Dirt rained from the ceiling of the dome. A deep rumble went through the cave. The Carpathians woke up. “Did you feel that?” Farnsworth couldn’t keep the scare out of his voice. Pathetic. A tiny earthquake was enough to get the man terrified. My flashlight illuminated the ancient pictograms on the basalt slab. This must be Ostra. “Let’s take some pictures, and go back!” His breath made little vapor clouds.
“Don’t piss. Nobody forced you.” I shrugged. If he wanted his diploma, he needed to do what I asked for. Besides, we were perfectly safe. After all, these ruins and carvings were older than the pyramids. They were far too important to be built around unstable formations.
Farnsworth snorted. Better I kept him angry, than scared. “Shh,” I felt a static charge at my fingertips. “Found black. This one must be the door.” I recognized the symbols, and pushed them down, into the cold polished bas-relief. The sound of a click and stone grating on stone came from behind the rock.
“I hope you know whoa- Get back!” Farnsworth yelled. “Lake!” Pain shot up my hands and arms. I couldn’t let go, my palms melted into the rock. It pulled me in. The pang was white and blinding, like a blizzard. The cave and the world were torn from me. My head submerged in the inky pool of oblivion.
Screeches and beeps, maybe that was, what woke me.
The bed had pale blue covers, my arms were draped on it, like a puppet’s. I was in a bright room, that smelled of sanitizer and bleach. My hands were far away and thickly bandaged, couldn’t feel them. My strength only sufficed to turn my head. I was hooked up, to an iv access with some bags with clear and white liquids.
This screamed hospital, but how did I get here?
I have been in a cave, in the Carpathians. I heard the door and footsteps behind me. Someone came in and changed the rhythm of the beeping. “Where?” I croaked. Was that my voice? The feet ran.
Commotion blossomed somewhere behind me, voiced and feet were rushing. People in white piled into the room. They asked questions I didn’t understand. “Farnsworth, what’s up?” I recognized him right away.
“Lake?” His voice shook. He looked older than before, but I might’ve imagined that. “How are you?” Was it worry, or was it fright?
I blinked, but the people kept being there. “Like a mountain ate me.” I closed my eyes, and it was dark when I opened them. There was a chair, and someone under a blanket snored in it. It must be Farnsworth. I wanted to nudge him, to shut him up.
When I looked around, it was daylight again, and a girl giggled. It smelled like garlic and cold fried meat in the room.
A cockroach ran over my cover. I swatted it away. Farnsworth sat at the end of the room, with a nurse in his lap. He looked like he just woke up. He had a steaming mug in his hand. They whispered. Busy with each other, they didn’t notice me waking up.
There was a window to my left, and I turned my head to look outside. A piece of white sky and grey colored wall and part of a slat of the roof. The paint was chipping off, exposing the brick wall beneath.
Suddenly the nurse rushed out, and Farnsworth stood by my bed, with the strangest look on his face. I must have dozed off. “Old place,” I told him. He just wiped his lips with his palm. “Bucharest?” Only a brief nod, he looked around for help.
A doctor came in shoes squeaking, a folded paper in his hand. He scribbled on it and asked something. Farnsworth answered monosyllabled. I looked at them curiously, but none of them offered an explanation. The doctor went after taking my blood pressure.
I thought of the cave, of the shiny black rock rectangle that offered a passageway into the past. My palms and feet warmed and prickled with expectation, with joy. Farnsworth just stared at the colored ECG wires, like the idiot that he was. There was no determination left in him, no sense his mind called home.
But that was no problem of mine. “Ostra stays a secret.” Those words found a way into his thick skull. His gaze fixed me in disbelief. The discovery of this unknown culture would secure my place in the university, in history. I won’t share. “Ostra is mine.” My eyes locked on his, and the look sharpened to flint and sparks. Heat pulsed in my guts. He opened his mouth to protest. Nothing came out. “Keep it up, and your name goes down in history.” I thought he liked the idea, but his storming out caught me by surprise.
It has been a week. I was recovering from the incident in the artificial Carpathian cave. I couldn’t remember all of it, only finding the Ostra bas-relief and pushing down the symbols I had recognized. Farnsworth wouldn’t tell me how we got back.
One morning he woke me with his hushed, nervous voice. He whispered to me, while I slept. “You were dead.” I remained still. “I heard your muscles tear, your bones crush.” His fingers closed around my right elbow. “I smelled your burnt hair, your blood, your skin sear. How will I ever forget that?” He must have imagined it. His whispers had the urgency of drawing breath. He was the drowning man breaking the surface of his memories. “The nightmare, will it end?” It made him spill the secrets of his universe. With his fingertips he gently brushed my jawline, just to be sure.
It was merely a reflex, but it wounded him. “I didn’t mean to scare you that bad.” I smiled and tried to catch his hand in my bandaged one, but he flinched. His expression fell back into the pale worry he wore so well.
to be continued…