The Dream Catcher
There are many things of power in the world.
There is power in nature, in the burning light of the sun, the unstoppable flow of the water, and the pounding force of the wind.
There is power in words. The right ones could create new worlds; the wrong ones could topple empires.
There is power in fame, and fortune, and even in infamy.
There are many things of power in the world.
There is one more thing, which has existed since the first beings came into awareness and then let it drift away in sleep. There is one more thing with more power than any other. There is one thing that people seldom even remember.
There is power in dreams.
And with power, comes those who wish to claim it for their own.
The Dream Catcher never sleeps. Not really.
She tried, once (many, many times). But sleep would not come.
And neither would dreams.
Oh, there were daydreams, yes. She does plenty of that. She even daydreams of dreams.
But it seemed to her that they were nothing like real dreams, where someone let go and drifted away into a swirl of possibilities that the conscious mind cannot hope to follow.
And this, this is why she cannot let go.
So if she is to be forever denied her own dreams, she will simply steal from others.
Children, she found, had the biggest and best dreams of them all.
"Sasha, time for bed!"
"But!" A young, red Wocky dropped the usuki doll she was playing with and scowled. "But I'm not tired!" she whined.
"It is way past your bedtime, young lady," said her mother with a wagging finger. "And you have to get up early for Neoschool tomorrow."
Sasha groaned. "But I HATE history class! Mrs. Green always expects us to memorize the stupidest little details!"
"Sasha, if Mrs. Green wants you to learn it, then there must be a good reason."
"Oh really?" Sasha crossed her arms and gave her mother a look. Adults were so silly sometimes! "Why in Neopia would we have to know what the roof colors were on houses from 100 B.N.?"
Her mother actually stopped and blinked. "Well. That is quite... specific. But, it doesn't matter, you still have to go to school. I am sure Mrs. Green knows what she's doing." She reached to turn off the lights. "Now, that's enough, go to sleep, Sasha."
The little Wocky gave up, and picked up her usuki doll to tuck it in first before crawling under the blankets herself. "Fine," she said with one last pout. "Good night."
"Good night, dear. And sweet dreams."
She heard the door close, and the last bit of light from the hallway disappeared, leaving her to sigh into the dark.
Up above, in the cold night air of Neopia Central, a small floating light pulsed slowly, and puffed out of existence.
There was a good dream nearby.
She reappeared in a courtyard, in front of a large castle. Out in the distance, past elaborate gardens and colorful cottages and patches of farmland, the horizon blurred into the bright blue sky, marking the hazy limits of this dream world.
Impressive, she thought. Most dreams were not this big.
She had chosen well, it seems.
But where was...
Up on a balcony, a young red Wocky stood, dressed like a princess in a sparkling purple gown and a matching tiara.
This must be the child.
She drifted closer.
Next to her were many other Wockies, with long beards and pointy hats, frantically taking notes on a single long scroll which fell over the balcony, almost reaching the courtyard floor below.
"And the house next to the pond should have a lime green roof with yellow swirls, and the house next to that needs to have a bright pink roof with purple polka dots..." The little princess kept on reciting roof colors while her subjects around her took careful notes. The scroll grew longer and longer, and began to pile up on the ground of the castle courtyard.
What a strange dream.
"And the house next to the fishberry bushes should have a blue roof with green stripes!" she finished with a satisfied smile.
One of the bearded Wockies stopped scratching at the scroll with his quill and spoke up, hesitantly. "But, your highness, what is a fishberry?"
She looked at him like he just said something very silly. "A berry that looks like a fish, of course."
"Does it also taste like a fish?" the bearded Wocky asked.
She scrunched her nose. "No, ew! That would be gross."
"But, begging your pardon, your royal majesty, I don't think we have any fishberries."
"Yes, we do," she said, with the frank decisiveness found only in the very young.
"But..." the poor bearded Wocky squeaked.
"Yes, we do." She stomped her foot and frowned.
The princess has spoken.
"Yes... we do." The unfortunate bearded Wocky turned to make eye contact with another bearded Wocky, silently pleading for help. The other one shrugged, wide-eyed.
"Hmm." The little princess scratched under her chin. "I have another royal decree!"
Immediately, the bearded Wockies hastily rolled up the previous scroll into a thick roll, and bound it with a bright red ribbon. Someone in the courtyard below cried out as the scroll was pulled from under their feet. One bearded Wocky produced yet another scroll and they all poised with their quills at the ready.
"I declare that nobody has to go to school if they don't want to!"
A moment passed as the others scribbled furiously on the scroll. Then they looked up at their princess expectantly.
"And I want to have a tea party today! That is all!" She waved a hand imperiously as the bearded Wockies rolled up the second scroll, not nearly as long as the first, and marched away in a perfect line.
A little floating light followed, silent and unseen.
"Ok, Usuki, you sit there." The little Wocky placed her doll in a tiny chair set on a giant table. "Would you like some tea?" She paused as if waiting for an answer, then picked up a big teapot with both hands and poured some water into a cup. "Good!"
The light paused. How strange this all was.
But no matter. This dream will soon end, anyway.
"Ow!" The cup shattered on the stone floor, splashing its contents all over. The little Wocky shook her hands quickly and jumped away from the small puddle and broken pieces. "What...? The cup got so hot! Usuki, what did you do?" She looked around, but there was nobody else in the room.
A small flash of light appeared outside, and looked into the misty horizon. Fishberry bushes, the little Wocky had said?
A quick glance back towards the castle confirmed that the little princess was staring out the window, eyes wide and jaw gaping.
As the giant fishberry began to take up more and more of the sky, crushing the freshly painted roofs of the surrounding town, she savored the warm feeling in her core from another wonderful dream ruined.
The last things she heard before she dimmed and vanished in a puff of light were the cracking of castle walls under the weight of a still-growing fishberry and the terrified screams of a young Wocky.
Sasha landed with a thump on the floor, tangled under her blankets, still screaming.
She stopped when she wrestled the blankets from over her head, and squinted into the sudden light as her mother ran into the room.
"Sasha? Shh, shhshh. What's the matter, sweetie?" Her mother pushed the blankets aside and held her in a loose hug.
"I—the giant fishberry! And my tea party! And the roofs I just painted them and I remembered them all I promise but..." She trailed off, gasping for breath and fighting back tears that sprung into her eyes.
"Oh, honey, it was just a bad dream. There's no such thing as a fishberry." She picked Sasha up and tucked her back in, putting a hand on her forehead. "Well, you don't seem sick. Try to back to sleep, alright? Everything is ok now."
The little Wocky sniffed loudly, and held on to her usuki doll like a lifeline as the lights switched off again, leaving her once more in the dark.
The next morning, a small floating light winked out of existence under the light of the rising sun.
That night, Sasha stared up at the ceiling of her room from her bed. She was supposed to be asleep, but the hairs on the back of her neck were standing up and her fingertips felt numb and tingly.
"Usuki, it's just you and me here, right?" She had to ask, though her doll did not answer.
She was just being silly. She was a big girl now. There was nothing to be scared of in her own bedroom, especially since the monster in her closet moved back to Terror Mountain a few months ago. Usuki told her so.
She sighed and started counting babaas until she drifted off.
When the sun finally set over the hills, a small floating light appeared with the first stars in the sky.
But unlike the other stars, this one moved from place to place. The only one who saw the light babbled on and on about falling faeries and wishes until her parents closed the curtains.
Eventually, the light paused over a single rooftop somewhere in Neopia Central, and vanished with a little puff.
She appeared over what looked like the ocean. The sun was high in the sky, and waves broke on a rocky shore next to a small bustling town. A baker set out more bread in his store window, a dancer entertained a crowd in a courtyard with a tambourine, and two Kyrii were fencing on the pier, swords clanging over the sounds of the sea.
Oddly enough, there was also a large flock of pirate babaas was jumping over a fence, one by one.
This child, she thought, was most impressive. Such detail, and all in a dream.
She might stay with this one for a while.
"Ahoy mateys! Today, we are going to find the treasure!"
A young Wocky sporting a pirate captain's hat stood proudly at the front of a ship, looking out at her crew while holding up a treasure map with a large 'X' clearly marked. In her other hand was the ever-present usuki doll.
"Isn't that right, Parrot?" She turned to look at the brightly-colored bird on her shoulder.
"That's the spirit!" She turned back to the crew. "Well, come on, you scallywags! Lift anchor! Raise the fore sail! Set course for the treasure!"
There was a chorus of "Aye aye, captain!" as the other pirates rushed to do their tasks, some climbing up and down the masts, pulling ropes and tying knots. Before long, the ship was sailing merrily in the wind towards the small island marked on the captain's map.
The Wocky captain stood behind the wheel, humming cheery pirate songs.
Nobody noticed the little light, floating along with the ship just above the crow's nest. And certainly nobody noticed that the floating light was looking out at the ocean, plotting mischief rather than a course.
The waters, she thought, looked far too calm.
But that was easy to fix.
"Captain!" The pirate Aisha up on the crow's nest shouted, squinting through his spyglass. "There's a storm coming!"
"What?" The little Wocky looked up from the wheel at the dark, rumbling clouds on the horizon. They were getting closer, and closer, and--
"Captain! What do we do?" a Mynci asked, hanging from a rope.
"Uh. Lower the sails! And... and get below deck?" The little captain fought with the wheel as the wind picked up, tilting the ship dangerously to one side.
"I don't know, Parrot! Where did this storm come from?"
Whatever else the Wocky said in response was lost in the crashing roar of the waves as the ship went under.
Sasha sat up straight in her bed, gasping for air.
"It was just a bad dream, Usuki." She gripped her toy tightly and convinced herself she was saying it out loud to reassure her doll. "It was just a dream."
The clock by her bed read 12:37 am NST. She had only been asleep for a couple of hours, and didn't want to wake her mother again because of another stupid nightmare.
"Oh, Usuki, what do I do?" she asked, sniffling a bit and echoing the question the pirate crew had asked her in the dream. Usuki did not have an answer. But that was fair, for she did not have an answer to that question in the dream, either.
Sasha turned, suddenly, when she saw a flashing light near her closet.
She held Usuki in front of her, and whispered, "Who's there?"
The Dream Catcher froze, dimming her light as she hid in the shadow of the closet door.
"Are you the monster in my closet?" the little Wocky asked in a hushed voice. "Only, everyone keeps telling me there's no such thing as a closet monster. But Usuki told me you had moved to Terror Mountain, and I didn't think you would be coming back."
What a silly child, she thought; of course there were no monsters that lived in closets.
That does not mean there were no monsters.
But, she supposed, it was exactly that kind of wild imagination which led to such delicious dreams.
The little Wocky kept talking. "Well, Monster, do you think you could eat my bad dreams instead of me? I still have to turn in my homework tomorrow, you see, and Mrs. Green will be mad if I got eaten and couldn't go to school."
Feed off the bad dreams? Is that not what she did, already?
"And, well, if you ate the bad dreams then maybe I could just have good ones. Oh! And you could come with me! We'll have so much fun, and I think it's much better than living in a dark closet." She added with a dramatic whisper, "I think there are skidgets and skritches in there."
What in Neopia was a skidget? No, not important. What did she say? Leave... the good dreams? Have fun?
This really was an interesting child. Perhaps it would not hurt to try, and she was truly curious. She glowed a little brighter, and moved away from the closet door.
The little Wocky gasped. "You don't look like a monster at all! I thought they all had big, sharp teeth. You're more like... Glowball!" The little Wocky's grin became the brightest thing in the room.
Well. She supposed she has been called worse, before. Glowball it is.
"Good night, Usuki. Good night, Glowball." The Wocky yawned and plopped back down on the bed. She was asleep within minutes.
That night, Sasha dreamed of dancing in an elegant ballroom, twirling in her gown on the arm of a handsome Wocky prince.
Wherever she went, a little floating ball of light followed and glowed a little brighter every time the little Wocky laughed with joy.
And so, the next time you drift off to the sleepy world of dreams, look out for a floating ball of light in the sky. But, do not be afraid. Say hello, because it might just be lonely. Then, instead of nightmares, maybe you'll have a new friend.