To say my body hurt was an understatement, it felt like I had been stuck in a metal drum somebody had hit with a baseball bat for hours on end. My ears rang and felt like they were filled with liquid. My skin was on fire as if acid had been poured all over and I had been beaten with spiked clubs.

“Where am I? What happened?”

My words were unintelligible. The voice seemed to be mine, yet it was wrong and lower in tone. Something was wrong with my mouth but I couldn’t tell what it was. I tried to check the clock on my bedside table but couldn’t move. It was dark, nothing to see.

Shouldn’t there have been light somewhere?

Monsters, I thought, remembering my dreams. Getting shot. The monster dream came back crystal clear. I had been on the ground, looking into the blue sky. On either side were buildings, like those in the alley after I’d stepped out of opposing counsel’s office building. They were different, but the overall structure was the same, like a blurry photocopy.

I tried to move my head, but it was fastened in place.

That was when I heard an engine, low and rumbling. It started quiet but grew to fill the alley, echoing off the buildings. It came closer and closer, louder and louder.

A strange creature bent over me. I opened my mouth to scream, but it was wired shut. It looked like a jaguar that had turned into an insect and grown wings, but that wasn’t quite right. Its mouth opened and I could see into a deep maw that was wide enough to swallow me whole. I could hear people as if they had been eaten alive.

The creature’s mouth opened wider and wider. Its teeth stopped inches from my face. Another creature came from behind.

That was where it ended.

There had been other dreams, but none as vivid as that. It was just a dream, I reminded myself.  They had all just been dreams; nightmares, so vivid they were convincingly real but not quite there.

I shivered, suddenly cold.

My body was covered in sweat. My eyes stung, my hand wouldn’t move when I tried to wipe away the perspiration. The last moments of the dream where I’d been shot returned, the sudden reality of the warm asphalt on my head came like a breaking dam. 

“Ricky! Ava!” I said. My voice was still unintelligible and wrong. Little details about the shooting came back, one piece at a time. The acrid smell of blood—my blood—as it covered the ground. A masked man.

The shooter.

He’d been crazy. He hadn’t listened to a word I said, even though I had tried to help.

More sweat dripped down my face.

Perhaps it wasn’t a dream after all. I swallowed, remembering he’d spoken through a prerecorded message.

Face the facts, Earl Anderson, I told myself, face the incontrovertible facts. You were shot. You saw blood. You smelled blood. You lost consciousness. I took another deep breath. But you are still alive. You can feel your body. You can think.

Think.

I was probably sedated. After another attempt to move my hand failed, I worked on my eyes. They were not secured. I could feel my eyeballs rolling around, I just needed to get my eyelids open. On the first try I saw a short slash of gray and felt a stinging sensation. The second time showed little more, but my eyes burned more as well, from sweat I assumed. After the burning went away I tried a third time.

It worked.

Everything was blurry. I could distinguish shapes and saw a light overhead.

There was a beeping that sounded far away.

“Where is my family?”

The beeping slowed, sounding in time with my heart.

I was in a hospital.

Not my favorite place but not the worst either, especially after getting shot. As I drifted into unconsciousness, I no longer had trouble distinguishing between my dreams and the reality of taking a bullet.

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