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Right in here,” the nurse said. “Dr. Sorenson will be with you soon.” And she left.

Kyle would not usually have examined the small office as he entered it. Twelve doctors, thirty-seven surgeries, and sixty-three consultations had long ago convinced him that one professional’s abode was more or less like another’s.

When Kyle was four years old, doctors had terrified him. He remembered the bushy eyebrows and deep-set eyes of Dr. Rells, his first surgeon. When Dr. Rells delivered the anesthetic before the first operation, Kyle had felt like the victim of a mad scientist about to perform an experimental surgery. He was afraid he would wake up and find that his brain had been removed by accident.

By age nine Kyle had changed surgeons five times. Names and introductions slipped past him unnoticed, and his emotional response to surgery changed from trepidation to disinterest to annoyance. His scars multiplied more quickly than the candles on his birthday cakes.

Kyle’s friends soon lost interest in the story behind each new bandage and suture. His enemies never lost interest in mocking them. The school bully liked to knock him down and poke at the fleshy lumps growing on his back. Kyle’s private vision of hell looked like a middle school locker room.

Once he had been proud of his deformities. Now he despised them. The malformed right hand that the most expensive surgeries could not repair; the ever-so-slight limp when he walked because bone surgery left one leg slightly shorter than the other; the fleshy, purplish bag of flesh on his left side that the doctors had not yet removed — these were the devils that tormented him night after night. Sometimes the tumors on his nerves pinched so tightly that he could not walk, but it was not the pain that kept him from sleeping on hot summer evenings. It was the specter he saw in the mirror.

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