By Ekta R. Garg
Prompt: You wake up from a disturbing dream and go to the kitchen for a glass of milk; on the fridge you find [the words]: “Hush now, it was just a nightmare.” Creepy or comforting?
Katelyn gasped as she opened her eyes. Had the thermostat stopped working? Why did her room feel so cold?
Thinking about the room temperature distracted her from considering why she’d woken up in the first place. The dream. The one about him. Again.
This time he’d gotten closer. He had penned her in her son’s walk-in closet, a lazy smile crossing his lips. He knew, his smile seemed to say, that she had nowhere to go.
In the dream her heart started pounding. Without turning around she reached behind her for something, anything to ward him off. She wouldn’t succeed for long, she knew, but any sort of distraction might give her the precious few moments she needed to get away with her integrity—and her life—intact.
Her fingers brushed Anthony’s hockey stick just as the man rushed forward with his fingers forming a cage for her throat.
And then she’d woken up, gasping, sweating. A chill shivered over her shoulders and down her spine. She took deep breaths to slow down her heart and her imagination, but they didn’t help much. Throwing back the comforter, she reached for her fuzzy bathroom on the trunk in her room and shuddered her way into it.
A glass of milk, she thought. Mom always used to give me one when I got scared at night. Maybe that’s what I need now.
She went down the stairs, placing one foot and then the other on each step with the kind of lightness only midnight fridge raids can bring. Anthony still hadn’t gotten over his cold, but he had finally stopped waking up every two hours at night. Katelyn wanted him to sleep the night through so she could too.
When she reached the bottom of the stairs, she waited a moment for him to call her back up. Silence. Not believing he really hadn’t woken up, she waited another two or three minutes. Tilting her head toward the stairs, she still didn’t hear anything from the second floor but a scrabbling sound from the kitchen caught her attention.
I hope we don’t have a mouse…
After sixty more seconds at the foot of the stairs, she breathed a quiet sigh of relief and kept moving. She turned on the light over the stove, pushing the semi-darkness of the kitchen to the edges of the tile floor, and turned toward the fridge. Then she gasped again.
“Hush now,” the enthusiastic magnet letters urged her, “it was just a nightmare.”
Katelyn covered her mouth with her hand. She knew, then, why she’d heard the scrabbling. She knew why she’d woken up before he could close his hands around her throat.
“The Dream Raker,” she murmured.
She didn’t think he would ever come to her. She’d heard stories, of course, from others, about how he came and raked his fingers through their dreams and fixed one wrong thing. Dreams, after all, were the expressions of our subconscious, the collection and reconfiguration by the mind during the day of all the hurts and worries and joys and questions that confronted us.
The Dream Raker always helped those who needed it. He eliminated their problems. Relieved the reason for the dream. Sometimes, though, when people learned what had caused the dream in the first place, they ended up regretting the deal they made with the Raker.
Actually, the Raker didn’t deal so much as he dictated. Katelyn didn’t know if she had it in her to go through another ordeal. The first one—the one that brought the man in her dream—had left her with bruises that faded to scars and a resolve that puddled along with her tears and blood. Any connection to the Raker might cause her to dissolve completely.
The light behind her shifted, and she knew she had no time to decide. The Raker would declare the terms. She had a precious few moments to decide whether she could live with them.
She turned around to face him and to announce her decision.