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I found myself in the midst of one of the ruined cities where I knew the zombies were lurking. It was just a matter of time before their presence was announced. But, suddenly, the Plague Doctor appeared above me on a balcony, his retinue of crows fluttering about him. He laughed through his strange mask and said, “I heard you’ve made the hard choice.”

“What choice did I really have?” I retorted.

“True. True. Still, it was a choice you made and all. I need to tell you, though. Things will change as a result. You’ve grown a bit complacent through all this.”

“What do mean? I haven’t even been here for so long.”

“That doesn’t matter. You have figured out too many patterns and that leads to expectations. I’m here to help you. I have the remedy. I’m here to treat you.”

He said the last as if he were relishing the task.

Later, as the zombies tore my flesh I thought back to my childhood. I used to dread the dentist. Most kids do. But this dentist was a sadistic bastard. His name was Dr. Zeigler. One time he didn’t give me enough Novocain when he numbed my mouth for a cavity to be filled. Of course, I began to flinch when he hit the nerve. I remember him growing irritated at my wiggling and wincing. I pushed his hand away and that just made him madder. One of the nurses made a comment about me needing more local anesthesia and he merely said, “I’m almost finished, just hold him down and I’ll only be a second.” I couldn’t even cry properly as they held me down and forced my mouth open. And, of course, it took Dr. Ziegler much longer than a second.

***

My journey through the Waking World is now an escorted journey. I am never without one of the ruffians who stopped me from my mission with Silent Redding. Because of this, it makes it difficult for me to talk to Shelly. But I did manage an exchange. It left me exhilarated and I’m sure she felt it too. I was walking by the table she was sitting at when she dropped her doll. It’s a little dark-haired double of her that I suspect is her messenger. I gathered this from the fact that she sent it into my path by the table as a message that she wants to make further contact. I picked it up and went to hand it back to her when the goon on my left intervened. But she took the doll and said, “Thank you.” It was spoken so soft and warm. I said, “You’re welcome.” And we stared at each other while the goon dragged me back to my room. Hopefully she can send her messenger to me again.

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