“I told you that report had to be done today. Why isn’t it?”
Hal tried not to wince as his boss grilled him. “I don’t have all the information I need from marketing yet.”
“Then get it,” Lydia said. “Just go down there and wait until someone hands it over.”
“Max Grillke says he can put the info together, but his boss has him working on other things. This isn’t a priority in marketing.”
“It’s a priority for us. Get it done.” She started to walk off but turned back. “Work smarter, remember?” Hal threw a few mental daggers after her and picked up the phone to call Max yet again.
Lydia stopped at another cubicle.
“Karen, did you get that mess with Rogers untangled yet?”
The older woman nodded entirely too much. “Yes, it’s all straightened out now. It shouldn’t happen again.”
“You shouldn’t have let it happen once. How long have you been here? Keep up the good work.” Lydia speared Karen with a hard look and moved on to her next problem.
At home that evening, Lydia set aside her other mail to open a small box from her sister, Jane. A dreamcatcher fell out and a short letter followed:
This is an actual, honest-to-goodness dreamcatcher, made by a member of the Ojibwa tribe near Fond-du-Lac. We picked this up for you when we were there last week on vacation. Pretty, isn’t it?
Lydia had to agree. It was about the size of her hand, not counting the feathers that dangled beneath it.
This is made in the traditional way by the people who first made them before other tribes adopted them. Hang it over your bed but don’t have it flat against the wall. It’ll catch all your nightmares and let only the good dreams through. The nightmares will disappear in the morning sun. The Ojibwa say that nightmares can sometimes be instructive, but who wants to learn in their sleep?
Hope you like it!
Jane and Carl
Lydia took the dreamcatcher downstairs to her bedroom. Her family had always lived in Tornado Alley and a basement bedroom still made sense to her. A little hook on a swing-arm lamp would let the decoration hang over her as she slept. Not that there was anything to it, of course, but it was pretty and would be nice to look at first thing in the morning and last thing at night.
“I need an enormous one for my office. That whole place is a nightmare.”
Lydia awoke the next morning after a night of pleasant dreams.
“Hmmm,” she mused sleepily. “Maybe it works.” She looked up at her dreamcatcher and screamed. She threw the covers aside and bolted from her bed.
“You’re not so much to look at in the morning, either,” the tiny man said.
“Who are you?” she demanded. “What are you?”
“I’m caught in a dreamcatcher. Dreamcatchers catch nightmares. Think you can figure it out from here, Lydia?”
The voice sounded familiar and Lydia inched closer.
“Your favorite former boss in the whole wide world,” the man confirmed. “Good work in recognizing me. You get an attaboy.”
Lydia scowled. Hega’s sarcastic attaboys were among his favorite weapons to hurl at his employees. She hadn’t missed those when he moved on and she took over as the department’s supervisor.
“So what are you still doing in there?”
“I’m just a trapped nightmare. Don’t you read up on the lore of the people whose treasured culture you appropriate for decorative purposes?”
“Since when do you care about anyone’s treasured culture?”
“Since never. Like I said: I’m just a trapped nightmare. I’m obviously — I hope obviously — not the real Herman Hega. I’m just everything you hated and feared about him come to haunt your sleep. Only you got one of these things and I didn’t get the job done. That’s poetic, in a way, since you often didn’t get the job done.”
“Shut up.” She paused. “That felt good. I wanted to tell you that every day for six years.”
“And now you sort of have. Another attaboy. Way to stand up for yourself.”
She thought past the miniature nuisance. “Morning sun. Jane’s note said nightmares caught in the dreamcatcher would disappear in the morning sun.” She took note of her bedroom. Part of its security against storms was that it had no windows. “No problem. I’ll just take you upstairs where there is sunlight and you’ll be gone.”
She unhooked the dreamcatcher from the lamp and moved toward the bedroom door.
“That’s right, Lydia,” the Herman nightmare sneered. “Like I always tried to teach you: work smarter, not harder. Keep up the good work.”
Lydia froze. She stared at the little figure of her former supervisor. He managed to look smug and in control despite being caught in the web.
“My God. I’ve become you.”
“There are worse things.”
“Not many. I hated the way you managed, but you’re the paradigm I’ve adopted to be a manager. I badger people. I’m mean and snotty for no good reason. I’ve even made your idiotic platitude worse by dropping the ‘not harder’ from it. And I say, ‘Keep up the good work’ in the same cruel way you always did.”
“At least you learned something,” the little guy said. “I wasn’t sure you ever would. Makes me feel all warm inside.”
Lydia marched out of her bedroom and up the stairs.
“The Ojibwa believe nightmares can be instructive. Thanks for stopping by, Herman.”
Before the nightmare could respond, Lydia yanked back a curtain and let the dawn’s early light inside. The tiny figure disappeared instantly.
Lydia took the empty dreamcatcher over to the table and sat down heavily in a chair.
“Everything I hated about working for him I do to the people who work for me,” she said. “How often do I show up in their nightmares?”
She allowed herself another moment of self-loathing before making an executive decision. She rifled through a phone book and then dialed the number she wanted.
“Dan’s Donuts, Donna speaking.”
“Hello. Can I get an assortment, say two dozen doughnuts, to pick up in about forty-five minutes?”
“No problem. What’s the name?”
“We’ll have them ready.”
“Thank you. Good bye.” She hung up the phone. “Time to be a sweeter boss.”