I don’t care if you believe me. I don’t need comforting. I just want this out of my head. You see, I don’t believe in ghosts, evil spirits, portals, or hauntings…at least that’s what I thought. Until now. I would not have trusted it if I had not seen it with my own eyes. The dream catcher. Not that simple little thing we hang in windows, those summer camp craft projects made of sticks and ropes and feathers and beads. No. This is the dream catcher whom nobody dares to see, imagine, or understand. A portal of power. A gateway to another realm. A door for demons and other evil spirits to pass through and enter into this world. To call it a person…a soul would be an insult to all things real. Then again, it is as real as the people it claims and pulls within its grip. I remember... I had a dream catcher once until I saw a man standing in the front center of the webbing. I got rid of that dream catcher a long time ago, but apparently, it didn’t get rid of me.
You see, I had lost my little girl many years ago. Lost in the truest sense of the word…the unforeseen. She often played in the dense woods behind our home in the rural back country of Tennessee, a place so secluded and remote we typically went months during the winter sheltered within its modest walls, living off the earnings we had saved throughout the summer from the tourists who passed by and stopped at our little general store along the road. It’s all ice now…completely impassable.
It all happened one cold and crisp autumn day. One of the last few days when my sweet little girl could go out and play before the winter confined us. She begged me to go outside, knowing how once winter sank its teeth into the air, she would have little or no chance to run and play. Understanding this, I allowed it, as we worried not of strangers, as there were none around or close by to worry about. I was folding the week’s laundry as she bounded out of the house, jacket on, hat in hand for the last time. After about an hour or so, I failed to hear the distant sounds of laughter and childlike imagination being brought to life through stick swords and tree monsters. I looked out the window and saw nothing. My daughter (no stranger to wandering off) prompted me to grab my coat and go in search of her. After about five minutes of calling her name, "Abby! … Abby! … ABBY!!!" I began to panic.
One month, five police searches and two helicopter flyovers later a violent storm hit. Abby was missing and presumed dead. All efforts to search for her were called off. I was alone and had nothing to comfort my thoughts but the chance that somehow, some way my beautiful precious daughter was still alive. Out there somewhere, there was a chance. Chance was like a candle in a hurricane. Then the dreams began.
At first, they woke me in a frenzied panic. Blurry visions of being half awake, not so much by the sight but the sounds. Then I began to experience something pulling at my ankles causing my body to convulse and jolt. Every night, it started with the same jolting feeling, then it felt as if someone grabbed my wrist and pulled it. It seemed as if someone was trying to wake me up. I began to hear soft whispers pierce through the silence of the night…Abby calling for me, "Mommy… Mommy …" Only to come to my senses and plunge back into that despair. I began to fear sleep. More than once I thought of ending it all, but that candle… That damn candle would not go out. I could only think of one worse fate than the loss of my daughter. That would be to leave this world only to have her return. To come back to me and find I had died. I could not let that happen… I had to know.
After a few weeks, the dreams became more and more vivid. I could now see Abby, but not how I remembered her. She was almost like a ghost: transparent. But unlike a ghost, all gray and muted, she was luminescent and shimmery. Almost like looking at a light bulb through a piece of parchment. She called for me, "Mommy… Mommy… I’m here! I’m here with the dream catcher." I now had a new tormentor… my own mind.
I thought about the legend of the dream catcher. How the Ojibwa believe that night is full of both good and bad dreams. When a dream catcher is hung above the place where you sleep it moves freely in the night air and catches the dreams as they drift by. The good dreams, knowing their way, pass through the opening in the center of the webbing while the bad dreams, not knowing their way, are caught in the webbing and destroyed by the first light of morning sun. What were my dreams trying to tell me about my daughter? Was I going mad?
It was now March and the weather finally broke. An entire winter of darkness, merciless wind and snow had finally ended, giving way to sunlight and warmth. Filled to the edge, well above the edges of the ground, was the remainder of the worst winter anyone can recall. The rivers were full, roaring, and raging down to meet the mouth of the gulf. I needed to get out. Months of dreaming and pacing and planning. What would I do, where would I go, where should I look? There was nobody to calm my already shaken nerves, nothing to keep me grounded. Was I foolish? Perhaps, but it would not stop me from trying.
I packed all I could carry in a large backpack and set out on what was going to be a long and difficult journey. I knew in my heart I would find my daughter, in any state or die trying. The first day's trek carried me deep into the dense woods. I spent a good week (or what seemed like it) wandering farther into the unknown. I had no sense of direction or time and I was cold, hungry, dirty, and exhausted but, I didn’t care. After all, I was searching for something important. Each gust of wind brought me in a new direction. I tired to follow it. I looked at the moss growing on the trees and tried to follow the course of the sun as it set and rose.
At night, I would set up camp amongst the brush and seek shelter under the canopy of trees. I heard all sorts of strange animal noises emanating from the wood. Would I get eaten alive? I wondered. In the wee hours of the darkness, I thought I could hear a faint whisper of “Mommy”, “I’m here”, “Mommy”, “I’m here”. Was it real, or just the cruel residue of my dreams? At this point I didn’t care I had nothing left to lose.
Then one afternoon, after an arduous trek through canyons and heavy brush I saw it… Or more so, her. My daughter. Not the girl I had known growing up all those years, running and playing and full of life. No. This was what was left. The remains of the little girl I loved.
Hung between two trees, by hands and feet was the skin of my child, pulled taught and hardened by the cold blustery winter. As I approached, the harsh sun shone from behind creating the warmest glow I have ever seen. Rays of orange and gold pierced through the holes that were her eyes, nose, and mouth. Her long blonde hair hung loosely, as bird feathers dangled from the strands. I stumbled, backward my shrill screams mixed with the need to retch and vomit at the gruesome sight. As I wept, knowing she was gone, and in the cruelest way, a gentle breeze blew from the direction of the sun behind her, her hide softened and bowed to the breeze, filling her empty shell with form like the sails of a ship. The wind whispered through her mouth.
"Mommy… I’m here…I’m here with the dream catcher…"