Logan awoke with the sun in his eyes. A bright sun, with a beam cutting through the fog shrouding his mind like a laser beam. The intense light seemed to illuminate and punctuate all of the dingy spider webs left by the jumbled dreams of his troubled sleep. The groggy fireman's head ached and his neck was so stiff that he could hardly move it. Slowly turning his head, the young man dropped his right arm roughly over his sore eyes. Dark clouds continued roiling through his mind, snippets of dreams, fleeting feelings of anguish and gloom. Logan wanted to just go back to sleep, then rewaken to find that the events of the preceding day were nothing but a confusing dream, like those that had plagued him over the past month.
He suddenly startled upright. The sun was shining, the rain had stopped, bringing a good chance that the kidnappers could be on their way back to claim their prize. Carefully, the apprehensive captive listened for any tell-tale sound. However, the only sounds brought to his attention were birds chirping their morning songs and bullfrogs croaking in the distance.
Logan slipped his feet out of the bed, adjusting his bed-wrinkled pants. He walked through the bedroom door, buttoning the tight uniform shirt over his broad chest. Looking around the room, he spotted Amanda slumped into an overstuffed chair, fast asleep. Watching the young woman, Logan easily sensed the uneasiness of her own troubled sleep. She was jerking slightly, her eyes moving back and forth under closed lids. Suddenly, the sleeping girl let out a stifled moan of fear, jerking violently. The horrifying wail cut into the still room.
"Amanda," Logan called to her softly, quickly crossing the floor toward her. "Amanda, wake up. You're having a bad dream."
Her eyes opened wide, visibly shaken. The terrified girl's whole body shuddered uncontrollably, immense fear echoing in her distant eyes. Logan sat on the arm of the chair next to her. Amanda stared at him, seemingly not knowing who he was. "You were having a bad dream," he tenderly consoled her again. "But, it's all right, you're awake now."
Amanda reached out and clutched at him, pulling him to her. She buried her face deeply into his chest. Sobbing openly, she trembled violently in his arms. "I'm so afraid. God, I'm so afraid," was all that she could mutter. Logan slid off the arm of the chair, into the seat beside her. Gently but tightly, he held her against him. The compassionate fireman had seen lots of people in life and death situations, some even staring death directly in the face, but he couldn't recall ever seeing someone as totally terrified as she seemed to be.
He didn't know what to say to her. It would be ridiculous to tell her simply that he was frightened too, no matter how true that was, or that everything was going to be just fine because that would probably be a lie. So Logan just sat and held the shaking young girl. Slowly, her uncontrolled trembling sobbing tapered off, becoming only a sniffle and an occasional tear. Still, her arms held him firmly with her head pressed tightly against his chest.
"God, I'm so sorry," Amanda whispered softly. "I must seem like a real baby to you." She shifted slightly, moving her head up against his left shoulder. The calming captive then put her right leg over his knees, halfway sitting in his lap. "It was such an awful dream. And so damned real."
"No, you don't seem like a baby at all," Logan comforted her. "We all get scared. I had some pretty funky dreams myself last night. And I woke up this morning completely disoriented. So, I know how you feel." He gently stroked her hair with his right hand.
Elizabeth strolled out of the other bedroom rubbing her eyes. "Is everything okay? Sis, are you alright?" she asked, spying the two in armlock. The younger woman walked to her sobbing sister, placing her hand on the sniffling girl's shoulder. "Well, we're still alive," she comforted her the best way she knew how. "What do we do for a toilet? The one up here doesn't work. I've got to go like crazy!"
"I think I saw an outhouse downstairs," the fireman informed the shuffling girl. "Or use the toilet and hand pump some water to pour down it to flush with."
"You've got to be kidding!" Elizabeth glared at Logan. "I've got to sit on something that's at least clean."
"Well, that's about your only choices unless you'd rather just squat outside!"
"I think I'll take my chances in the outhouse, thank you." The girl moved hurriedly toward the exit, opening the door slightly and peeking through. "What if the kidnappers come back while I'm down there?"
Logan just looked at her. "It's your choice."
"Can you pump me some water?" the young lass begged Logan, heading toward the broken toilet. "God, it stinks in here!"
Logan slipped out of Amanda's grasp and walked slowly toward the kitchen. "We've got to formulate a plan of action," the fireman gently informed Amanda over his shoulder. "Those guys will probably be coming back today. I'd really like to go downstairs again to have a better look around to see if we can find a way out of here. There seemed to be some kind of storage area or something down there. The only problem is, I sure as hell don't want to get caught down there when the kidnappers get back, that would be suicide!"
"Yeah, I know what you mean, I don't think they'd be real impressed with us being up and around, that's for sure! But what if you take the gun with you? I think you should be the one to keep it, anyway. I have no idea how to shoot a pistol and neither does Liz. I just wished we knew how many friends the old fart was bringing back with him. It would make the planning a little easier."
"Maybe we'd be better off to just stay up here and wait for them, it'd be easier to ambush them here in the house than outside in the open," the calculating firefighter decided contemplatively. He stepped around the kitchen cabinet, opening several of the rickety doors until finding a large metal pot for the water pump.
Amanda slowly sat upright, looking at him. Her eyes were fiercely red and her face streaked with makeup. "In that case, I think we should each take a window on opposite sides of the house for now and keep a lookout. At the first sight of them we can signal and you can bring the gun in. If they all come up together you can hold them at gunpoint while we tie them up. Then we can use their boat to get back to the road."
Logan set the pot under the pump spout and began pumping the short wooden handle as hard as he could, nothing happened. Elizabeth sauntered out of the bathroom toward them. "Sis, are you alright now?" she asked, looking at Amanda. "My God, I didn't think you knew how to cry like that. You're always Ms. Cool-calm-and-collected. I can't believe you are the one crying here."
Amanda gave her a sardonic look, stood up and walked into the bathroom. "We have got to put something across this door if we end up being here much longer. Logan can you get that water for me? It really does smell bad in here," she informed the others, stepping inside.
The pump belched, spitting out a spattering of rusty colored water. Great, Logan thought, continuing his project, I hope we don't have to drink this shit! "I'll go ahead and take the window here at the front of the house, since this is where they are going to come in." the fireman called after Amanda, still pumping the handle. "Elizabeth, we've decided to each take a lookout from a window on opposite sides of the house. I will keep the gun and you can signal me if they come from your direction. Be sure and pay attention to what direction they come from so that we will have an idea which way to head back to," he continued.
"Wow, I'm glad that I got to take part in the planning. I'll find a window as soon as I find something to eat, I'm starved," the younger girl answered belligerently, brushing past Logan to search through the dingy cabinets..
A few minutes later, Amanda reappeared from the bathroom, volunteering, "I'll take this window over here." The eldest sister pointed to the large window on the opposite side of the living room from Logan. "Elizabeth, will you take the window in the bedroom?"
"What is this, order Elizabeth day?" she asked snidely, looking up from her search through the cabinets.
"Look, I just want to stay alive. If you have a better plan just let us know! We'll be happy to use it. Right now we need you to keep a lookout on that end of the house," Amanda scolded.
"Why don't you sit in the bedroom by yourself. I'll stay in here with lover boy since you are the one who always likes to be alone so much."
"Fine!" Amanda answered curtly, stomping out of the room. "You can dump the water down the toilet yourself! That is, if Mister Macho over there ever gets any."
Logan didn't know what was going to be worse, facing the kidnappers or being in the middle of a sibling rivalry. Lots of times he had wished for brothers and sisters, but at times like these it seemed not an ideal situation. The confused young man decided to just mind his own business and keep watch. He looked down to see the water finally running clear out of the pump's spout. Whhew, the relieved lad thought, maybe this stuff will be fit to drink after all. The cautious fireman put his hand under the running stream, bringing a small handful to his mouth to taste. Not bad, the water tasted pretty sweet actually.
"Shit, the only thing that I can find to eat is a couple of cans of chili, beans, and fruit cocktail. Hell with it, I'll have the fruit and save the chili for lunch. Want to join me?" she finally asked Logan.
"No thanks. Not right now at least." Logan felt his stomach growling but couldn't bring himself to eat. He just kept his attention focused on filling his pot with liquid. "Here's your water," the lad informed Elizabeth. "You might as well get it over with. Just pour this whole pot down the commode as quickly as you can. That should flush it and get rid of most of the smell." The young man sauntered to his place beside the large window and peered out. Even in the bright, sun-lit daylight the dense canopy of living growth obscured the biggest portion of light. Occasional beams of sunlight filtered through, however, creating maddening plays of strobe-like shafts, blown about on the light, damp breeze.
The weather was still very warm for late October. Obviously, with all of the temperate life in the swamp, it never stayed very cold for long. Logan's mind played back to the early morning, wondering how the sunlight had gotten through to awaken him. Slowly, he drifted into thoughts of Morgan. The lonely young man could almost feel her touch, smell her skin and sense the love that she so easily exuded from every pore of her being. He remembered the special connection that was felt while at her side. There was no question she loved him, that was a fact beyond doubt. Love radiated from her like warmth from a bonfire.
"God, I don't know who you are or what you look like, but I know you're going to bring me back to Morgan. You wouldn't have given me the opportunities that I've had to live and to love her if you were just going to take her away," he prayed under his breath. "And Morgan, just wait for me. I'll be back with you soon, I promise. I couldn't leave you right now if I tried. I'll soon be back at your side." Logan could feel love spring up all around him. He felt so warm and contented that it was almost as if he were holding Morgan in his arms. A small tear trickled down his left cheek followed by a second one on his right. He felt inexplicably peaceful and calm again. Yeah, maybe Morgan was thinking about him, too.
A metallic rattle behind him brought him back into the room. "Ahhh, wonderful breakfast," Liz commented, dropping her spoon into the empty fruit can. "What are we going to do for food after this runs out?" she asked no one in particular.
"Huh?" Logan responded, still half out of his body.
"I said what are we going to do for food after this stuff runs out?"
"Hopefully we won't have to find out. I plan to be off this island soon. I think I'd go stark raving mad if I were cooped up here very long," he answered truthfully. "If nothing else, I'd be bored witless. I guess I'm just a city guy now, I've kinda' lost touch with the country style of life."
"Hopefully you're right. I'm not much of one to hang out in isolation either. I'm afraid we'd go mad together."
Logan again started feeling very alone. He wished that Liz hadn't brought him out of his trance. He always had a very good imagination and could find himself easily in some other realm of existence. Sometimes the adventurer in him wanted to find someone to ask; is that dream realm as real as this physical one? He decided that question would best be left to philosophers and theologians.
Amanda slowly walked back into the room and spoke to him. "I've got to find something to eat. I am totally starving. Will you keep an eye out in my direction for just a few minutes? Elizabeth, did you say that you found some fruit cocktail? I want some of it. Where is it?" Amanda asked of her sister.
"Lower right-hand cabinet. Near the rear." Liz answered curtly, still a bit irritated.
"Oh, yeah, here it is. Thanks."
Logan tried not to pay them much attention. He had enough anxiety without a simmering feud between these women. He diligently returned his attention to guard duty.
Morgan woke up lying on the Keohane's couch. "How did I get here?" she wondered briefly. Then everything began flooding into her memory once again. The distraught young woman laid there dazed, until the shock of the news of Logan returned. She looked up to see Anne sitting on the edge of the couch next to her and noticed the trail of a tear across the woman's cheek. "Oh, Missus Keohane, I'm so sorry. What are we going to do? That couldn't have been Logan. He had no reason to be in Louisiana. He's got to still be alive, somewhere. We've just got to find him."
"I would love to believe that too, dear, but everything is just happening so fast right now," Anne answered with a large tear rolling down her right cheek. "Lot's of times I've stayed up late, worrying deep into the night when Logan was at work, afraid that he would be injured or worse at a fire, and now this." Her tears began to flow steadily, dripping quietly into her lap.
Morgan sat up beside Anne, wrapping her arms around the loving lady's trembling shoulders. They sat that way for several minutes before Morgan found the courage to speak. "Logan will be back to us safe and sound. Just wait and see. I'm sure he knows I'll be waiting for him. He won't let me down. Missus Keohane, I have every intention of marrying your son and this may postpone things a bit but it isn't going to alter my plans."
"I wish that I had your faith, Morgan," she answered after a few moments of silence. "All that I can see are visions of horrible things happening to my only son. What am I supposed to do now? It's not supposed to be this way. I feel so helpless. . . so. . . uh. . . ." Anne began weeping in earnest. Yancy sat down beside them, putting his arms around both of them.
Morgan felt closer to these people at that moment than she had ever felt with her own family. Maybe it was the idea that they could show that they were really human. These were real people who laughed and cried, felt joy and sadness, strength and despair. Yeah, these people were strong enough to let others see who they really were. Tears filled her eyes, but not really tears of grief. The suddenly lonely young woman felt a sadness and longing at Logan's absence, but that still wasn't the source of her weeping. Somehow, she was sure that he was alive and well and would be back to her. Her tears stemmed more from a sense of finding something that she had always looked for, a sense of connectedness, a rich feeling of being part of some bigger scheme. Morgan was family here and she felt it.
The three mourners sat locked for almost an hour. Darkness slowly crept into the room as they sat together in quiet communion. There was no place Morgan would rather be at that moment than right there, feeling that total outpouring of love, no matter the circumstances of its creation.
Yancy Keohane was the first to break the spell of quiet contemplation. "Logan, me lad, I'm lookin' for your return. I'll be awaitin' for ya'. I know everyone includin' the wee folk are watchin' over ya'," the pining Irishman lamented into the darkness in a light Irish brogue.
"Let me know if there's anything that I can do. I mean, anything at all. I'll help in any way that I can," Morgan offered sincerely.
"We know you will, dear, and we appreciate it. If there's anything that we can use a hand at we'll be sure to let you know," Anne answered her sincerely. You're very welcome to stay the night here if you'd like. We have plenty of room and would enjoy your company."
"Thank you very much. I'll take you up on it sometime soon. Right now, though, I've already committed myself to go to my parent's. My brother is in from school for a week, so they're having a dinner party for him. I'll call tomorrow to see how things are going. If I get any further word I'll let you know." Morgan stood slowly, smiling softly at the Keohanes, who sat hand in hand on the couch. "I'll let myself out. Goodnight."
Morgan closed the door behind her and strolled toward her car. Every fiber of her being was screaming out in revulsion to going to her parent's house. Please, oh please let me get out of this! Why does it seem that everything bad always happens at one time? The spinning redhead desperately wanted to just go to Logan's apartment. At least there she could get a feel of him. One little sniff of his aftershave or seeing one of his blue uniforms would at least give her a bit of comfort. Also, she needed the tee-shirt that he had given her as a night shirt. It would keep her company until her lover returned.
The woman sat hollowly into her car, immediately feeling for the note that had so gently been placed into her purse earlier. Touching the cool, crisp paper, she could almost sense Logan's presence filling the void surrounding her soul. That epistle of love began graciously to exude a message far beyond the mere words inscribed onto its surface. The feel of the note seemed to propel her to a secret place, deep into another sense of time and space, where her fingers intertwined with those of her paramour, reveling in the love that he felt for her. Morgan languished in the light of love, allowing the whole essence of her broader self to immerse into a dimension of existence reserved only for lovers wishing to bridge any restriction that stands in their way. Slowly, looking up into the heavens, her heart flew into the immenseness of the firmament. My, how the stars look just like flickering candles, playing on the mysterious face of Mother Earth, she fancied, expanding her awareness into the infinite. For a while, her spirit soared with the stars themselves, loosing all sense of time and dimension. Then, ruefully bringing herself back into the present, she cranked her engine and slowly headed for her childhood home.
"Oh, hi honey!" Lorraine O'Malley greeted her only daughter at the front door. "Come on in, we were afraid you weren't going to make it."
"Sorry I'm late, mom. I just left Logan's parents' house. I had to go over to let them know about his disappearance." Morgan stepped slowly through the doorway into the long entry hall.
Lorraine wrapped her arms around the girl's neck with a quick, tight hug, kissing her daughter on the cheek. "Yeah, your father said something about him being missing or something."
A large lump formed in Morgan's throat. Tears began to sting her eyes, however, she wasn't about to break down here in front of her parents. "Yeah, he never got to work today. And we just got word a while ago that his truck was found wrecked in Louisiana. Someone was killed in the accident, but I don't think it was Logan. He had no reason to be in Louisiana."
"My goodness, in Louisiana? Honey, I'm so sorry to hear that. I really hate to hear when someone gets hurt like that. But, you know the Good Lord always looks after his own. Maybe he was just trying to protect you from getting involved in something that you'd later regret. You know mixing religions and all never works out. You need to just find yourself a nice Christian boy and get back to serving the Lord like you should," Lorraine commented in her sickly sweet voice, smiling at the girl.
Morgan want to scream. The suddenly outraged redhead could feel the tension building in her back, standing the hair on back of her neck on end. "Mother, can't I even get in the door before you lay-in on me? The one thing I don't need right now is a sermon! I love Logan and plan to see him again! Sometime soon, I even plan to marry him. I don't believe that is against the ‘will of God'!" Arrrgh! The young woman's mind exploded. If this wasn't my mother I'd tell her right now just where to get off!
"I'm sorry, dear, you know I was just trying to help!" The older woman lowered her face toward the floor, lifting her hazel eyes to look at her daughter. Greying hair swept over the mother's forehead, blocking her vision before she turned down the hallway. "Come on, the others are waiting. Ben, your sister is here!" Lorraine called into the buzzing room ahead of them.
"Hi, sis!" the thin dark-headed young man greeted his sister. "It's been a while since I've seen you! How've you been?"
"Not so wonderful, Ben, I can think of better moments in my life."
Morgan looked at her watch, it was just eight forty-five. She had only been there for a little over an hour and yet it seemed like an eternity. Absently, the young woman reached into her purse, pulling out the silent pager to check for any new messages that she might not have heard. Nothing. Come on Logan, where are you?
"Hey, everyone! Guess what Ben brought us back from school. It's a cassette of one of his sermons! He was preaching at one of the local churches as a guest pastor and had the whole service recorded! Would anyone like to hear it?" Patrick O'Malley announced to the small crowd of his visiting church mates. "I'm really proud of you son!" The father lifted the cassette high above his head like a trophy, smiling enormously at the boy.
"Yeah, let's hear it." replied the Reverend Cornell, her parent's pastor, heartily. "But first, my son, tell us what you're preaching about."
Oh, great! My parents can't get me in church so they bring the church to me! Jesus H. Christ, I've got to get out of here now! Okay, Morgan, chill out. Settle down, these people obviously enjoy doing all of this, they aren't just trying to torture you! A quiet voice exploded through the struggling woman's mind, "What other people believe is just as real to them as your beliefs are to you. The only way we will ever survive and prosper as a species is by learning to accept and respect the beliefs and traditions of others, even if they are contrary to our own!"
Morgan felt a heavy weight ease slightly off her shoulders. Some beliefs just seem so much easier to accept than others. I guess the ones I have the most trouble with are the ones who promote themselves as ‘the only way', she deduced. How many people have died in the name of ‘the true and only religion' so the world wouldn't die and go to hell? Probably half the population of the globe! Okay, Morgan, condemnation only puts you right there in the middle of them. Tolerance, remember? Just learn to respect the beliefs and accomplishments of your family and brother.
"Yes, Brother Cornell, in the sermon I was speaking on the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Specifically, how Lot's wife was turned into a pillar of salt as she looked back at the destruction with longing in her heart for the sin and degradation that was left behind. I cross referenced it with the Exodus of the Children of Israel from Egypt and several other passages about mankind's eminent destruction unless he turns from a life of wickedness and sin!"
I guess it wasn't wickedness and sin that drove those same Children of Israel to swarm into a foreign land, killing every innocent man, woman and child so that they could have a promised land? Oh, no, those deaths were probably justly imposed upon a people filled with wickedness and sin, so very much deserving of their destruction, Morgan judged hotly to herself.
Suddenly, a strong flow of compassion filled the woman. Oh my gosh, these people are so afraid of themselves that it is necessary to create an external form of God in order to cope with their unknown power. Instead of judging them, how could I show the rest of the world not to fear the power that the Creator has given each and every person? That's it! That has got to be my mission in life! For once I'm on the right path to begin my journey! I've got to find a way of presenting a higher level of possibility to those seeking it! Okay, Morgan, that idea is what you were here for this evening. It's time to go home now. Thank you mom and dad for things you didn't even know you contributed to me! Without all the events of this evening I might have never gotten the message that I'm really desiring to find a way to teach others to see their own highest potential. I want to show others how to really live and enjoy every minute of their lives!. "Quiet now everyone, I'm turning on the tape player!" Patrick announced proudly.
Morgan settled back into her seat as the tape of her brother began. The soft music of a church organ lulled her into a semi-trance, somewhere between sleep and wakefulness. Quietly, the young woman turned to her father, "It's time for me to go home, daddy. I'm really exhausted. Goodnight everyone, it's been pleasant. Congratulations, Ben, I'm really happy and proud for you! Thanks mom and dad for inviting me. I've gotten more from tonight than you'll ever know!" Morgan stood up without waiting for an answer and walked briskly for the exit. "Goodnight!" she called once more over her shoulder, leaving the crowded room.
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