Melinda sat in her bed at the hotel. The shades had been closed tightly and the curtains shut above that. The combination held almost every bit of light at bay, and she sat in virtual blackness – as she had for every minute in the two days following the blast which had nearly killed her. She's gotten dinged up pretty good, the docs told her, and had a whale of a concussion, but she survived.
Dr. Haskins wasn't so lucky. And neither was the rest of the dig team. Nine souls with whom she had spent the last nine years digging through ruins.
All gone in one fell swoop, victims of an explosion of Biblical significance.
Nine people with whom she had laughed and had cried and had shared her life. Melinda knew their families, their high school pranks, their future ambitions... all too pointless now.
So she sat in the dark and cried.
The doctors were okay with the dark room, endorsed it in fact. They were wary of post concussion syndrome. But the truth was the darkness welcomed her at that point, made her feel something akin to comfort while her heart engaged in mortal combat with her conscience. As the director of the Filendren Project, she needed to be the one to face those families with whom she was so acquainted, to tell them their loved ones had died, but the doctors had expressly forbidden her to fly, so she was stuck in Hungary while the rest of the world continued.
There was a detective of some kind named Janos who had spoken with her twice, once at the scene as the EMT treated her, and once again last night, on the phone, curious about some of the details concerning her crew. She got the impression that Janos was looking to place the blame of such a horrendous tragedy on the group of dead foreigners – her crew, and was expecting a quick open-and-shut case so he could move on to something else.
Dr. Alfred Johns was the head of the Archaeology department at the U of Chi, and was also her boss. And though their three phone conversations since the explosion were brief, it was understood that Melinda was to return home as soon as she was physically able. Ten years of discoveries, notes – all of their collective work – was gone. Blown to hell. As was the Filendren Project.
No one knew what the hell happened. At first it was assumed that some overzealous digger – one of Melinda's people – had clipped a gas line or something of equal destructive power.
Except the neighborhoods just a few blocks East of the town square were old, pre-Dark Ages old, and there were no damned gas lines running right beneath an abandoned structure some fifteen hundred years old.
She had heard a whispered rumor that perhaps her team had stumbled across some long-forgotten Nazi boobytrap protecting a secret archive of stolen WWII treasure, but preliminary reports indicated no sign of foul play.
That was another thing that made Melinda's head pound: what the hell had happened in there? It kept circling her head like some miniaturized Nascar track within her skull; over and over, going in circles, gaining speed, but actually going nowhere. She ran a hand through her hair in the darkness and leaned back into the bed sheets.
She closed her eyes and let the darkness consume her.