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Melissa listened. Strange--the loneliness of a hospital at night.
She knew that others tortured by their disease lay awake, perhaps just beyond the wall, perhaps listening too. Yet, the hush and the darkness drove her away from them. Hopelessly distant. Inconsolable. And bitterly angry.
But there was something more that particular night. There was cold, terrible cold prickling at Melissa's neck. Then, a few moments later, heat. Oily, wet heat. Her senses teetered, rolling between sweat and shivers, sweat and shivers. And her eyes itched, and itched. Terribly.
Melissa blinked, fast, and squeezed her eyes shut, but she couldn't scratch. She flipped her eyes right and left, trying to trick the craving, but it burrowed too deep. Melissa remembered when she climbed an apple tree covered with the hairy vines of poison ivy. She never forgot how to identify the despicable plant after that. The same moist, unholy itching which had covered her legs and arms returned, but this time in her eyes. And her lashes were crusted. She felt the crystals jab her cheeks.
Melissa signaled the nurse with the blow pipe mounted on the rail. The nurse had to be told. The fever felt worse. And now the eyes. The infection might not be responding. Still, Melissa had faith. More powerful antibiotics were waiting. They could knock the bug out, even if it showed some spunk, some resistance.
Melissa gazed up, waiting for the nurse to appear, but instead of unconsciously beginning to recount the tiles, she froze. The flash of sweat on her skin evaporated, and chills buried her in an avalanche. Something stirred in her dreams as she saw the shadows, like dust or smudges on the tiles. In her memory, an impression mixed with the shapes which mixed with a sound. But nothing in the fragments strewn in her brain, nothing plausible in Melissa's experience could explain the footprints. From the corner, then looping over her bed, then heading towards the door, there were footprints, ending as abruptly as they began. Footprints marking a casual stroll, or a momentary diversion. Footprints like countless others she had seen, except these marked twelve curious strides.
Strides across the dimly-lit ceiling.
On to Part 3