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Chapter 13

        Logan, now doused liberally with bug spray, began searching the storage room where he had earlier left off.  Oh boy, this is going to be a great smell to get to sleep with tonight, the fumigated lad thought.  Positioning himself in front of the same musty, unpainted plywood shelf that had been so quickly abandoned only a few minutes earlier, he was greeted with a familiar female voice quietly calling out from just outside the open doorway.

        "Jesus Christ!" Amanda exclaimed, swatting at the insects that covered her arms and legs.  "Logan, where are you?  And where the hell is that bug spray?  Logan, you in here?"  She peered through the dank gloom awaiting an answer.

        "Yeah, I'm right here," Logan answered slowly, not wishing to divert further attention from his search.  "Come on in and help me check this place out.  The insect repellent is on the third shelf on your left, not far after you come in the door.  I'm back here in the far corner."

        "There aren't any beasties or goulies around are there?" the cautious woman responded with a grimace.

        "No, all I've seen are a couple of little pookas," Logan smirked, discontinuing his search and returning to the entry.

        "Pookas?" Amanda asked herself, stepping into the damp dreariness.  "What the hell is a pooka?" she finally asked Logan.

        "Never mind, it was just a joke," he laughingly answered, meeting Amanda with a can of insect repellant just inside the dark room.

        "Gosh, it smells like a cave in here," the young woman complained, wriggling up her nose.  She held out her right arm toward Logan in a gesture of desired rescue.

        Logan took Amanda's hand in his and began liberally applying the odiferous aerosol.  By the time he completed spraying her upper body, she could no longer endure the noxious smell.  She bolted, gasping and wheezing, out of the dank, cramped room and into the open air.  "Jeeez," the agonizing girl cried, waving her hand in front of her nose, "I think the idea is to get rid of the bugs, not me!"

        Logan couldn't help but chuckle at the face she was making.  "Come on, it's not funny!" Amanda responded seriously.
 "What the hell did they put in this stuff?" the fireman asked, pretending to read the label on the can.  The two captives sat tentatively at the entrance of the lower room, allowing their sinuses to clear.  "Well, at least I don't see any mosquitos now," the fireman chuckled to the scolding eye of his cohort.

        Logan stood, returning cautiously to the still dankness of the storeroom.  Amanda followed closely behind, prodding here and there through the musty shelves, attempting to find anything that could be of service to them.  "What a wonderful combination of mildew and bug spray," the snuffling woman commented, sneezing several times in succession.  "Eau de Milde-bug," she commented in a stuffy voice.

        Logan smiled, diligently continuing his exploration.  Yeah, he could like this person.  The searching lad made his way to a double closet with large double plywood doors, held together by a hook and eye lock.  Quickly he flipped the hook and swung the doors wide against the shelves on either side.  Even though his eyes were well accustomed to the dimness, the young man couldn't penetrate the gloom of the tight closet.  Eyes squinted, he could almost define subtle shapes lurking in the background of the dark chamber.  Afraid of what creatures might be making the dark, damp hole their home, he hesitated to blindly plunge into it's contents.  "Amanda, don't we have a flashlight upstairs?" the cautious captive asked, still peering into the shadows.

        "Yeah, there was a flashlight in one of the duffle bags," she answered weakly, then snuffled and sneezed.  "Hold on, I'll get it.  I need to blow my nose anyway."

        Logan heard the young woman shuffle out of the storeroom and up the stairs.  "Shit!" she cried from a distance, sneezing rapidly several times on her assent.  The impatient fireman could wait no longer and was just about to delve into the dark recesses of the closet when he heard footsteps quickly returning down the stairs.  Amanda trotted through the open external doors, shining the bright halogen light in front of her.  "Here it is," she announced, shining the beam directly into Logan's eyes.

        "I see," he responded gruffly, shielding his sight against the suddenly bright glare.

        "At least I could a minute ago."

        "Oh, sorry."  Amanda refocused the piercing ray of light into the waiting darkness of the closet.  "I didn't mean to blind. . . hey, what's this?" she slipped into the cramped space and began tugging on something large and heavy.

        "I don't know.   I can't see now," was his snide response.  Several seconds passed before Logan's eyes would readjust to the level of light in the storage room.  Gradually, the blinded captive began making out the outline of the object that Amanda was tugging on.  It was a large, square, rubberized canvas looking package about four feet tall and two feet wide.  It's dark green exterior had some faded lettering across it, but, most of it was obscured by Amanda's straining body.  "What is that?" Logan asked.

        "A life raft, or so it says," Amanda said straining.  "It's. . . too. . . heavy for. . ."

        "Look out, let me get it."  Logan was suddenly excited.  "This is it, this is what we were looking for!"  The struggling captive moved past him, out of the closet doors, triggering another loathsome memory of Logan's last fire scene adventure.  Repositioning himself in the spot that Amanda had just vacated, he stood sternly in front of the heavy package.  "Jeez, this thing is heavy," he replied with a grunt.

        Half carrying and half sliding his cargo, the bodybuilder pulled it roughly out of the tight closet.  He weaved through the narrow aisles, between the full shelves and out into the diffused light, outside of the storeroom doors.  Amanda tagged along behind, skipping and jumping, poking on the back of his shoulder.

        "Is it going to work?" the excited lass kept asking.  "Can we get out of here on this?"

        "You sound just like a kid with a new bike," Logan laughed.  "Yes, if we can get this thing inflated, we can get out of here in it!  We'll just have to figure out which way to go."

        Unbuckling the nylon webbed straps that held the package together, the firefighter slipped the large raft out of it's case.  It was an exciting moment.  Neither of them could hardly contain their excitement.  Amanda danced around as Logan struggled to unroll and layout the heavy canvas bundle.  "Yeah!" he whooped, getting it all situated and surveying the results.
        "Will it work?" she asked again.  "Come on, fill it up!"

        Finding the compressed gas cylinders that automatically filled the raft, Logan carefully read the instructions and inspected the seal around each filler tube.  Everything seemed in order.  He then listened closely, shaking the metal cylinders, in turn, to check their contents.

        "Hurry up," Amanda prodded.

        "I want to make sure this thing is going to work before I do anything rash," he responded, continuing his inspection of the small vessel.  "Seems like everything is okay."

        Logan stood and visually scanned a pathway to the edge of the small island.  He looked in several directions before settling on a route that ended where he figured they had originally landed.  "We need to move the raft to the edge of the water," the young man instructed her.  "It'll be a lot easier to move now than it will when it's all filled."

        Amanda moved around the side of the deflated boat and positioned herself between it and the water's edge.  Bending over, she took hold of the smooth, thick rope that was laced around the perimeter of the small craft and tugged on it, testing it's weight.  "You really expect me to move this thing?" the frail girl asked with an expression of complete exasperation.

        "I can handle most of the weight.  I would just like a little  help to make sure that nothing happens to it, is all," Logan returned.  "First, we need to look over the path really carefully to get rid of any sticks or anything that might puncture the raft as we drag it over here."

        The focused lad turned, beginning to slowly inspect the path to the launch site.  Occasionally, he would stoop to pick a small branch or other piece of rigid material out of the shin high, coarse grass and whisk it aside.  Soon, Amanda was walking along beside him, kicking at clumps of weeds and digging at bits of debris.

        The two were within twelve feet of the water's edge when a loud, chilling hiss stopped them in their tracks.  "Don't move," Logan instructed quietly.  He scanned the area ahead of them, following the sound that had stood his hair on end.  Spying a head high stand of thick, stalky growth just at the waters edge on his left, he concentrated his efforts to ascertain the origin of the noise.  Suddenly the thick growth of weeds parted violently and a large alligator charged through  like a narrow, toothy Sherman tank.  The reptile stopped with half of its body still embedded in the heavy growth, opened its jagged, gaping jaw and again hissed like a demon at the two of them.

        Amanda, who was positioned between the vicious beast and Logan, jumped backwards into him, almost knocking the large man to the ground.  Logan grabbed her, "Don't move," he reminded the panic stricken girl, whispering forcefully and wrapping her up in his thick arms.  "If you don't move he probably won't attack.   We can't out run him."

        The huge gator suddenly made another three step charge at them, hissing more vehemently than ever. It was all Logan could manage to keep himself and Amanda in place with the creature now only two and a half yards from their feet.

        The two captives could smell the sickening odor of rotting flesh on the breath of the monster.  That, in itself, was almost enough to overwhelm them.  Logan could feel Amanda shivering uncontrollably in his tight grasp.  His own knees felt weak and his mind was deluged with ideas to figure a way out of their situation.  He had never confronted a hostile threat from a wild beast before.  His mind was feeding up everything that he had ever heard, read or seen about alligators.  None of it was too pleasing or promising.

        The scaly creature slowly moved one paw forward, continuing a steady glare at them with malevolent, beady eyes.  In a move of animalistic contempt, it settled itself, belly down, on the wet spongy ground.  The weight of the gator was so heavy that Logan could hear an audible sucking squish as it's mass imbued onto the saturated soil.  Small jets of water arose around its scaly belly like a football player stepping on a soaked sponge.

        "Don't move," Logan quietly reminded the shaking woman.  "He's bound to lose interest in a few minutes."

        The now reclining lizard gradually reduced its stare, its big green eyelids drooping over their black protruding eyeballs.  When the creature's eyes became half closed Logan whispered into Amanda's ear, " Back up real slow with me.  Don't make any sudden moves or noises.  We'll back out of here, straight to the stairs."  Amanda could only nod her approval.
        Logan slowly and deliberately slid his right foot one step backward, then leaned his weight softly onto the squishy ground, pulling Amanda gingerly along with him.  Next, his left foot inched toward the waiting safety of the stair.  Right, then left, right, then left.  The couple slowly put another five feet of distance between them and the lethargic reptile.

        On the next step, Logan caught his heel on a thick, high clump of the coarse grass that covered the tiny island.  He made a quick half step to catch his balance, pulling Amanda roughly against him.  The suddenly added weight was more than the stout fireman could compensate for. The two tenuous escapees pummeled tenuously onto the soggy ground.

        Instantly, the great beast rose to full attention. It stood high on its short, thick legs, looking more like a paleolithic transcendent than a dweller of current time.  Visions of being eaten by a wild beast revisited Logan's thoughts.  He could almost feel the snaggled jaws of the huge creature grinding on his legs, pulling him to a watery, drowning death before being devoured by who knows how many vermin.  Or worse yet, images flashed by of Amanda being snatched, screaming, from his grasp and dragged roughly into the waiting darkness of the swamp water.  All he would be able to do is stand uselessly by, witnessing the horror of the helpless victim's impending death.  His inundated thoughts danced with macabre possibilities.

        The gator quickly recovered the several feet of open area that they had gained with one maddening rush.  Logan could feel Amanda suck in a deep lung full of air, then release it in one long, low cry of utter terror.  The charging reptile stopped dead in its tracks, right at Amanda's feet.  It was so close that she could have kicked its knotty green snout.  The malevolent beast stared up at them with dark, malicious eyes, hissing a blood curdling, smelly rasp of a sound that Logan was sure would never be forgotten

        All of Amanda's muscles were tight as a mass of knarled oak tree in Logan's grasp.  The fireman finally gave into the fear that accosted him, forgetting all sense of planning and sensibility.  He pushed his heels deeply into the soft turf, dragging Amanda along with him, crawling backwards toward the landing of the stair.  The terror of the moment clouded all of Logan's senses. Thoughts ran by so quickly that he could no longer control them.  The terrorized young man just wanted to run and scream.

        A sudden noise above the horror-stricken couple brought Logan partially back to his wits.  He couldn't make out its source until a voice rang out into the thickening air.  "Hey, what are you guys do. . . .  She began quizically then stopped abruptly with a scream of total recognition.

        "G. . . gun. . . get gun," was all that the stammering fireman could manage in reply.  He heard the screen door slam, followed by running footsteps and Elizabeth's screaming voice threatening everything from the beast to Heaven itself.  A sudden loud pop filled the air as she shot wildly into space, running down the steep stairway.  The surprising young woman charged down the stairs like a madwoman in the bloodlust of battle.  Invincibly, she attacked the creature with all her thoughts and might.

        The huge reptile shifted its attention toward the new attacker, then made a sudden lunge away from her, toward the murky swamp.  It reached the water's edge at an unbelievable speed with the screaming Elizabeth closing in on its slime covered tail.  The scaly beast disappeared almost instantly into the dark, muddy water.  Elizabeth continued her charge all the way to the spot where it was last seen, discharging two more rounds into the dingy swamp.

        Logan and Amanda lay frozen to the soggy ground, unable to do anything but quiver in terror of the event that had just taken place.  Elizabeth gazed into the waiting swamp and screamed a primal scream into the still air, then collapsed onto the ground at the water's edge.  Tears suddenly filled her eyes.  The spent woman dropped the pistol into the muck beside her.

        Amanda began a slow, intense sob which turned into a loud wail, filling the tree infested area around them like a Banshee in the depths of mourning.  She curled into a ball in Logan's arms, pressing her face tightly as possible into his heaving chest.  "Oh my God.  Oh my God!" the quivering girl repeated over and over under her breath.  The fireman held her tightly as heavy tears coursed freely down his own cheeks.

        Rubbing Amanda's shoulder, Logan reassured her, "It's okay.  It's okay."  However, he was still unsure of their safety, himself.  His mind fought for some kind of control, some kind of reassurance that he could regain command of their situation.  It was an elusive goal.  All that the overwhelmed young man could take comfort in was the fact that the immediate danger was gone.  They were at least safe for the moment.

        Logan slowly gained his feet, pulling Amanda gently to his body.  He held her tightly, feeling her warm, quaking body very alive in his arms.  His tears ran freely for the first time in recent history.  The sobbing firefighter didn't try to speak, he didn't know what to say.  Just being alive with the fullness of the warm flesh of a whole, solid body in his arms was plenty at that moment..

        Elizabeth soon joined the others in a huddle of compassion.  Not a word was spoken, but all knew they shared a common feeling of gratitude, relief and appreciation of life itself.  A cool wind rattled the leaves above the trio.  The sound of distant thunder rolled heavily through the breeze.

        Morgan pulled into the Keohane's driveway and looked at her watch.  Five forty three, yeah, she was here in plenty of time.  Why had she agreed to attend Logan's wake?  He must still be alive and she had every intention of waiting for him!  Opening the door of her car, the struggling redhead slid out of the seat and stood on the hardness of the cement driveway.  She gently closed the door, making her way to the front door of the cozy house.

        The sun, nearing the western horizon, cast a golden glow over the yellowing lawn.  For some odd reason, Morgan's mind slipped into a story she had gleaned from one of her books of Irish myth about Tír-na-nOg, the ancient Irish place of eternal youth.  The young Irishwoman looked into the huge orange disk of the lowering sun, following an instinctive desire to recite a prayer to an ancient deity.

        "Lugh, bring him back to me.  In your journey through the other world, just bring him back to me."  Morgan slowly made her way to the entry steps, watching the sun slowly set into the unknown.  "Soon, Logan Keohane, soon."  She entered the front door of the house.

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