Melissa detested the ceiling.
The tiles--trimmed, orderly, rough like volcanic rock swallowing sound. When she wasn't paying attention, when she forgot to stop herself, she counted them. She began at the lower left where her eyes stretched to reach.
First course: thirteen tiles complete, one cut to a sliver.
Second course: thirteen tiles complete, one cut to a sliver.
Third course. Fourth course.
Eleven tiles complete, two cut around the cabinets. And on. And on, on, on, on.
Melissa slept, yet the square patterns skimmed in her brain. She wanted them to stop. She wriggled as they crashed into her skull like frozen rain and shattered. The shards tinkled on the floor, then melted away.
A nurse slipped in during the hush of the graveyard shift. Sterile wrap crinkled as she prepared. First, a tiny bottle clinked on the counter top, then a needle glittered in the green light. It sank into Melissa's arm. She didn't flinch. She didn't wake. The respirator pumped and bubbled. Melissa's chest rose and sank.
The nurse patted Melissa's hand. The fingers were stiffening, beginning to curl. The nurse frowned. She worked the arm a bit. Rotating. Flexing. Relaxing. Flexing. Dissatisfied, the nurse shook her head. Only delaying the inevitable. Such a sin. Melissa was only nineteen years old.
The nurse released the wrist, and the arm sank back into place. She moved on to the next room.
When Melissa snapped awake to the hiss of the respirator, she expected to see her hands flailing, like in the dream, but there was only the ceiling. And the squares. And the pattern. Melissa felt herself encased in lead. But then, she remembered. The metal framework hovering at the top of her vision clamped her spine in place, and every fiber of her body below the neck, below the scar where medicine failed, slept on.
On to Part 2