The overhead lights sprang to life and the wailing sound of fire station fifty-one's toner erupted into the still night air. Eight groggy Firefighters rolled out from under their still warming sheets, quickly donning pants, shirts and shoes. Logan Keohane threw his uniform shirt across his broad shoulders, searching in vain for its left sleeve as the report of a house fire was being broadcast over the loudspeaker. If there was one thing Logan and his fellow firefighters were good at, it was dressing on the run, since departmental policy dictated leaving the station in less than one minute from the alarm.
Logan was the last one out of the swinging dormitory doors, finally getting his arm correctly inserted into the obstinate shirt. There was only time to fasten two quick buttons, slip into his fire boots, slide their attached bunker pants up to his waist and pull the tight, damp suspenders over his shoulders.
The driver of the pumper truck cranked the noisy diesel engine and began his smokey exit from the firehouse. Logan quickly jumped onto the moving step leading to the left side jumpseat of the huge engine. "What a night," he lamented drowsily into the darkness. The shriek of the siren cut coldly into the inky cool darkness, rattling his still groggy brain into a semblance of coherency. Shaking his head to clear the last of the cobwebs from his vision, Logan caught a glimpse of the Hook and Ladder Truck lumbering slowly out of the station behind them. Its massive red form was silhouetted against the glare of the open bay doors like a pulsing red whale, screaming its ire at such a rude awakening.
Logan slipped his arms through the sleeves of his bunker coat and caught a brief shiver from the cold dampness lurking there. He closed the fasteners and paused long enough to feel the bulk and heavy weight of the protective firefighter's coat, still dripping wet from a stubborn blaze they had fought just hours ago. The sluggish firefighter shivered involuntarily and sat heavily into the tiny, open-aired jumpseat as the brisk early morning breeze whistled around his ears and found its way down the back of his suddenly chilled neck.
Groping in the darkness, he found the thick, webbed straps of his airpark and wiggled into the tight harness until they were pulled snugly over his shoulders. The way the pack was recessed deeply into the back of the jumpseat didn't afford someone of Logan's stature much room to maneuver and don the contraption. The apparatus was held tightly in place by two steel claws clamped firmly around the heavy air cylinder. Attached to the cylinder was a small metal frame and three webbed straps which held the piece of equipment onto the shoulders and around the waist of the wearer. Logan struggled briefly against the feeling of restriction created by the tightly secured pack. Roughly, he jammed down the release lever on his left side, freeing the pack from its securing clamps. The fireman quickly stood up, feeling the full weight of the heavy appliance across his shoulders. Being a bodybuilder had some advantages in strength and conditioning, yet getting into an airpack wasn't made any easier.
Just then, the huge truck made an unexpected left turn that threw Logan brusquely against the warm engine cowling. He grasped for the railing attached to the back of the fire engine's cab, pulling himself upright. Always an adventure, he thought, buckling the third strap of the airpack tightly around his waist.
"Keohane, we got another burner!" Jake Garcia, his new partner, screamed out to him above the din of the siren and the loud diesel engine. "Second one tonight!"
Logan looked up to see Jake pointing across the top of the fire engine's cab to a bright glow against the starry horizon. A dim column of smoke rose skyward, illuminated softly by the light of the half moon. They were only about a half mile from the fire he reckoned. Hurriedly, the suddenly invigorated fireman finished donning the rest of his equipment and made a quick self-survey of its proper positioning.
"Rookies!" Logan grumbled to himself, watching the animated excitement of his young cohort. Pulling to a squeaking halt at the fire scene, they were the first engine company on location.
Logan made a hasty visual scan of the scene while rolling to an abrupt, squeaking stop. On the opposite side of the pumper truck was a large one story house with the back half totally engulfed in flame. Fire roared out of its rear windows, licking the sky twenty feet above the roof. Smoke spewed fiendishly upward into a thick, black boiling column that disappeared into the early morning sky.
"My God, it's cookin'!" Jake screamed, jumping off the parked truck. Logan ran around the rear of the pumper truck, almost colliding with his captain who had just jumped out of the cab.
"Pull an inch and a half line around to the right side. I'll take the rookie with another line through the front! We'll push the fire out the back!" the captain commanded, the authority of a seasoned battlefield officer emanating from every word.
Logan reached into the side hose rack of the fire engine, pulling mightily on one of the one and one-half inch fire hoses until he had it lying in an organized pile on the ground in front of him. He fumbled momentarily in the semi-darkness for the elusive fire nozzle that was buried somewhere in the pile of hose at his feet. Getting a grip on the appliance at last, the excited firefighter picked it up and ran with the still dry hose line as fast as it and his heavy gear would allow.
Breathlessly stationing himself a dozen feet from the right side of the burning building, Keohane ran his hand through his reddish-blond hair, slipped on the airpack's facemask that had been dangling around his neck and turned the air on. A sudden burst of forced air blasted up his nostrils, taking the remainder of his breath away. The firehose he held began writhing to hissing life.
Logan replaced his helmet and felt a hand tightly grasp his shoulder. He peered through the scratched plastic lens of the mask to see John Grissom taking up a position to back him up on the heavy hose line. Normally, the ladder truck crew was not available to help the pumper crew, but, thankfully, tonight they had somehow come up with an extra crew member.
"Are you ready?" Logan screamed against the muffling effect of the facemask.
"Let's jam!" was John's mask-dulled reply.
The two companions stepped forward as one unit toward a blackened window at the edge of the fire's progress. Even from that distance the heat from the blaze was so intense that it was felt through his protective gear. Beads of sweat welled up on Logan's forehead, mercilessly rolling into his sore eyes as they plodded closer to the abyss of hellfire. Slowly, he opened the nozzle, still approaching the burning building. A stream of water cascaded against the tongues of flame that lapped out, licking hungrily for the underside of the roof. The water hissed a deafening scream as his torrent played across the flaming portal, instantly changing to steam while vaporously extinguishing the burning eaves and facia.
The hose stream then descended to the window opening, shattering what little glass remained in the blackened frames. Reaching the opening, Logan leaned his weight against the charred, wet sill and adjusted the nozzle into a "fog" pattern. The water suddenly turned into a hissing fan of liquid, making an umbrella-like pattern that fanned out in all directions right in front of him.
"Help me in," the breathless fireman bellowed to John, his left foot swinging roughly over the dripping window sill.
John's stout body pushed solidly against Logan's. He made use of its planted firmness as a propulsion device to slip into the pitch dark opening. Keohane's sight was restricted by the scratched up facemask before entering the building, yet now, the thick, dark smoke obliterated everything. The only thing left before his eyes was a totally engulfing darkness. Slowly sliding his feet back and forth on the slick, wet floor, the blinded rescuer shuffled into the waiting void, looking for the telltale amber glow of live flame. The intense buildup of heat inside the burning building created a steaming effect that was almost unbearable. The overwhelming swelter along with the agonizing sweat that now poured freely into his raw eyes sapped Logan's strength with each slippery step he took. Intent on his mission, the fireman valiantly put all thought of discomfort aside, sliding along, not quite sure of his destination.
Logan scanned the darkness, seeing no hint of fire in his view. Slowly, he shut down the stream of water to ease his progress into other parts of the structure. He slid his way carefully forward into the inundating blackness, until once again feeling John's reassuring grip upon his shoulder. Bumping into a small piece of furniture, the tiring fireman moved it roughly out of his way with a quick flick of his foot. Finally, his outstretched right hand touched the firmness of a crossing wall. Which way should he turn? Left or right? The intense blackness covered all hints of direction. He could hardly discern the way he had just come. The darkness and heat worked together to take the edge off of his quick judgement, leaving him in an indecisive quandary.
"Logan, you all right?"
"Yeah," he screamed in return, turning to his right without further contemplation.
Inching along with his left hand against the wall, he began seeing the faint glimmers of an active flame. He decided to get a little closer before reopening the waterflow. Cautiously, Logan shuffled his way along the invisible length of the wall until it ended abruptly into thin air. At that same moment, the toe of his boot caught something heavy on the floor, blocking his path and holding him as if the invisible hand of a demon wanted to thwart his progress.
The unexpecting captive tried to move the obstruction to free his foot. It wouldn't budge nor let him go! Kneeling down to free himself with his hand, Logan recoiled in terror at touching the object. He could recognize the feel of a human body even through his heavy glove. It was an experience that he had felt once before, long ago. Even though it had been five years since he had stumbled across another human body in the darkness of a fire scene, a second time around didn?t ease the sickening feeling that crept up from deep in the pit of his gut. Could this be somebody's parent? Or, maybe somebody's grandparent? Oh, I don't even want to think about it! The horror of that previous episode had haunted his dreams for months. God don't make me go through that again! Just let me forget this experience!
He had somehow slid his foot under the armpit of this one, tangling his boot into the invisible being's clothing! Logan wanted to cry out, drop his hose and run, but somehow managed to summon all of his strength and turn to his partner.
"We've got someone in here!" The aghast fireman screamed to John, almost choking on his words.
"What? I can't understand you,"
"I said, we've got someone in here. Right here . . . on the floor." He automatically pointed through the darkness to the floor at his feet.
"Oh, shit!" John groaned.
"Grab them and get 'em out!" Logan ordered, "Flame's comin' fast!" The worried fireman looked up to see the telling glow beginning to surround them. With John moving around him, the reeling firefighter leaned against the door jamb with his left shoulder, aiming the nozzle through the inky-dark opening. Turning on the stream, he readjusted it to "semi-fog" and excitedly waved it across the brightening ceiling in front of him. The fireman was desperately trying to turn back the sudden vicious onslaught of frenzied flame.
When Logan felt John pass behind him, he reached out with his right foot to see if the path had been cleared. He felt nothing. Breathing a sigh of relief, he readjusted the nozzle pattern to "full fog." Cautiously, the fireman slid his way into the new room. Side to side, the spray slowly fanned against the now receding flames. He shuffled his way another ten feet until his hoseline pulled taut. I should have more hose that this! Must be tangled, he surmised with another jerk of the line. "I've got to keep moving! I don't have time for this shit!" It seemed as if he could still feel the presence of a frightened, dying entity grappling at his shoulders, filling his mind with the horror of impending death. Worst of all, it felt so damned physically real that he had to get away from it! "Damn it! Come loose, won't you!" he screamed, giving the hose a final jerk.
Logan grudgingly gave up his plight, showering the room until there was no evidence of fire around him. He eased off the water flow, laying the hose and nozzle stiffly on the dark, wet floor beside him. Sliding his hand down the rough, wet fire hose, the frustrated firefighter crawled forward on his hands and knees to find the catch in the line. The weight of the heavy airpack, coupled with that of his soaked fire gear, felt as if he was a beast of burden for some thankless rider. Logan inched along in the absolute darkness, searching for the elusive block to his flow of life maintaining water.
A bright flicker of light on his right side was the last thing that Logan wanted to see at that instant. Even through the dense, dark smoke, the flickering shone brightly enough to reflect off his facemask. Logan knew that to be that bright, the flame had to be right on top of him! He had no nozzle to protect himself with! All of his fire training told him that leaving his water supply unattended in an active fire situation was tantamount to suicide. He grabbed the hose line with both hands, sat back on his haunches and tugged with all of his might, trying desperately to dislodge the restriction. The tangle held tightly. With one last mighty tug Logan pummeled backward on top of his airpack as the hose pulled free.
The rough landing on the bulky pack knocked the breath from him. Logan gasped at the slow airflow in the mask, sucking in a deep, choppy breath of warm bottled air. A salty bead of hot sweat rolled tauntingly into his left eye, stinging the already overly sensitive organ, adding greatly to his general discomfort. His gloved hand jerked automatically against the plastic lens of his mask in an attempt to rub the irritation from his sight. "Ugh!" he moaned into the tight mask in a combination of pain and frustration. Logan gasped again, desperately trying to regulate his breathing against the limited air supply and his impending exhaustion. The tormented fireman drew another deep drought of bottled breath, releasing it slowly as the bright flicker of the nearby flare-up caught his attention once again.
Logan rolled over onto his knees. He took a quick, giddy look around him, suddenly, finding himself very disoriented. His head spun wildly, making it hard to stay upright on all fours. Which direction led him back to the safety of his nozzle? He couldn?t think, much less see! Impenetrable blackness engulfed him, broken only by several growing flickers of flame. Got to move now! the warning screamed through his groggy brain. Where should he turn? The flickering glow was surrounding him!
Sweat rolled down Logan's prickling face, tickling his skin under the steamy mask. With an explosive bolt of energy, the bewildered fireman plunged aimlessly into the darkness on all fours. "I'll get somewhere," he reassured himself. His knees revolted in agony, joining his many other afflictions as they began to ache under the stress of his quick movements.
Relief flooded his senses as his hand touched the familiar hard bulkiness of the fire nozzle. He would know that feel anywhere! Picking up the heavy appliance, Keohane opened the water flow, showering the room around him. Satisfied that he had curtailed the growing flame, he tugged exhaustedly on the freed fire hose, forcing himself sluggishly forward to scout out more flame.
Deeply seated fatigue set into Logan's already tired muscles. The continuous, solitary stress and strain had sapped every store of energy that he could find. His breathing was ragged and shallow. Movement, especially the act of pulling the heavy fire hose by himself, had become an absolute effort. His body began to feel as if it were going into complete revolt under the stressful burden, sometimes disobeying the direct orders of his brain. "Melt down eminent, core breach in thirty seconds," he kidded himself, trying to overcome his sudden weakness. That little trick usually worked for him, distracting his body functions enough to keep him moving. His body was so tired now, however, that it just went numb.
Fear began creeping into him like the icy fingers of death, clawing at his boiling hot gut. His senses chilled, completely fogging in his already muddled brain. Panic slowly covered him like a wet blanket, effectively sealing out all sight and sound. He had to rest! Everything else seemed impossible at that moment. Exhaustion overcame him, melting him onto the dark, wet floor. The spent redhead dropped the heavy line across his lap in case of a sudden need for its protection.
"If anyone could see me like this they'd probably laugh themselves silly," he chided himself, in an attempt to overcome his fright. His energy stores had never so completely bottomed out. Sure, it was pretty commonplace for him, or any fireman, to become slightly overheated and fatigued in the middle of an active fire. Whenever this had happened to him before, he would just hand the nozzle to a partner or pull it outside with him for a short break. This energy crash happened so suddenly that he didn't have the strength to find his way out. A mixture of fear and exhaustion completely overwhelmed him.
"What?s wrong with me!" Logan pleaded to whatever god would hear him. His breathing quickened, becoming very erratic. Bright globes of light pulsed on and off, dancing before his frightened eyes. The weakening fireman couldn't tell if they were spots of flame or if his sight was going haywire. "I don't know why tonight is any different than before." A quick chill shuddered up his spine. "Slow down, Logan," he desperately tried to calm himself. He could recognize the symptoms of hyperventilation and heat exhaustion beginning in him. "I'll sit here for a couple more minutes, then everything will be fine."
The swelter surrounding Logan was intense. Sweat generously poured down his stinging face, burning his eyes and nose. He sucked up large droplets with every rapid breath. His extremities tingled. The sparkles of light intensified, continuously flashing coldly before his eyes. "I've got to get out of this heat!" The clanging low air alarm on his airpack suddenly erupted into the quiet darkness, turning fright into desperation. Logan searched the darkness around him, trying to judge the quickest way out through the opaque veil of super-heated smoke. His breathing was frantic, sucking in much more air than normal. His arms lost feeling and his legs felt like so much mush. His condition had gone far beyond his control.
"Where is everyone?" Logan croaked hysterically. Where was his back-up? He should have back-up! "Help!" he attempted to yell, his voice catching in his throat, coming out almost as a whisper. "I need some help here!" His strength was so sapped he could hardly hear his own cries. He looked around himself again in horror at the unmistakable glow of growing flame which was beginning to surround him. By an act of sheer will, he forced open the nozzle that lay upon his lap. The sudden burst of torrid water pressure tore the nozzle from his limp arms, shooting the hose across the dark floor like a monstrous, hissing snake, escaping into the ebony void.
Logan screamed, falling after the wild line with all of his remaining strength. His attempt was futile. He hit the hard floor with a painful thud. Completely disoriented, the frantic firefighter stretched out across the floor, feeling for the errant fire hose that he could hear beating wildly out of control. He clawed into the darkness, listening to the hose flailing erratically toward him over the scream of his airpack's tocsin.
The ringing alarm went suddenly silent as the bottle spewed out the last of its contents. Logan was caught mid-breath. The mask sucked tightly against his face as every molecule of the precious gas was drawn into his demanding lungs. He clawed the tight mask off of his sweaty face, laying his head tightly against the hot, wet floor covering. Where could he get another breath? His lungs screamed in agony for more air. If there was any breathable air at all, he knew that it would be right against the floor. His years of fire training had deeply instilled that fact in him. He intentionally drew in rapid, shallow breaths, each one burning his nose and sinuses like he was inhaling the flame itself. Forcing each muscle in his body to move, the spent young man dragged himself across the floor on his belly through the superheated darkness. His survival instincts were strong, tempered with rigorous training, determination and self discipline. Still, the fire's oxygen demands had overburdened the limited supply. His breaths only polluted his system with toxic fumes and dense smoke. He gagged and coughed weakly. Unable to pull himself any farther, Logan lay defeated, surrounded by rapidly growing flickers of ominous flame.
Looking up, the relieved young man reveled in the rays of a soft cool light above him, shining invitingly into his eyes. Logan felt his entire body relax as an odd peacefulness flooded his mind, like a cool breeze blowing away the terrible heat of the fire. He knew it, he was saved! A dim smile crossed his exhausted face. This wasn't the dim amber glow of fire light, but rather a clear, inviting, silvery pulse of pure light, like that of a star that had dropped from the sky. His body felt light, almost as if he were floating in mid-air. "I made it," he sighed, reveling in the stillness and comfort.
Images began passing before his clearing eyes, vague at first, then hauntingly desirable. Faces he recognized smiled at him, some calling his name. "Logan," the smiling redhead heard tenderly, "Welcome home." It seemed to be a voice originating from somewhere deep inside himself. Other images floated through his memory, taking him to his childhood.
Oh, Ireland, he thought lovingly, emotion gripping his very soul. The Irish countryside where he had spent much of his childhood passed before him, teasingly beckoning his return. Logan wanted to cry with longing, for some strange reason he didn't know how. Instead, the reminiscent Irishman let himself revel in the comfort of the damp, gentle breeze of a fragrant Irish hillside. The sweet smells of snapdragons and wild azaleas brought a bright smile to his sun-washed face. Is all this real or just a dream? God, let it be real! Please let it be real! This is where I really want to be! Don?t take away my vision.
Suddenly the scene changed. He could still recognize many familiar Irish landmarks, however, they seemed somehow different, fresher, newer. The faces had also changed. He should somehow know these people, he just couldn't put names on them. People in strange dress, armor, swords, horses, a castle keep, all slipped through his awareness as long forgotten memories. Logan was fascinated, desperately wanting to join his old comrades. A woman?s face caught his attention. Her raven black hair flowing about her thin, leather girded waist. Insatiably, he had to be with her, touch her, feel her wondrous softness in his longing arms. A new face appeared on the lithe body, a face he again recognized, from somewhere. Morgan, is that you Morgan? Could this somehow be the woman he loved? The original face reappeared. Both faces were different, yet somehow the same. The desperate lad had to reach her, pull her body to him! However, for all of his effort, he just couldn't break free of whatever was holding him back. "Let me go!" a desperate voice yelled through his mind. "Please, let me go!"
"Logan," another, seemingly feminine, voice floated softly through his awareness. This one seemed to be coming from a great distance, somewhere out of time. He looked up once again to see the same peacefully beckoning glow above him. It seemed to be the origin of the voice. "It's not yet time, Logan. You must return." The longing sojourner in him wanted to get to that light! In it was freedom.
His apparition abruptly disappeared as darkness covered his vision. "No, I don?t want to go back there!" the desperate fireman cried, remembering his tormented body. All sense of awareness gradually vanished into the dark void.
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