Tick, tick, tick. I find my eyes straying once again to the alarm clock as I will its dragging hands to move more quickly. Tick, tick, tick. How long is a minute? The incessant taunting of the slow clock drowns out the stumbling words of Atticus' boy.

"Sir Walter Scout" has never held my attention, and on today least of all- though every day becomes least of all, as the minutes before the alarm gradually recede. The drug dominates my thoughts, as much as I hate to say it- as much as I hate it. To know something has such power over you, over not only your mind and emotions but your very body itself, should be a frightening idea, but it does not scare me so much as it angers me.

As the needle, resting innocently beside its silver herald the clock, draws my gaze, I avert my eyes. Looking only makes it worse, makes everything worse, both the craving and the hatred. I have never known such internal conflict as this, never been mastered by a thing I loathe so much. I have never been mastered.

" 'Thou and I are but the blind instruments of some irresistible fat- fat-' " stutters Jem, the word trailing off into dumb silence as he waits for the correction he knows by now is coming.

"Fatality," I sigh, recalled to what should be my distraction by the break in his faltering words.

" '-fatality," he grunts, "that hurries us along, like... goodly vessels driving before the storm, which are dashed against each other-' " He inhales. "-and so perish.' "

Some of us are being hurried faster than others, and need no dashing to perish. The notion is morbid even for me, and its bluntness comes as a surprise. It takes little more than that for my mind to return to the paths of the drug and the coming dose. The hour hand has but recently crept past the five, and the silver minute hand approaches the two.

That fool of a second hand refuses to pick up its pace. Tick, tick, tick. Five-thirty: five-thirty is my golden hour; five-thirty: I will make it till five-thirty. Jem's voice yet again blends into the grayness of my bedroom as the clock's gibes dominate my consciousness.

I glance down at my hands and find them trembling, whether from the disease or want of the drug I would rather not know. Such ugly hands they are, whose knotted bones jut out beneath the brown spots of age, whose cuticles have long grown up to cover their yellowed fingernails; their age too marks a ticking clock: the waning days of my life, which seem to pass far more quickly than the minutes until the alarm. If only the positions were reversed.

Attempting to quell my fingers' shaking, I clutch the topmost quilt for dear life, digging claw-like nails into a frayed and fading red square. I once had a dress of the same cloth, long ago.

" '"Ay, but thou forgettest," said the wily adviser, "thou wilt have neither leisure nor opportunity to execute this mad project. Go to Lucas- B- Byew...'" " How is it that the halts in Jem's reading are the only parts that hold my attention?

"Boh- man- awh," I correct him, nearly spitting out each syllable in a tone sounding suspiciously frustrated- but not at him, oh, by God, not at him.

Jem sighs, muttering, "Beaumanoir," before continuing, " '"and say thou hast renounced thy vow..." I am lost again before he even finishes the sentence.

Tick, tick, tick, tick. Some feral part of me is suddenly caught up unbidden in fantasies of the drug, the pricking of the syringe that long ago ceased to be associated with pain, the tangible sensation of the medicine beginning to course through my veins, numbing the agony of the illness to a chafing as ignorable as Jem's voice... No.

Anything but this- I know far better than to dream of the drug's effects; I know to what those thoughts lead: slavery. I have no master but myself, and I will win. I have come this far and I will win, come hell or high water. Five-thirty. Five-thirty, and the clock's blanched face reads five-fourteen; I will win.

A gentle rapping at the door pulls me out of my reverie and puts Jem's voice to yet another pause. Clearing my throat of the mucus keeping my voice at a harsh rasp, I shrilly demand, "Come in!"

There stands Atticus Finch, black hair somewhat tousled, eyes weary. In but a few strides he has rounded the brass post at the foot of my bed and is beside me, taking my hideous right hand in his. My eyes dart once more to the clock before a smile curls my lips upward; I can think of no reason not to boast a little.

"Do you know what time it is, Atticus?" I am glad to hear my voice has not lost its edge. "Exactly fourteen minutes past five. The alarm clock's set for five-thirty. I want you to know that."

Because I am so close; I am nearly free, nearly free! To die beholden to nothing and nobody was the goal I asserted to this same mild-mannered lawyer but two months ago, and I have nearly won. No drug can master me; no disease can make me weak enough to need it to. When I go, it will be with wrinkled white head held high, knowing I died free.

Tick, tick, tick, tick. The sound registers at the back of my awareness, a reminder of the despised pleasure that is now all the nearer to come. Sixteen minutes. But I will have to make it sixteen minutes before I can make it a day; I have done it before. I will do it today, and I will do it forever.

"I have a feeling that Jem's reading days are numbered," replies Atticus.

They are.

Quick A/N: When I received the assignment in one of my classes to rewrite a scene from To Kill A Mockingbird, I knew I had to get inside Mrs. Dubose's head. I told myself that if I made one-hundred on the project, I would post it here on FFn, and here it is. :) Thanks for reading, and reviews are much appreciated!