There was nothing glamorous about this fight, and they feared grandfather would lose and they would be left to the mercies of the beast. They sensed no mercy there.
The demon animal slashed and bit grandfather. There was blood everywhere. Was it all grandfather’s blood?
Despite the nature of the dream, the boys felt pride. Their grandfather was strong. He was fearless, agile and cunning. It was the cunning that won the fight.
Grandfather feigned injury, and when the dream creature thought him defeated, it dropped its guard to gloat. In a swift move, grandfather pulled a great horned owl feather from his hair and stabbed the beast in the eye.
The scream was loud and shrill. It was the cry of Satan. The creature died an agonizing death. Then grandfather cut off its head with an eagle feather. He cradled the demon’s head in the crook of his arm, and he spoke.
“My grandsons, I slew this enemy to save you. This beast lurked in the darkness of night. He stalked you. I killed him and shrunk his head to enslave his spirit. I commanded his spirit to protect you from the evils that hide in the night.
“You no longer need the dreamcatcher. This dream spirit has gorged itself. Grieve not for me or for the loss of the dreamcatcher. I love you forever.”
And then grandfather turned and walked away. He disappeared beyond the jungle’s edge.
At dawn the boys excitedly woke their mother and shared their dream with her.
“That’s strange,” she said. “Your grandfather once gave me a shrunken head that he said he got somewhere along the Amazon River. It was so over-the-top morbid that I put it in a canister and never looked at it again.”
“Do you still have it? Let us see it! Let us see it!” the excited boys begged.
So their mother went into her closet and after some rummaging, pulled out a faded red canister. She opened it and unwrapped a package the size of a lemon. She held out the macabre object. It looked like a large wrinkled walnut with a sneer.
“Hey,” Charles said, “that head looks like that mean weird kid next door.”
Victor studied the head carefully.
“It sure does,” he said amazed at the coincidence.
Next door, a broken hoop with tangled strings hung on a bedroom wall. Its attached feathers dripped blood onto an empty bed, where on the pillow sat an obscene little skull that appeared to gloat.
© 2011 FabulousFables.com
Contact: David Madrid
Read the blog: The Dreamcatcher: The Backstory