1-

The sun is shining brightly on my 8th birthday party and I can hear the squeals of the girls in the bouncy house. I look up at the man next to me, take a last bite of cake, throw him a thumbs up, and run to join them. As I bounce, grinning like a fool at the girls around me, the world starts to spin. What's wrong? Is the bouncy house deflating? Colors start to swirl around me and I feel like I'm starting to fall...

...I'm locked in a cage! What's going on? How did I get here? I can just see Bradley, a kid from school, in a cage like mine. "Bradley! Hey! What's going on?" But he just rolls his head toward me, like he can barely hold it up, and shushes me like we're in the library. I look around and there are other kids here besides me. How did we all get here? There's a sound and I try to look around but it's hard to see through the small holes in the cage. Suddenly, there in front of me is the same man from my party. "Ben, Ben! I'm gonna get you out of here, okay?" He somehow busts the lock and I crawl out and everything goes black...

...Suddenly I'm walking into our garage. My mom's boyfriend is nowhere to be seen, so I creep over to his car. He keeps it buried under a dirty old tarp. I'm not sure why. The car is a sweet '67 Impala. He's shown it to me before. Even let me sit behind the wheel once or twice. Of course the car was parked and the keys weren't in the ignition. I take a last look around. The trunk is open, so I assume he must be around here somewhere, but I don't see him. I look into the trunk to find there's a gun sitting just inside the edge. I pick it up, checking it out. I feel like I'm in a movie or something. It's heavier than I thought it would be.

"Ben! Put that down! What have I told you?" Mom's boyfriend bursts into the garage and snatches the gun from my hands.

"But I don't get it. You had your own rifle when you were my age." I accuse him, hoping to turn this into my favor in some way.

"Ben, mark my words. You will never, ever shoot a gun, ever."

"I know what's going on. You think something might be coming for us." He has been acting weird for awhile now. He made us move away from my friends. Practically won't let me out of his sight anymore. He seems totally freaked.

"There's nothing coming for us." He says it almost like he'd believe it himself, if he says it a few more times.

"I could do what you do. You could teach me how to shoot-"

"Shut up about the freaking gun, okay!" He yells, exasperated.

Everything goes black again and I feel like I'm falling...

...I shoot upright, gasping. A cold sweat breaking out on my brow, his words still ringing in my ears. The sheets on my bed are a twisted mess. I've been having the same couple of dreams off and on for weeks now. They aren't nightmares, per se, but I find them very unsettling. I feel as if I should know who the man is that keeps popping up in them, but I just can't place him.

In the other dream, I'm a kid again, getting ready to go trick-or-treating. The same guy from my previous dream is there waiting for me to reveal my costume. I have apparently been working on it myself and seek his approval. I come out and he cracks a huge grin, "A Wendigo? Pretty awesome, Ben!" I have succeeded. He seems truly impressed.

He escorts me around the neighborhood like most other parents are doing, always keeping a discreet distance. Having parents, or even boyfriends of parents, walking with you is never cool. That, and I think, he doesn't really want to get close enough to anyone else where a conversation might start. He always seems uncomfortable in large crowds or even small groups. Seems more of a one on one kind of guy. Keeps to himself whenever possible. Even at home he doesn't talk it up a lot. Oh, and did I mention that in the dream, as he takes me around, that he has a handgun tucked into the back of his pants? He doesn't think I know it's there, but come on, kids see everything!

This dream always ends just a bit differently. Sometimes, we get home, I turn to show him my candy haul, and he's gone. Just vanished into thin air. Sometimes he disappears while I'm still out trick or treating. The timing is different every time but he always disappears.

The dreams seem real enough. They feel almost like memories. I've even seen the photos mom took of my eighth birthday, complete with bouncy house. The dreams are very real. But who is this guy? Mom doesn't seem to remember anything from my dreams, let alone some guy living with us when I was a kid. I sometimes wonder if he isn't a figment of my subconscious brain, toying with me about my waking quest. The thing, outside of work, that has consumed my waking hours...the search for who my biological father is. Every attempt I have made has led to a dead end. Maybe I need to back off. The obsession is starting to seriously affect my sleep. And when you're a cop, you really can't skimp on the sleep when you get the chance to bag some.