PROVING GROUND Preview – Chapter 1


When the United States as we knew it came to an end, I saw the whole thing on TV. It didn’t happen the way it always does in the movies. No nuclear explosions, no aliens invading our cities, no apocalypse predicted by the Mayans. It all happened by vote.
I was sitting in the living room with my family when my mom turned on the news, saying she wanted to see a story on Purgosyn, a brand-new medical treatment that promised to cure most diseases and even slow the aging process. All the rich people already had it, but if you didn’t drive a Bentley and vacation in Monaco, you weren’t getting it anytime soon. What we saw was Randall Quinn, the man who created Purgosyn, standing near the president, vice president, and a woman I assumed was the Speaker of the House with the headline “Quinn Industries CEO Attends Historic Vote.” I wasn’t really paying attention until the president stepped down and allowed Quinn to take his place.
“My fellow Americans,” Quinn said, his intense blue eyes staring into the camera. “This was not a vote on health care coverage in regard to Purgosyn. It was a vote on governmental reform. The corrupt and self-serving politics of the past are dead. Today, I am proud to tell you that the full authority of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches have been ceded to me so that I may save our country from destroying itself. The presidency, Congress, and the Supreme Court are hereby dissolved.”
And that was it, the death of American democracy, killed by a vote. Congress was fired, the Supreme Court was fired, and the president and vice president packed up and moved out. No arguing, no fighting, nothing. Well, there were a few angry ones. One guy from the Supreme Court vowed to fight the decision, and a handful of senators made the rounds on all the news shows. There were protests and marches, but none of it did any good. The United States of America, model of democracy, was done.
It was still called the United States of America, though. It’s kind of like when they do remakes of old movies: the people involved are different and they change some of the rules, but the name is the same and in the end it feels pretty familiar. That may have been because things in the new United States weren’t too different from before. I guess that’s why most people—myself included—were so casual about the whole thing.
If I had known what was coming, I would have been terrified.
Nothing changed at my school. The kids I knew were only worried about what went on in Middletown: Friday night football games, who had the most expensive car, where the next party was, and who Alex Fenderman–often referred to by my peers as “that skank”–was dating now. I didn’t have anything against Alex; if she wanted to wear tiny, skintight clothes to get attention, that was her business. The other girls at school were afraid she’d steal their boyfriends, but I wasn’t worried about that.
So life went on as usual, until the Sunday morning that tore my world apart.
Throwing back the covers and yawning, I shuffled to the door and walked out into the hallway, barely balanced enough to make it to the kitchen without falling down the stairs. My older sister Devlin and stepsister Hayley were at the table having cereal while my mom sat at the dining room table, flipping through a cooking magazine. I could hear the lawnmower outside, so it didn’t take a genius to figure out where my stepdad was.
“So did you have fun last night?” Devlin asked with a smile as I walked in and sat down across from her.
“Yeah,” I said, flashing a smile of my own. “It was really nice.”
“How was the food?” Hayley asked.
“Forget the food,” Devlin said. “How was the company? Did he kiss you?”
I shot Devlin an intense look, motioning toward our mother with my head.
“Did he kiss you?” she whispered.
I didn’t answer, but something in my expression answered for me.
“He did!” she said quietly. “I knew it!”
I gave her another mean look and waved my hand to get her to shut up.
“I’m not deaf yet, girls,” my mom chimed in.
I closed my eyes and sunk down in my chair, my face flushed; I was absolutely mortified. I hadn’t even said anything and my mother knew too much. And on top of that, now they were all misinformed. I kissed him.
“I’m not stupid, Lacan,” my mom said. “I know boys are going to kiss you. And why shouldn’t they? You’re a beautiful girl and any boy would be lucky to kiss you.”
“Oh my god, Mom, stop,” I pleaded.
“Yeah, Mom, that’s a little weird,” Devlin added, clearly disturbed.
My mom walked into the kitchen. “What’s so weird about acknowledging my daughter’s allure? She’s gorgeous. And so are you, Dev.” She pinched Devlin’s cheeks.
Devlin lightly pushed our mom’s hand away from her face. “Please don’t touch the face.”
“And Hayley, dear, you’re practically a model yourself,” my mom said, staring admiringly at her. “You have your mother’s eyes.”
“I hope I don’t have anything else of hers,” Hayley muttered, shoving a spoonful of corn flakes into her mouth.
“All right, I’ll stop harassing you three.” My mom walked out of the kitchen, put on her sandals, and headed out the front door.
“He didn’t try to slip you tongue, did he?” Devlin asked, a little worried.
“No! It wasn’t like that,” I said, angered that she would even assume such a thing about Ben. “And for the record, I kissed him.”
“No way,” Devlin said.
“Yes, I did. We were in the driveway and there was this awkward pause, but he didn’t make a move, so I decided to make one.” I smiled, pleased with my bold move.
“Is he a good kisser?” Hayley asked.
“Yes. Very.” That warm feeling that surged through me as we kissed returned as the memory played in my head. I could almost smell his minty breath.
Devlin placed her hand over her heart and pretended to tear up. “I’m so proud I could cry.”
“Shut up,” I said lightly, trying in vain not to smile.
“Just don’t go having his babies quite yet.”
Devlin laughed and stood up, taking her empty bowl to the dishwasher. “Well, I have to meet Remy at the mall. He’s supposed to buy me some new shoes.”
“Didn’t he just buy you shoes last weekend?” I asked.
“Yes, and now he’s going to buy me some new ones,” she answered sarcastically.
She grabbed her keys and purse, walking out the front door. I wasn’t really hungry, so I decided to go back to my room and get dressed. As I hung my pajamas on the back of my door and stood in front of my closet, I heard a strange noise coming from outside. It sounded like some type of vehicle, but I couldn’t tell what. It almost sounded like a large bus, but it couldn’t have been a school bus since it was Sunday and summer break. I quickly selected a blue blouse to go with my jeans, put on my teardrop necklace, and peered out the blinds to the street. Our neighbors across the street were standing in their yard, watching something down the street. I saw them turn the other direction, and within a few seconds an armored military vehicle rolled down the street, stopping just past my house.
That’s never a good sign.
I ran out of my room, nearly falling down the stairs before heading out the front door. I could see my mom and stepdad standing at the edge of the yard, talking to a neighbor. Soldiers appeared out of the armored vehicle wearing full combat gear and gas masks, assault rifles in their hands. There were more soldiers down the street, herding onlookers toward a truck in front of their armored vehicle. Two more trucks turned the corner, parking behind the armored vehicle near my house. Within a few seconds there were soldiers all over the street.
“This area is now under quarantine,” one of them said, his voice sounding strange through the mask. “I need everyone to line up here by the truck, we’re going to take you in for testing to ensure you haven’t been infected.”
I didn’t even notice my mom and stepdad standing next to me. “Infected with what?” my stepdad asked the soldier.
“Sir, you’ll be given further information at the proper time.”
“That’s Colonel Winters to you, Private, and I demand to know what the hell is going on.”
“John,” my mom said nervously.
“Apologies, Colonel, but that’s all I can say at present. As I said, you’ll be told more at the proper time.”
“Mom, what is this?” I asked, my heart rate increasing as I glanced around at all the armed men.
“It’s okay, Lacan, just stay calm.” She gave me a reassuring smile, even if she was forcing it. She looked at the soldier. “My stepdaughter is still inside and my oldest daughter just left.”
“We’ll take care of them, ma’am. Please, board the truck and allow us to have you checked out.”
I saw other families being loaded onto trucks as we walked to the one we were assigned. My stepdad climbed in first, offering his hand to my mother and then me. Several of the families on our block piled in with us, and a few minutes later Hayley arrived, still wearing her pajamas and thoroughly confused.
“What’s going on?” she asked my mom as she squeezed between me and another young girl.
“I don’t know yet, sweetie,” my mom replied with a sad smile.
“Is Devlin coming?”
“They said they’ll take care of her.”
When the truck was full, I heard the engine start and someone shouting, though I couldn’t understand what he was saying. The truck began to move, swaying us back and forth as it began a bumpy ride that would last nearly a half hour. I closed my eyes, trying to block out the surreal present with the joyous memories of the previous night. I remembered the touch of Ben’s hand, the intoxicating way he looked at me, and the pure rush of kissing him. I almost forgot where I was when the truck came to a sudden halt.
The back door opened and two soldiers waved us out. One of them offered his gloved hand, which I took as I stepped down. I thanked him and smiled. The area around us looked like a college campus, with scattered two- and three-level buildings made of light-colored stone and capped with green metal roofs. When I saw the tall fence topped with razor wire in the distance, I knew it was a government facility.
“Everyone follow me,” the helpful soldier said, glancing at me for a moment before leading the group to a gray door. He swiped a keycard and opened the door, the other soldier holding the door for us as we filed into the hallway.
I felt someone grab my hand. It was Hayley, and she looked terrified. I smiled at her, and she reluctantly smiled back, but only for a moment. The soldier led us to another long hallway lined with large windows. Inside the various rooms were people in white suits and masks. A few people in medical gowns were sitting or lying on beds, some having their blood drawn, others answering questions from those in the masks. The soldier led us to a large empty room and told us to wait until we were called. He closed the door behind him and I heard the lock click.
Now we’re trapped.
My family and I sat in a back corner of the room. Hayley leaned on me, resting her head on my shoulder. I could smell the herbal shampoo in her hair, the same kind I used. My stepdad put his arm around my mom. No one spoke, at least not in my family. The others whispered to each other, but I could make out very little of what they were saying other than random words like “conspiracy” and “outbreak.”
About ten minutes later, a woman in a white suit and mask and carrying a clipboard opened the door.
“Hello, everyone, I’m Dr. Handler. I know you’re all confused and nervous, but we’re going to work as quickly as we can to resolve this whole situation, okay?”
A few heads nodded.
“All right, we’ll go alphabetically, so—” She read over her list of names. “Adams?” No one responded. “Anderson?” No response. “Branford?”
My mom raised her hand. “That’s us.”
“Okay, I’ll take you one at a time, starting with Dad.”
“My daughter and I are Winters,” my stepdad said.
“Are you married?” Dr. Handler asked, gesturing toward my mom.
“It’s fine, then.”
My stepdad gave my mom a quick smile before following Dr. Handler out of the room and down the hall. My mom just stared out the window, as if waiting for the moment my stepdad would reappear.
“What do you think they’ll do to us?” Hayley asked me quietly.
“I guess they’re doing some tests to make sure we’re not sick.”
“I hope they don’t have needles.” Hayley was deathly afraid of needles. She once passed out when her doctor gave her an IV for dehydration. “I don’t think I could do it.”
I patted her lightly on the head. “You’ll be fine.” I saw my mom place her hand over her heart. I looked out the window to see a soldier escorting Devlin toward us. When the door opened, only Devlin entered.
“Mom, what is going on?” she asked frantically. “They wouldn’t let me stay with Remy and they wouldn’t tell me anything!” She looked around. “Where’s John?”
“They took him back already. They’re checking everyone out to make sure we’re not sick.”
“Why would we be sick? What happened?”
“Just be patient, honey. Here, sit next to me.” She patted the bench. Devlin sat down and my mom put her arm around her. “It’s going to be fine.”
“I want to see Remy,” Devlin whimpered. “What if he’s sick? I need to see him.”
“You will. Just be patient.”
Hearing Devlin talk about Remy made me think of Ben. Where is he? Is he in another room somewhere else in the building? Is he sick? Is he worried about me? He couldn’t be sick, he was too important to me. And I couldn’t be sick, because I still had so much to do and say and know. I wouldn’t have been given an amazing night with Ben only to have everything taken away, would I? Or was that my last scrap of happiness, a last meal before I watch my best friend die or die myself? I wanted to talk to him so much I clenched my fists without realizing it, only noticing after my fingernails left deep impressions on my palms.
It wasn’t long before my stepdad returned with Dr. Handler. He sat on the other side of Devlin.
“Your turn, Mom,” Dr. Handler said in a friendly manner.
My mom rubbed Devlin’s back and stood, following Dr. Handler out of the room.
“What did they do?” Devlin asked my stepdad.
“They took some blood, asked some questions.”
I felt Hayley shudder.
“You’ll be fine,” I whispered in her ear, trying to convince myself as well.
My mom wasn’t gone very long either. She gave us a smile as she walked into the room and sat back down next to Devlin, giving her a supportive hug. Dr. Handler was back, her attention turned to Devlin, calling her name. Devlin nodded. My mom showed her a reassuring smile and nod, but my sister’s face remained dour as she followed the doctor out of the room. As we waited in silence, I glanced down to see Hayley had dozed off on my shoulder, snoring quietly. My mom and I exchanged amused looks as Hayley slept peacefully. My stepdad stared forward, though from his expression I couldn’t even guess what he was thinking about. He was a hard man to read, serious as often as he was easygoing. He was a stern disciplinarian from his time in the Marines but softhearted nonetheless, even if he tried to hide it, like when he cried during Marley and Me and tried to blame it on allergies.
When Dr. Handler returned, she was alone. My heart rate sped up a little, knowing that was not a good sign.
“Lacan?” she said, looking at me, then Hayley.
I raised my right hand. “Where’s Devlin?”
“We’re running a few additional tests.”
“She’s not sick, is she?” my mom asked. All the good humor had drained from her face.
“We don’t have anything conclusive. These tests should tell us more. We really should get started with Lacan, though.”
I gently shook my shoulder, Hayley’s eyes slowly opening as she straightened up. “Sorry, it’s my turn. You’ll have to sleep on someone else,” I said lightheartedly as I stood up.
I glanced back at my mom. Her eyes were usually bright and full of joy, but as she watched me being led out of the room, I saw only one thing: panic. By now my heart was beating much faster than normal, my muscles tensing as I followed Dr. Handler down the hallway to the room at the end. She closed the door behind us and had me sit on the exam table, the paper crackling as I sat down, my legs dangling over the edge. She sat down across from me with her clipboard and pen.
“Lacan, we’re going to run through a list of basic questions, so just answer honestly, okay?”
“Okay.” Why would I lie to a doctor?
“Have you traveled out of the country in the past month?”
“Have you traveled outside of the Middletown-Frederick area in the past month?”
“Have you come into contact with anyone in the past week or so who seemed to be seriously ill, or exhibited flu-like symptoms, or maybe coughed or sneezed a lot?”
“No. Not that I remember.”
“Do you drink tap water?”
“No, just bottled.”
“Have you used a water fountain at school or in a public place recently?”
“Ugh, no way.”
I couldn’t see her mouth because of the mask, but the way her eyes creased slightly made me think she smiled.
“Do you drink alcohol?”
“Of course not, I’m sixteen.” I knew some of my peers drank, but for some reason I was insulted she thought I would do so.
“Do you use drugs, either illegal or prescription?”
“No.” Now she thinks I’m a stoner or a pill-popper.
“Are you sexually active?”
Did she seriously just ask me that? “Uh, no,” I said emphatically, shifting uncomfortably on the crinkly paper.
“Any drug allergies or medications?”
Dr. Handler clicked her pen and placed the clipboard on the desk behind her. “All right, I just need to take your blood.” She picked up a bagged syringe and unwrapped it. I wasn’t afraid of needles, so it didn’t bother me when she stuck it in my arm and took what she needed. “That’s a very pretty necklace.”
“Huh?” I looked down at my teardrop pendant, having forgotten all about it. It was a soft gray color, outlined in shining silver. “Oh, right. A friend of mine gave it to me before he left for San Diego.”
“I love San Diego. I went there for a conference once. Beautiful place.”
“That’s what I hear,” I said uncomfortably. It made me a little uneasy that she was taking blood to test me for what I could only assume was a deadly disease while asking me about the place that had taken Ben from me for a whole year.
“Okay, all done,” she said as she removed the needle.
“Can I go back now?”
“Not yet. We need to run some other tests first.”
“Is that what you’re doing with Devlin?”
“Whatever this disease is, it seems to be targeting young people. We’re testing everyone to be safe, but so far all of the victims have been between the ages of twelve and eighteen.”
“That’s comforting,” I said, my concern shifting to panic. “So you don’t even know what it is?”
“I’m just here to test for the disease. Only the higher-ups know anything about it, and they’re keeping a lid on it to keep the whole country from panicking.”
“It’s all over the country?” I felt like I was going to have a panic attack.
“There are other incidences. That’s all I’ve been told.”
“Oh my god,” I said, my breathing becoming labored. “Am I going to die? Tell me, honestly.”
“Calm down, Lacan, it’s okay. Everything is under control.”
“It’s obviously not if there’s a mystery disease out there all over the place!” My chest felt like it was being crushed. I couldn’t breathe deeply and I felt like I wasn’t getting any oxygen.
“Lacan, you need to calm down, okay?”
I did my best to slow my breathing, and within a few seconds I was able to take normal breaths.
“Are you okay now?”
“Yes. Sorry. I don’t usually freak out like that.”
“I’m sorry I freaked you out. I just didn’t want you to be blindsided later.” I nodded. “Are you ready for the next part?” I nodded again. “Okay, follow me.”
Dr. Handler led me out of the room and down the hallway to a stairwell. Descending to the floor below, we ended up in a similar hallway, but the rooms were much bigger, each equipped with a bed and various monitoring devices. Some of them had the curtains pulled closed, so I assumed they were occupied. We stopped at a room near the end of the floor.
“There’s a gown for you to put on,” Dr. Handler said, pointing to a white medical gown on the bed. “You can leave your underwear on.”
“Awesome.” At least I could maintain a shred of dignity as I worried myself into a heart attack.
The gown was stiff and uncomfortable, no surprise there. I tied the strings as tight as I could to keep it closed before sitting down on the bed. A minute or so later Dr. Handler returned, picking up the strappy thing used to test blood pressure and slipping it around my right arm. The squeeze was slightly painful and I could feel the blood pumping through my veins as the constriction slowly eased. Dr. Handler made a note of the results and tossed the blood pressure thing into a red can labeled “Biohazard.” Grabbing a stethoscope from the table behind me, she placed it inside my gown and against my back, just to the right of my spine. The metal was cold and I winced a little.
“Sorry, I know it’s cold,” she said. “Take a deep breath for me.”
I took an exaggerated breath and exhaled as slowly as I could.
“Good. Again,” she said, moving the stethoscope to the other side of my spine. I took another deep breath. “Okay, everything sounds good.” She took the stethoscope off and tossed in into the red can.
“You must go through a lot of those.”
“When it comes to something like this, we don’t take chances.”
I assumed that was meant to be comforting, but it actually made me feel worse. What exactly is “something like this?” Is it just another overblown disease or is it the apocalyptic virus that’ll wipe humanity from the world? Do I have any chance of surviving if I do have it? Will it be quick and painless or prolonged misery? I was beginning to feel nauseated, which made we wonder if I really was sick or just freaked out. Dr. Handler must have seen something in my face that betrayed me.
“Are you okay? Do you feel sick?” she asked, her voice laced with concern for the first time.
“No, I’m fine. I just . . . I can’t handle all this.”
“I understand. This is a lot for someone your age to deal with. It’s a lot for anyone to deal with, really.” She gave me a reassuring pat on the shoulder with her gloved hand. “You can get dressed now. Just toss the gown in the red can there. I’ll be back as soon as your results come through. It shouldn’t be more than fifteen or twenty minutes.”
When I was alone again, I tore off the paper gown and tossed it in the can, returning to my clothes. I pulled my necklace out from inside my shirt, staring at it for a moment, the memory of my date with Ben soothing me a little. I wondered if Hayley had been taken back already, if she cried or passed out when the needle appeared. I wondered if Devlin’s results had come back already. I didn’t want to dwell on the thought of her being sick, so I did my best to think of other things, anything to escape the growing sense of doom that hung over me. I was in the midst of trying to remember the name of the girl who put paste on my favorite sweater in first grade when Dr. Handler came back, a stack of stapled papers in hand.
“I’ve got the results,” she said matter-of-factly. Her tone and choice of words were not what I wanted to hear. My stomach clenched in anticipation of bad news. “You tested positive, Lacan.” The clenching intensified until I felt like my insides were being crushed together. My heart rate seemed to double, my breathing once again difficult. “I don’t want you to panic, okay? I’m going to move you—”
The rest of her words were unintelligible; I was losing consciousness, falling sideways onto the bed.
When I opened my eyes, I was lying in bed, blankets covering my body up to my chest, my arms resting at my sides. I could feel I was wearing a medical gown and nothing else; even my necklace was gone. An IV was running some kind of clear fluid into my left wrist. I was in a different room, a larger one with curtains along two walls, which I assumed covered windows into the hallway. There were no desks or chairs or drawers, nothing but my bed and the equipment surrounding it. I recognized the heart monitor, but nothing else looked familiar. The only sounds I could hear were the rhythmic beeping of the heart monitor and the occasional blips from the other devices.
“Hello?” I called. “Can anyone hear me?”
A few moments later a man in a white suit, mask, and glasses entered the room, carrying a clipboard.
“I’m Dr. Whistler, I’ll be your physician from here on out,” he said, sounding a little annoyed.
“Where’s Dr. Handler?” I asked. I couldn’t figure out why, but the new doctor made me uneasy the moment he walked in the door. Maybe it was the eyes; they were cold, unsympathetic.
“Dr. Handler deals with new admissions, I treat the infected,” he replied rather brusquely.
The infected? Is that what I am now?
“Your family has been notified. They will be allowed to visit you shortly,” Dr. Whistler said as he read the numbers on the monitoring machines, recording them on his clipboard.
“Are they okay? Are they infected?” I asked, trying to suppress the urge to panic.
“You were the only infected member of your family. However, there were twelve others who tested positive already and we still have a few thousand to go through.” Judging from his tone you would have thought he was talking about paperwork he had to fill out, not the lives of thousands of people. I began to hate him already.
“Was Ben—-Benjamin—-Harper one of the infected?” My heart was pounding as I waited for an answer.
“I don’t recall the name. Are you feeling any pain, nausea, or other discomfort?”
“No. I feel fine. I just fainted. I’m kind of overwhelmed here, in case you can’t tell.”
“I will give you an anti-anxiety medication to calm you.”
“I don’t need it, really.”
“You will,” he said in a way that gave me the chills.
He removed the tube from my IV and pulled a syringe from his pocket, preparing it for injection. He slid the needle into my IV and pressed down on the plunger. Without another word he walked out of the room, leaving me to obsess over his ominous warning. What’s going to happen to me that I need anti-anxiety medication? Am I dying and there’s nothing they can do about it? If I am, how long will it take? Will it hurt? Will they numb me with painkillers until the end comes?
I put my hands over my face, trying to keep myself from hyperventilating. I wanted to cry, to scream, to throw something, but no tears came, no sound but my heavy breathing.
“Why is this happening to me?” I mumbled as I slowly recovered. “What the hell did I ever do to deserve this?”
I glanced up, seeing someone at the door. It was my mother, her face pale and her eyes full of sorrow. She waved to me half-heartedly, and I could tell she was on the verge of tears. The curtains suddenly parted, revealing the large windows I had suspected were hiding behind them. It was then that I saw my whole family standing in the hallway, looking scared and helpless. With them, at the back of the line behind Devlin, stood Ben.
I was so surprised to see him I didn’t know whether to be relieved he was okay or angry that he had to see me like this, through a window in a medical facility, hooked to machines and given a grim diagnosis. He gave me a tiny smile, and even that was enough to make me feel better, if only for a moment before the reality of my situation pushed its way back to the forefront of my mind.
“Lacan, we’re here, baby,” my mom said, her voice coming into the room from a speaker near the ceiling. “You’re going to be fine, okay? Just hang in there and let the doctors make you better, okay? We’re not going anywhere, okay?”
Whenever my mom began ending every sentence with “okay,” it meant she was on the verge of breaking down. The last time she had done so was when Devlin and I visited her in the hospital after my father beat her half to death.
“Okay, Mom,” I said, forcing a smile.
Devlin stared at me through the glass, tears in her eyes. “I’m sorry, Lacan. I’m sorry I give you such a hard time. I’m sorry—-”
“Dev, stop,” I pleaded, my own eyes welling up, obscuring my vision. I wiped the tears away with my palms. “If you start apologizing for everything you’ve ever done, then I know there’s no hope for me.”
“Of course there’s hope,” my mom said. “You’re going to get better, okay?”
“Okay,” I said halfheartedly. I began to wonder if they were told something that had been kept from me, maybe the truth about my condition.
“We’re here for you,” my stepdad said, nodding. He looked calm, but his eyes showed fear, something I rarely saw in him. It was then that I knew I was doomed.
Hayley gave me an occasional glance, but couldn’t keep eye contact with me. I could tell from her puffy red eyes that she had cried before they arrived. It seemed like Ben’s eyes never left me, and when I finally looked back at him, he placed his hand on the window.
“Last night was just the beginning, Lake.” Only he and my mom called me “Lake.” He smiled through his obvious doubt, and that brought a legitimate smile to my face. In that moment I believed him, that I was going to be fine.
And then my stomach seized up, my throat feeling as if it were on fire. I clutched my throat as it began to close, making it nearly impossible to breathe.
“Lacan? Lacan!” my mom shouted, banging on the glass. “Doctor!”
My body began to convulse, rocking and shaking the bed as I violently twitched.
“Doctor!” my mom cried.
When my body finally stopped moving, I could see Dr. Whistler running down the hallway toward me. I could also see Ben, a look of pure terror on his face. It was the last thing I saw before everything faded into darkness.

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