THE DELTA ANOMALY
One - Fatal Memories
small wooden barn smelled of horses and hay. Mournful
sounds of a Russian Orthodox choir drifted in from outside.
The flickering light of an oil lamp caressed the outlines
of two nude bodies lying on the dirt floor: a young woman
and a young man locked in a fierce embrace. The lovers
seemed oblivious to the straw and gravel that ground into
the rope burns and bleeding gashes on the man's body.
He spoke in Old Russian. "I am not afraid to die.
It's the thought of leaving you with him that I cannot
The woman clung tighter to him and kissed his cracked
He sighed. "What have we done to deserve this sudbah?"
Slowly, the woman disengaged herself from his arms and
sat up. "I will not be with him. My sudbah
is to be your lover. In this life. And in the next. Forever."
With a trembling hand she picked up the oil lamp.
"May God forgive us for what we have done."
She crossed herself, Russian style. Three fingers pressed
together. "May God forgive me for what Iím about
The tears in her eyes blurred the golden flame. "Proschtyay,
moe solnychko. Farewell, sunshine," she whispered.
"Perhaps, beyond the grave..."
She stood up, and with a piercing cry flung the oil lamp
at the haystacks.
With a deafening roar, a raging fire engulfed everything.
Anne Powell bolted upright and opened her eyes. Sweat
ran down her forehead and into her eyes, blurring her
vision. Her heart was racing, the beats uneven. The odor
of burning wood filled her nostrils.
She could hear the crackling of the flames. Or was it
the ringing of a telephone? Dazed, she looked around,
struggling to get oriented.
The room was in perfect order. Her computer was in front
of her, its oversized flat screen glowing with columns
of numbers. The desk, covered with neat stacks of medical
journals, the bookcase, shelves sagging slightly under
rows of textbooks, the credenza with an empty crystal
bud vase and two small Russian lacquer boxes--everything
was in its proper place. Medical diplomas, two Kandinsky
prints, a cluster of photographs of flowers, a few pictures
of her mother, her father, and herself as a baby, hung
on the walls.
The fire in the fireplace had burned out, the logs now
black and cold. Her orange tabby cat, Miles, slept peacefully
on the windowsill next to her. Tchaikovskyís Swan Lake
was on its last few chords.
She heard the crackling sound again. It was the phone.
She reached for the receiver.
"Hello?" she said, forcing herself to concentrate.
"Dr. Powell?" It was the monotone voice of the
male operator. "I have Dr. Ross for you."
As Anne listened, the last traces of her nightmare vanished.
She glanced at the clock. 3:00 A.M.
"I'll be there in fifteen, Misty," she said,
She stood up, steadying herself against the desk as prickly
pain shot dawn her left leg.
Chastising herself for falling asleep at the computer,
she leaned over the keyboard and tapped a few keys, scanning
the screen. What if her head had landed on the Delete
button? She breathed a sigh of relief, confirming that
her work was safely stored on the hard drive of the G-6.
Miles leaped softly onto the desk, arched his back and
"My feelings precisely, Miles," Anne mumbled,
running her fingers through his long fur.
Her leg still asleep, she limped into the bedroom, bending
down on the way to straighten the edge of the small Bukhara
Shedding her jeans, she pulled on surgical scrubs. Getting
into her uniform, as she called it, would save a few minutes
changing clothes again when she got to the hospital.
She cinched the drawstring around her firm midriff. She
liked the feeling of soft cotton against her skin. She
liked hiding the elegant outlines of her body even more.
The loose cotton scrubs understated the curves of her
breasts and waist, partially concealing a body that often
was the object of either lust or envy for her coworkers,
and a magnet for all sorts of characters she would rather
She stepped briskly into the bathroom and glanced in the
mirror. The green scrubs enhanced her green eyes, large
and sparkling even though barely awake. She forced a brush
through her honey-blond hair, letting the slight curls
settle down evenly on her shoulders.
The outlines of the keyboard were still imprinted on her
right cheek. She must have been asleep for hours. Hours
lost, hours that could've been spent analyzing this week's
batch of MEG data.
She opened the medicine cabinet, its neat rows of bottles
and jars precisely positioned a finger-breath apart for
easy handling. Without even a glance, she took the skin
toner and rubbed her cheek impatiently. The imprint lingered.
Oh well, she thought, hoping her face would get back to
normal by the time she got to the hospital.
With the ultrasonic toothbrush humming in her mouth, Anne
swung her right foot onto the sink, and leaned forward.
A painful pull shot from the heel up through her back,
as her cold tendons reminded her that it was too early
for her morning stretch.
Three minutes later, Anne slipped into her well-worn down
parka, shoved a couple of KitKat bars into her pocket,
grabbed her car keys off the hook next to the door, and
The chill of the New England winter night instantly, found
its way past her parka and thin scrubs, and sent a shiver
through her body. The security lights came on automatically
as she padded cautiously down the icy stairs leading to
the driveway behind her duplex.
She warmed the frozen door lock of her Volvo with a cigarette
lighter that she kept in the pocket of her parka, then
grabbed a plastic scraper and attacked the thick layer
of ice covering the windshield.
Her hands started to go numb, but she was used to that.
She hated gloves, or mitts, or anything that constrained
her fingers. The only time she wore gloves was in surgery,
and then strictly out of necessity.
Clouds of crystals shimmered in the light of the street
lamp as she ripped through the ice with even, methodical
strokes. The harsh scraping sound reminded her of the
crackling of the fire in her nightmare. She smelled the
She'd had nightmares about fires in the past, but none
recently. She thought she was over them. And now the haunting
dream was back.
Then she remembered the date. February 14. The twentieth
anniversary of her mother's death. Anne was sixteen when
her mother died.
Thick smoke clouded the flashing red lights of the fire
Stop it! Don't think about it, she told herself.
She forced herself to take three slow breaths. All the
way in, filling her chest till it ached, then all the
way out. Nice and easy.
The cold air seared her nostrils. Gradually, the stench
of smoke subsided. She stopped scraping and got in the
The sheets of ice exploding under the tires, she eased
the Volvo out of the driveway and headed toward Boston.
She knew she would regain her peace of mind as soon as
she was back in the confines of her work environment.