The man sitting across from me on the straight-backed chair facing my desk looked rumpled and sleepless. His short brown hair stood on end. The dark circles under his eyes had their own dark circles. His shirt was buttoned wrong.
He eyed me through half-closed lids. “You’re not what I expected,” he said.
“No,” I said.
I’m not what anyone expects. Well, not anyone who has gone through counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, priests, exorcists, group therapy, scream therapy, sleep therapy, antidepressants, depressants, and whatever else has been thrown at them before someone somewhere whispers my name and address or gives them my card.
They always come in looking like they’re sure they got the wrong address and like I’m the wrong person. I’m too young at only 27, too female, too attractive. By which I mean I wear jeans and a nice blouse, my hair is blonde and well cut and I meet them in the sunlight, in a white carpeted office, with a glass desk and black, straight-backed leather chairs.
The only thing anyone unacquainted with my true vocation would think is odd about the décor of my office is the giant dreamcatcher behind my desk—a circular net of leather and feathers and beads. And that’s not functional. Or at least if it is, I never learned how it worked. It’s just decoration. A joke on the business name.
“It’s a family business,” I said. “Grandma did it. She taught it to me. So, it is what I do.”
He hesitated. He didn’t know what to do with his hands, and finally settled for resting them on his knees. He looked at my face, and then behind me, as though he were speaking intently to the spot in the middle of the leather dreamcatcher. It was ornamented with two red feathers and I found it really attractive myself, but I didn’t think it warranted that kind of attention.
“It’s the nightmares,” he said.
“It usually is. When you’re asleep?”
This brought his eyes back to me, with a startled glare. “When else?”
“Ah,” I said. “You’re lucky.”
He frowned at my face, then sighed. His hand went up to massage the middle of his forehead, as though by that action he could release whatever demon troubled him. “Every night,” he said. “Every night. It’s like…” He lowered his hands, and made a vague gesture. “It’s like I wake up from something horrible—No, like I just did something terrible, committed some horrible crime. I feel like I’ll never again be clean, never again be innocent. It takes me a few minutes to realize nothing has happened, that I’m still in my bed. And then—” He looked back at the center of the dreamcatcher. “And then I fall asleep. And it happens again. I started by going to my doctor, who referred me to a psychologist. Who referred me to a psychiatrist. Who put me on various drugs, none of which helped me, and then he sent me to a priest. Father Buros at St. Helen’s,” he said. “He sent me to you…”
Read the rest of this story and eleven more nightmare-inspired tales in Shared Nightmares, coming soon!