Part 6

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I walked on, deeper and deeper into the cave. I walked until my torch burned out, and then, surprising myself, I kept right on walking into the endless black. I didn't even glance back see if daylight was still visible behind me. Not likely. I must have covered a mile already.

The air grew warmer as I walked—so warm it was almost steamy. I shed my outer cloak. There was a slight breeze, which pulsed back and forth in a slow, subtle rhythm. It felt as if I were walking into the belly of an enormous beast. The beast sighed with delight, relishing every morsel of its meal.

Eventually, I saw the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. A perfect circle of daylight came gradually into focus, and it seemed as if I were passing through a veil of illusion separating the real world from mere fantasy. But I was going the wrong way. Things were becoming increasingly artificial—a flimsy, stylized mockery of the real world.

As I approached the light, the cave walls began to take shape once again, but they were unnaturally smooth and even now. I was no longer in a cave, properly speaking, but a tube—a concrete drainage pipe, it seemed. In fact, I knew this pipe. I wasn't far from home. Now that I was closer to the exit, my eyes grew more accustomed to the light, and I could see it was dark outside apart from the glow of streetlights. Why had I thought it was daytime?

I splashed through the remaining feet of the drainage pipe and climbed up to street level. It was the strangest thing. I couldn't remember going down in there, and I really had no idea what time of night it was. I felt for my phone, but I didn't seem to have it with me. I hoped I hadn't lost it. But first things first, I had to get back home before my grandpa got worried and went out looking for me. If I was late enough for him to worry, he'd probably take my phone away anyway.

As I walked down the side of the road to my house, I was surprised to feel the gravel under my feet. I looked down to see boots I didn't recognize. In fact, none of my clothes were familiar at all. They felt hot and sticky against my skin, like leather. The whole night felt like a bad dream. I just wanted to get back to my room, to my own bed—something familiar I could hold onto as the world went on hurtling through space.

But as soon as I got where I was going, I knew it wasn't my house at all. I wasn't that boy Angel; I was the hunter. I couldn't remember my name, but I knew who I was, and I knew where I belonged. This make-believe world was not for me. This world of paint and plastic and zippers and radio... of cheeseburgers, tollways, jet planes, and jelly jars... It was all so much garbage, piling higher and higher, scraping the blue from the sky.

And there in the midst of it all was that boy, that insipid little Angel. He was everything I was not. Or more to the point, he was everything I chose not to be: soft, weak, timid, uncertain, fussy... practically a full-grown man, but a child all the same. He made me sick to my core. And yet, we were connected somehow. Wherever I turned, he stuck to me like a shadow. I wanted to be rid of him for good. Well, there was only one way to be sure of that.

Slowly, silently, I crept up to Angel's bedroom window. There he was, sleeping like a baby. I knew he would be. I also knew he never bothered to flip the latches when he shut his window. I took out a small knife and used it to pop the screen out of the window frame. Then, I pressed both palms against the glass and slowly slid the window open. I leaned inside with the upper half of my body and cautiously pulled myself all the way in, taking care not to lose my balance and wake the little darling.

I stepped up to the bed, drew my knife, and brought it closer to Angel's throat. I could practically hear the pulsing of his heart—a heart I so recently believed was my own.

Then I heard a noise at the bedroom door and practically tripped over myself spinning around to face it. It was the slightest little creak, but under the circumstances, you can understand my alarm. I thought it would be Angel's grandpa—or maybe that friend of his, Elliot. But of all the things it might have been, it was just a little kitten, a tiny white ball of fluff in a red collar. There must have been a bit of softness in me still because looking into those innocent, trusting eyes, I couldn't help but smile.

Is that what I hated so much? Weakness? Angel was like a weak little kitten, yes, but was that such a terrible thing? He had people to care for him, and they didn't seem to mind. Who was I to say that only people like me should exist in the world? In fact, I'm not sure I'd want to live in a world like that. I'm not sure I could survive in a world like that.

As silently as I'd let myself in, I climbed back out the window, slid down the glass, and popped the screen back in place. I didn't belong here—that was certain—but it was a big world, after all. And honestly, I could get used to the weather in this place. I wasn't accustomed to sweating so much, but the warm breeze was really quite pleasant. So I headed back down the road, into the deep, dark woods, in search of my new home.

And that was the end of the dream. I awoke the next morning to find that same little kitten on the pillow next to me. My grandpa said that Elliot left him for me. I named him Ghost. I'm not sure how Ghost wound up in my dream, but I figure I must have seen him in the night while I was half asleep. The other possibility—that the dream was somehow real—is something I've considered, but... I'd prefer not to imagine that hunter still out there, stalking the woods near my home. I know him too well to believe he'll stay away for good.

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