The man woke up slowly, unable to remember having fallen asleep, and drew a raspy breath. He grunted at the effort of breathing as each labored exchange of air nearly brought starbursts to his eyes, still shut against the light. He grimaced at the dryness of his throat and instinctively tried to swallow, expecting that some saliva would alleviate, or hopefully at least lessen, the misery of his uncomfortably arid windpipe. Unable to produce even a tiny swallow of spittle, though, he earned nothing for his efforts but a painful gulp and dry cough.
He opened his eyes, and light flooded his vision, adding searing flashes of pain to the hammering ache thud, thud, thudding in his head. Groaning against it, he tried again, blinking repeatedly, slowly adjusting to the light. At last, his vision clear, he found himself lying in a bed, looking through a window at the pale golden sun floating in a cloudless, crystal blue sky.
He turned away from the brilliance, with effort; the simple turn of his head a tremendous struggle. The muscles in his neck strained in protest, surely they had never before been abused so unjustly.
Forcing himself to exhale and trying to ignore the increasingly powerful headache, the man consciously relaxed each part of his body from his shoulders to his feet. It was an old trick, used religiously before speaking in front of large groups or on nights when his mind was too active for sleep. Odd that he could recall restless nights and auditoriums full of attentive strangers but little about his current circumstance.
Releasing the tension from his muscles allowed him to manage the apparent pain of just being awake to some degree, and for the first time he took a good look at his surroundings. He was laying in what seemed to be a hospital bed, in what reminded him of the lab room from 11th grade chemistry at St. Phillipe’s. Four octagonal tables with smooth black-finished tops stood to the right of the bed holding him, all before a vacuum-hood at the front of the room, which just blocked his view of the only exit. For the moment, though, he could think of nothing beyond the sink and goose-neck faucet set into each table.
Turning his attention to himself, he wiggled his toes as they peeked out from a dingy, too-short blanket covering his waist and legs. Dozens of circular scabs covered his arms, much like those from cigarette burns, and there were even more similarly shaped scars. An IV tube was taped to his right arm, leading to an empty bag besides his bed. He briefly considered removing it, but it hung from the kind of hooked pole that was designed for mobility. He had to reach the closest sink, and removing it might lead to complications.
Crossing the four feet of space between the bed and faucet seemed a herculean task. He took two deep breaths in preparation for the effort: inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale. His legs swung over the side of the bed with the last outward push of air, one step closer to precious water.
He wiggled his toes again and they brushed against the cool tile of the floor below.
Again, he took two measured breaths in preparation for sliding off the bed: deep inhale, slow exhale, deep inhale, slow exhale. He tensed, and his bare feet slid toward the tiles. Each foot flattening against the solid floor was triumphant, but the reward was much too brief. The world spun out of control as the rest of his body followed. Darkness washed over him as he thought strangely how pleasant the coolness was against this cheek.