She stormed into the dimly-lit study in her sleep shorts and baggy grey sweatshirt drenched in sweat, brandishing the intricately woven web of string, feather, and beads. She shook it violently above her head as if it had a neck that could be strangled. “You said this would work, Jay!” A single feather fell from the ornate piece as she glared at her husband’s tired face, careless of what she may have interrupted in the delicate thoughts of the under-paid scholar. There was nothing beyond the horrifying images that constantly streamed through her head, like a filmstrip she could not stop running. She did not notice his equally tired eyes and the worried look that was beginning to permanently crease the space between his eyebrows.

“Annie…Sweetheart, you have to believe in it for it to work for you. The man in the store said that if you do not trust the dream-catcher, it won’t be able to help. You have to force them away; visualize the release of those thoughts and let it carry that burden for you.”

Her arm fell. She was so incredibly exhausted. Her downcast eyes brimmed with tears and she slumped to the floor in a delirious sob of defeat. “I can’t do it. I cannot imagine him away. It’s like trying to force these scars to jump off my skin and sear into someone else’s! It’s been a month and they still hurt me! All I think about when I try to fall asleep is his face staring at me from each bead—twenty of his faces—all waiting to come alive and tear me apart.  I’ll just sit there, counting each bead and wondering when they will attack me.” 

Annie sat, whimpering like child whose parents had forgotten her at an amusement park and drove twenty miles away, clutching her head with both hands as if doing so was the only way of keeping sanity inside. She rocked back and forth, shaking.

“Honey…Dammit.” Getting up from his seat, Jay knocked over the mug of lukewarm black coffee that had been standing post next to his keyboard all through the night. The noise of shattering ceramic caused Annie to jump. Eyes red, she looked over at the source of the noise. Wiping off his desk and floor with the paper towel he had used to clean his monitor earlier, Jay rose back up with as many shards as he could grab at once and walked over to the wastepaper basket near a window behind his wife. It was a small study, with more scattered papers than books. The dark green wallpaper was torn in many places from age and a lack of funds to replace them. 

As he neared the window, he saw his own reflection against the black night. His pale face and dark baggy circles made him look skeletal. He felt the pain that had been growing in his chest over the past few weeks; a piercing discomfort he had yet to see a doctor for. There was something he did not want to face when questions were asked about where the tension could be coming from. He turned and kneeled next to his sobbing wife. 

“This man, he won’t ever be able to hurt you again. They have him locked away and he will never see you or anyone else outside those bars again.” 

He paused, and taking one hand away from her head, held it in his own. He wondered if it was his imagination or if it actually felt like holding his grandmother’s hand when he was a child—frail, and colder than was comfortable. He looked at the hand for a moment and a different look began to shadow the creases between his eyebrows. The tiniest muscle movement changed the worry lines to anger. 

“Even if he could walk free, he would die before he even looked in your direction. I would kill him.” 

He looked back into her swollen eyes and felt the pain in his chest intensify. Her eyes had not changed and no comfort had been drawn from his words. He knew the thought before she had even opened her mouth. It was that tension he did not want to face, that he had buried deep within his own guilty heart and tried to imagine away as he busied himself in his work. 

“But Jay, you were here when he came. You didn’t even know it was happening.” 

All he could do was hold her, trembling on the floor. He knew he did not need to go to a doctor to find out that guilt was the greatest cause of the searing in his chest. Her inability to be touched anymore, the scars all over her stomach and thighs would haunt their marriage forever because he could have stopped it and was oblivious. He cradled his sobbing, petrified wife and all he could see now was the beads of the dream catcher, scowling at him from the floor.

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