This time she found the strength to grit her teeth and add a little conviction to her denial, including a slow, painful shake of her head and the gritting of her teeth, “Never!”
Unperturbed, the demon thing stretched out its arm ever closer to the trembling Melinda, who unconsciously snapped her hand back. The thing paused and retracted its proffered hand. It dipped its head in acknowledgment, perhaps finally accepting Melinda's refusal, even giving her a look which resembled a kind of lip-less smile.
“I understand,” it said, slowly fading away, “then live, if you must.
“But know this: you were digging too close to the truth, a truth which must never see the light of day.”
Melinda swayed on her knees, dumbfounded. These words meant nothing to her. What was the viper man saying? Then the world around her began to sway and rockets went off in her head. Mushrooms of color blossomed around the man until he faded into the smoke, popping with enough intensity to cause her to flinch. The multicolored fireworks continued to pulse at the edges of Melinda's vision until she clenched her jaw and flopped on to her back in seizure.
Her eyes snapped open and she screamed. Rough hands affixed a breathing mask over her nose and a gruff male voice spoke to her, “Nyugodj meg. Értesz engem?”
At first the words were gibberish to her addled mind, but then she remembered where she was, where she had spent the last nine years of her life, and her Hungarian returned to her. She nodded weakly and answered, „Igen, értem.” Yes, I understand.
The gruff man above her wore some sort of uniform. Did she recognize it? Her vision was awfully fuzzy.
“You have received some head trauma from the explosion, possibly just some Minor Traumatic Brain Injury – a concussion – but we won't know until we get you to the hospital.”
Oh yes. The uniform. He was an EMT of some sort.
“Just relax, ma'am. Can you tell me your name?”
Of course she could. It was just on the tip of her tongue
“Give me a minute,” she mumbled.
“Of course,” the man said, and then moved on to her blood pressure. He made a notation in a notepad, then asked her, “can you tell me where it hurts?”
The man smiled a little and said, “Of course. What I mean to ask is: do you have any broken bones?”
“I –“ she trailed off, “I don't think so.”
She lay silent for a few moments as the EMT checked her over, trying to sort through the detritus in her brain.
“Melinda,” she said at last, “Melinda Maybry. I'm an archaeologist from the University of Chicago. I have been in Hungary nearly a decade with Dr. Haskins, digging in the Laretsky Ruins for signs of -- Oh God! Dr. Haskins! The blast must have been much closer to him that it was to me. Is he all right?”
“I don't know about anybody else, ma'am. I am only concentrating on you. We can get you the proper information once you are in stable condition at the hos--”
“What about the man?”
“Man? What man?”
Melinda scowled and suddenly doubted her own memories, “There was a man in the town square, just a few meters from where I stood when the explosion happened. Have you found him yet? Is he okay?”
The EMT was silent for a moment before he answered, “You were the only person we found in the town square ma'am. You were alone.”