Elida resolved to a fitful state of the fetal position, hands clasped to the back of her head. Anthony thought through Elida’s last words. Who are they? The promise of someone else guiding them kept him riveted to Elida’s side. Echoes of Atlas’s meows were the only thing that made Anthony want to move. After ten minutes, the meows quieted and Elida’s tremors subsided. Stillness overtook the cave tunnels. Stalactites dripped in animated silence onto their stalagmite children.
Anthony felt for a pulse.
“Elida, breathe if you’re still with me.”
Though the pulse was faint, Elida’s chest rose and fell at near an imperceptible rate. Anthony fell back against the cave wall, closed his eyes, and dropped his head against the wall. A metal clang formed and then silenced. I didn’t imagine the noise that time. Anthony slammed his head against the wall again, but no sound came, not even the crumble of sediment on skin. Check your list, five signs you’re going insane. One, you hear sounds that aren’t there. Footsteps padded away from Anthony. When he opened his eyes, Elida was gone. Two, your imaginary friend leaves you.
“I found Atlas,” Elida said.
Her voice carried as if she’d gone further than expected. When Anthony turned toward her voice, the tunnel curved back to the right. The meows returned with the sound of footsteps fading away. Three, your imaginary friend lies to you. Anthony forced himself to his feet and walked.
The green light ahead brightened once he turned the corner. Ahead, Atlas’s black outline waved its tail back and forth twice. Anthony wanted to run toward Atlas, but knew that would only scare his dark knight. Atlas tilted his head at his owners’ slow approach and clicking noises. Anthony stopped and waggled his fingers just out of Atlas’s reach.
Atlas purred as he rolled onto his back and stretched to swat at Anthony’s fingers.
“It really is you? How many lives did you lose to get here?”
The green light flickered and disappeared. Anthony held his breath and listened for any noise from Atlas. An unexpected noise came, the tinkle of a small bell. Ahead, a small glowing green orb bounced and then swayed side to side as if on Atlas’s tail. Four, you believe in your illusions.
Anthony felt the ground in front of him where Atlas had just been and found the cold and smooth ground. The air grew heavy, and Anthony’s chest tightened. Atlas rescued him ten years ago, lost in the streets, not a coffee cup to his name, and so far into acceptance of his fate as being homeless. How many lives did Atlas lose before me? Anthony fought the tears and followed the small light that stayed too far ahead at shin level. Five, you believe your illusions have a greater purpose.
“Are you taking me to the madman or the butler?”
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