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I awake to the smell of generic antiseptics and the nervous chatter of hushed voices. I sit upright and look around. To my right is a woman talking hurriedly into a cell phone, her words too soft and blurred to hold any meaning. To my left is a man with puffy, red eyes, holding tightly to a little girl, who is concentrating on the picture of a princess that she’s coloring. I count seven chairs in our row, and seven more pushed against them, back to back. Each but two of the fourteen chairs are occupied.
I stretch quietly and look down at the floor. White tiles, with red, blue, and yellow evenly spaced between them. I stand up, and carefully place one bare foot against a blue tile. My other touches the white tile, flecked with off-white, in front of it. I proceed to walk carefully, stepping on each tile as though it might fall out from underneath me.
I keep walking, still in the same hallway. Further down, the florescent lights are less frequent. The hallway seems empty now. Finally, I reach an intersection of sorts. I look up and see six children sitting on the floor, reading, or playing with little toys with sliding beads. Nurses sit in the chairs around them. The children are quiet, their bald heads seemingly too large for their bodies, and their white, stretched faces seem haunted.
A little girl, who had been reading a large picture book in the corner, stands weakly and walks toward me. She stops in front of me, beginning to speak softly. I bend down to listen.
“Who are you?” she asks me patiently.
“I-I’m…” I begin, realizing that I don’t know. She blinks up at me with her huge, wide eyes. They’re the darkest shade of brown, nearly black in the dim light. After a moment, she realizes that I have no answer.
“I’m Kate.” she says softly. “I like your dress.”
I look down at the puffy white dress I’m wearing. She reaches out and touches the skirt, the material barely moving under her touch.
A nurse rises from her chair and hurries over, putting her arm around the little girl.
“Isn’t that a pretty dress?” the girl replies, pointing a tiny finger at me.
The nurse looks at me, and her face twists ever so slightly into a look of confusion.
“Come now,” she says, leading the little girl back into one of the rooms.
I peer down the hallway ahead of me, but decide to return the way I came, hurrying back toward the chairs. I pass them, uninterested in the people there. With a sudden sense of purpose, I push through the doors marked Emergency Room: Medical Personnel Only. Suddenly, I’m enveloped in a world totally separate from the one I’d just come from. People rush about, shoving past me without paying any attention. People yell, and I hear sobbing.
I glide through the crowd, toward the back of the ER. People fill a special, glass room entirely, so that I cannot see the bed itself. I grip the door handle and yank hard, but to no avail. The door refuses to budge. I let out a strangled cry of frustration and bang my fists against the glass. No one in the room pays any attention.
Finally, a large man in green scrubs grabs the handle from me and pulls the door open. I slide in quickly after him, and a coppery, metallic smell pervades my senses. Suddenly, I know why I‘m here.
“No! It wasn’t supposed to happen!” I shriek, shoving hard against a tiny female nurse, trying to get to the bed.
“Move!” I scream at her. She reaches forward, pulling a handful of bloody gauze from somewhere that I can’t see.
“No! It wasn’t supposed to happen like this!” I cry shrilly. Finally, she moves, and I fall forward, sprawling onto the bed. I land in pools of white tulle, stained crimson. I hear a loud, shrill bell, and clutch at the girl in the bed. I finally manage to get to the top, fighting against the people around me. I look down, staring into my own cold, unblinking eyes, and scream.