// Nineteen //

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"This will hurt a bit," a nurse said. "But you need to remain still."

I felt a cold hand touch my face, peeling my right eye open. "Wait, what are you doing?" I asked, panic rising in my stomach. "What's going on?"

"Keep still," he said. "It will be over soon."

"No, tell me what you're doing to me!" I struggled as he pressed my head back against the pillow. "Stop!"

"I just need to check your eyes."

"Why?" I tried to move my arms to push him off, but nothing was working, like I was paralyzed. I was submerged in a thick gel. Everything moved in slow motion.

This will be easier if you don't struggle.

A piercing pain shot through my eye. It traveled all the way up to my brain like a wave of fire crashing through my body. My ears rang like a gun shot had gone off, and I screamed as my eye burned. "Stop! Please stop!"

"Hold still." The nurse pushed on my chest, pinning me against the bed. Pain pulsed through my ribs. The broken bones shifted beneath my skin.

"Stop!" I gasped, uselessly trying to pull air into my lungs. My head felt light. I couldn't breath.

"Aaron!" a woman's voice shouted.

A hand grabbed me by the arm. "Get off me!" I screamed. My heart pounded. I couldn't move. "Stop, stop, stop! Please!"

"Is he okay?" another woman's voice asked.

"I think he must have been having a nightmare. He just started screaming like that."

"What's going on?" I panted, trying to catch my breath.

"You've been having a bad dream, Aaron," the first woman's voice said. Slowly, I recognized it. It was Doctor Boyd. "You've been screaming in your sleep."

I took a few seconds to catch my breath. Had it really just been a dream? It had felt so real, and when had I even woken up? I didn't remember waking up—everything blurred right together. I blinked my eyes in darkness. There was no pain. I had dreamed it. I had to have. My head spun. I reached to my ribs and placed my hand against them, tracing the bones with the tips of my fingers. They were all still in place. Nothing had shifted.

"Are you experiencing any pain? Do your ribs hurt? You're still on a lot of pain killers, so you shouldn't be."

"No," I said. "It's just... in my dream..." I paused for a second. "Never mind."

"Is there anything you want to tell me, Aaron? I know you don't want to be here, but we are all just trying to help you." She paused for a second, waiting for me to respond.

Drool collected at the base of my jaw as I chewed the inside of my cheek. I could hear the doctor's heart beating in her chest. Slow and calm. I could smell the hot, metallic blood pumping through her veins. I imagined my teeth puncturing her flesh, and the blood sliding down my throat.

"Aaron?" the doctor called my name again. I subconsciously licked my teeth. "Is there anything you want to tell me?"

I pulled a deep breath in through my nose. "No."

Doctor Boyd sighed heavily. "Okay, Aaron. You don't have to talk if you don't want to, but after you are discharged, there won't be much I can do for you. I think it might be helpful if you see a psychiatrist. I could recommend a few. It's clear you've been through some sort of trauma..."

"It was just a bad dream!" I snapped at her. "I don't need a psychiatrist. Everyone just needs to leave me the fuck alone."

The room was silent. I heard footsteps retreating, and the door slammed shut. I was alone.

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