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The Dream Catcher

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The old man was dead.

The boy had never seen a dead person before, but he was sure the old man in the corner was dead. His withered head lay tilted to the ceiling, with wisps of white hair plastered against his wrinkled forehead. Eyes closed, he lay lifelessly propped up against the wall, with loose, torn clothing framing his thin body. His leathery hands clutched a bright yellow satchel, the straps worn and the material faded and dirt-stained. Yes, the boy was sure. The man was quite dead.

The windows rattled as the train began to climb a steep hill, the floor groaning in protest. The boy imagined the wheels grasping the tracks, moving forward with determination. He looked out the window, and seeing the small green valley far beneath him, crossed his fingers hard and hoped that the wheels did not give up.

The sun was setting, melting into the sea like hot wax. Wind whipped through the boy’s hair and stung his cheeks as he craned his neck to see the ocean in the far distance, the waters lit on fire as the sun sank deeper, deeper. Colors danced across the sky, bathing the earth in a warm glow as they taunted the night, refusing to give in to the impending darkness falling from above. The colors danced their way into the boy’s eyes, shimmering like glass, as he watched and wished the night would never come.

The boy turned and eyed the old man. It was noon when the boy had boarded the train, along with other noisy, dirty people. They had crammed into the tiny room, like fish into a net, shoving and sighing and complaining about anything they could think of. The man had lain sleeping, or so he thought, the entire time. Several stations later, the boy and the man were alone, as the train puffed through valleys and climbed rolling green hills, and carried them away to nowhere.

The boy noticed the satchel. It was a cheerful, canary-yellow, a bright splotch against the dirty, torn clothing that the man wore. The boy wondered why such a man was carrying such a bag, and he wondered what could be in it. The man had not stirred, and lay slumped against the wooden beams, unmoving. The boy looked around. The darkness was seeping in through the cracks in the windowsills, pounding on the walls. The boy’s heart pounded as he crept silently towards the old man, inching his way across the floor. The boards rumbled beneath his feet as he walked unsteadily, then crouched on his hands and knees beside the man.

The boy reached out and touched the bag. It was soft and worn, like a child’s blanket that has been loved to shreds. His small hands were reaching for the clasp when he heard a voice, deep and rumbling from behind him.

“Boy, what’re you doing with my bag?”

The boy spun around to face the old man, who was very much alive and sitting up. The old man watched him curiously as he fumbled for words. “I… I uh… Well, I just wanted to…” The boy stood trembling, staring at the old, “dead” man, who was waiting for him to speak. The man slowly pulled himself up against the wall and sat with his arms folded. “You wanted to see what was in my bag, did you?” The old man chuckled. “There aren’t many people who don’t. What’s your name, boy?”

“I dunno.”

“What d’ya mean, you dunno?”

“Don’t remember it.”

The boy sat down, staring warily at the old man. He was a small, frail man, all bent and twisted over. His hair and scruffy beard were white, and his eyes were a milky blue.

“Boy, how old are you?”

“Eight, I think.”

“You think?”

“Yeah.”

The man looked him over.

“A bit on the small side, are you?”

“I dunno.”

The boy glanced out the window. There was only a small slice of the sun left, the brilliant colors drowning in the ocean. The old man’s eyes grew soft.

“So you wanted to see inside my bag, did you?”

The boy nodded nervously.

“Well, I would show you, but I can’t. I can’t show anyone. If I did, they would escape.”

The boy’s eyes lit up. “What would escape?”

The old man looked around, and seeing no one, motioned for the boy to come closer. Cupping his hand to his mouth, the old man leaned in close to the boy’s head and whispered, “Why, the dreams would escape!”

The boy stared. “There ain’t such thing.”

The old man pulled back. “Ain’t such thing! See, you see this here?” He held up the satchel. “They’re all in here. All the dreams. When someone gives up on a dream, it flies away, and I catch it, see? And I put ‘em in here. All of ‘em.”

The boy inched closer. “You can’t do that. There isn’t nothing like that possible.”

The old man shook his head. “See, when a person lets go of one o’ their dreams, or when it’s killed, it flies away, right out of them, into this.” He held up the yellow bag. “And I take them with me, everywhere. I never know when I could need ‘em.”

The train whistled and began to chug down the other side of the hill. The boy gazed at the old man in wonder. “Are they heavy?”

The man laughed. “No, ‘course not. Dreams are like clouds; weightless, made of air. Here, feel this bag yourself. It feel heavy to you?” He handed the bag to the boy. The boy shifted it back and forth in his small hands, stroking the soft underside of the satchel, and feeling the lightness of it in his palms. The boy hesitated.

“What color are dreams?”

The old man sat thinking quietly for a few seconds. “Dreams are all the colors. They are any color you want them to be. They are like the wind, boy. They have no color.”

The boy sat turning this over in mind. The old man watched him silently.

“Boy, what’re you doing here all alone?”

The boy looked up. “They were taking Mama away. In a big car. Said she didn’t know how to take care of me since Papa died. I think she knew they were coming.” He bent low over the yellow satchel, one finger still gently stroking the leathery bottom of the bag. “She gave me a train ticket,” he said softly, “and some bread, and a photograph. She said to go to San Francisco, that I could maybe find somewhere there to work or somethin’.”

The old man studied him. “So you remember that but you can’t remember your own name?”

The boy looked up at him quickly, and then let out a small sigh. “My name is Sam.” He reluctantly held out the bag.

The old man nodded, and took it. “See here, Sam, this bag is all I’ve got, but it’s all I need. I’ve got everything, Sam. Everything!” The old man’s hands were shaking, but his eyes shone.

The boy stared at him. “But how come you barely even got clothes?”

The old man leaned back and smiled contentedly. “Boy, when you’re as old as I am, you find you hardly need clothes. I’ve got something no one else in the world has. I’ve got dreams, Sam. All the dead and dying dreams. But one day I’ll open this bag and let them all out, and they’ll fly all over the world, and people will have hope again.” His eyes clouded. “The world is empty of it, boy,” he whispered. “Don’t let yourself give up.”

The train began to slow, and then abruptly stopped with a long squeal as the wheels scraped against the metal tracks. The boy looked out the window, but could see nothing but darkness. The train doors opened. The boy watched as the old man slowly began to stand, wincing as he pulled himself up. He began to hobble towards the open doors. Just as he was about to step out into the freezing night air, he turned to the boy, and called, “Don’t let your dreams die, boy. Sometimes, they’re all you got.” Then, he disappeared through the doorway. The doors slammed tightly shut, and the train began to roll forward.

The room was quiet, except for the vibrating of the walls as the train began to gather speed. The lights flickered slightly. The boy looked around, and saw that he was alone.

Then something bright caught his eye. He turned to see the yellow bag, lying on the floor. The boy looked at it for a moment, and began to move towards it. Taking it in his hands, he caressed it, and began to reach for the faded metal clasp. He stopped, and old man’s words echoed in his mind, “One day I’ll open this bag and let them all out, and they’ll fly all over the world, and people will have hope again.” The boy hesitated, and then undid the clasp. He pulled the top open, and peered eagerly inside. But he saw nothing except the bottom of the satchel, the seams ripping at the corners.

Disappointed, he closed the bag and threw it aside. He sat for a moment with his arms folded over his knees, lost in thought.

But suddenly, he was filled with hope. He could make it to San Francisco. He would somehow find his mother again. He would survive. The boy reached into his pocket and withdrew a black and white photograph, staring at the three smiling faces until they were carved into his memory. He placed it inside the yellow bag, and snapped it shut. Glancing outside, he knew that soon the dawn would break, and that the dark night sky would begin to lighten, and the glinting stars slowly burn out one by one.

He barely had a future. But he had all the dreams to last a lifetime.



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This article has 2 comments. Post your own now!

Rosie said...
Jan. 29, 2010 at 10:02 am
Great story. I loved it. I wonder what happens next with the hopes and dreams he has. What will he do with them?
You are going to be a great author. Keep going and don't loose sight of YOUR dreams.
 
DeniseCB said...
Jan. 28, 2010 at 8:24 pm
Very interesting story! This is quite different from your other stories. I was really captivated by the beginning of the story which drew me in and made me want to continue reading. I was not quite sure who took away the mom and you could elaborate a little more on that. I love how you ended the story with such hope and showing how if you have your dreams you have hope. Great job!
 
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