Lloyd gripped the arm rests as if his life depended on it. His skin stretched taut against the bone in his knuckles, squeezing the blood out until they protruded, white, against the spotted brown of his skin. The hard corners of the arm rests bit into his palms. Maybe he should loosen his grip. Maybe those lines of faint pain down the length of his palms were signals telling him that he was cutting off his own blood supply. Pain was your body’s way of telling you that something was wrong, he had heard. Maybe if he didn't let go of the arm rests, the blood flow in his hands would be severed completely. First his hands would just feel tingly, but then they would get weaker and weaker until he could not feel them at all anymore. And then maybe they would just die off altogether -- body parts couldn't live without a blood supply, after all. And then they would get gangrenous and he would have to get them amputated and he'd have to go to a hospital and sit in a waiting room and clench the arm rests on the chair there -- the last time he would ever be able to use those hands before they were gone forever -- as if his life depended on it. Would he even be able to move his hands if they were gangrenous?

"You comfortable, there, Lloyd?" Dr. Rictus beamed at him as if everything in the world was just peachy-keen and Lloyd was not about to give himself gangrene. Clouds of white hair gathered around Dr. Rictus's head in a clownish mock-halo. He squeezed antiseptic soap into his hand out of a dispenser with a peeling yellow smiley face on the front.

"Uh huh."

"Great, great! I'll be with you in one flick of a lamb's tail. You just hold on."

Lloyd loosened his grip on the left arm rest and brought his hand to his damp forehead. He ran his fingertips backwards across the shining pink-and-brown scalp, through the thinning mouse-colored hair, then returned his hand to grip the arm rest. He felt a pressure in his skull, as if there were a large air bubble trapped inside that desperately needed to find a way out. Was this what a brain aneurism felt like? Lloyd envisioned the bubble swelling, crowding out his brain until the wet, gray mass was plastered to the inside of his skull. As the bubble pulsed and swelled even more, it would finally get so big that his head could not contain it anymore, and he would explode all over the sterile white room, spattering the shiny metal and clean bright surfaces with chunks of his frontal lobe.

He drew as much oxygen as he could into his lungs. Deep breaths were supposed to calm a person down, he had heard. The air whooshed through his nostrils, stirring the multitude of hairs there. His wife was always saying he should trim them, that the little sprouts of brown poking out of his nose made him look like an old man, and she was probably right. Lloyd usually forgot about them until she mentioned them. When he got home, he would trim his nose hair. Assuming that he managed to get home and did not die here. He took another deep inhalation of air, feeling his belly balloon out against the elastic waistband of his dark blue sweat pants. He tried to focus on the black pinpricks in the white ceiling panels, his pouched eyes aimed up from his reclined head, but he couldn't stop thinking about the pristine expanses of speckled white covered in pieces of forebrain.

Dr. Rictus snapped a latex glove onto one hand, then the other. He sauntered up to the side of the reclining chair where Lloyd cowered. "All right, Lloyd, looks like we're just about ready to get started!"

By this point, Lloyd's hands were visibly shaking. "How long is this thing going to take?" he asked, trying not to let his voice waver too much.

"Oh, don't you worry," said Dr. Rictus. He grinned at Lloyd through the tiny spectacles balanced on his ruddy, bulbous nose. "This is a very routine procedure, shouldn't take more than an hour. Really nothing at all to worry about; I've done this a million times. Now, we're just going to start off with some Novocain, so you won't feel a thing during the procedure." He produced a long, gleaming needle from somewhere behind Lloyd's head and gently tapped the plunger. It squirted yellowish-clear liquid, like an overripe pimple leaking pus. "This'll just feel like a little pinch."

Lloyd averted his eyes from the sinister instrument. Did they give dentists psychiatric examinations before letting them practice? Could he really be sure that Dr. Rictus did not just want to poke him to death with a needle or inject him with some kind of poison? And those drills! Drills were supposed to be reserved for garages and high school shop classes, not medical facilities. It would be easy enough for a person's hand to slip just a fraction of an inch and bore a hole deep into his gums. As he imagined the white walls splattered with blood once again, he tried to keep his gray eyes aimed up at the pocked ceiling.

"All right, Lloyd, why don't you open your mouth up so I can get you nice and numb, ok? And, if you can, you might want to get your mouth to stop shaking quite so much. We wouldn't want me to make any slip-ups, would we? Ha, ha!"

Lloyd closed his eyes and let his mouth fall open. Using the image of a blood-spattered ceiling as motivation, he willed his jaw to stop trembling. A jolt of excruciating pain shot through him as the needle penetrated his gums. Lloyd imagined undergoing a slow death by asphyxiation, brought on by a newly-developed Novocain allergy.

Dr. Rictus began to drill the cavity.

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