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PRIMORDIAL DEEP

The ten-foot boat was thrown nearly two feet out of the water, the bow raised thirty degrees, and the stern submerged almost to the waterline. It splashed down again, sucking a layer of pond scum into the bottom. Ian was summarily thrown backwards, out into the fetid stench of the brackish swamp. He cut his shoulder, as his nor’easter snagged on a cypress stump, and hung him there. Dazed at first, he flailed and screamed for Alma to come for him.

The cartographer nearly spilled over the side herself, in a frantic effort to come about and row toward him. She was clumsy in the water, unsure of maneuvering the oars. She yelled for him to hold on, as he struggled to extricate himself. He was pinned against the dead trunk, lifted out of the murky bayou high enough to prevent him from slipping out of the oversized raincoat.

The enraged creature bellowed, as much in pain, as territorial defiance now. It bolted passed Alma, with a churning brown wake that expanded across the algae covered surface of the marsh. The greenish brown of its heavily mottled skin, almost warty in appearance, with looser folds near the pale oyster yellow of its underbelly, moved inexorably toward its helpless prey.

Alma clumsily drew close and reached out her hand to Ian, as the Alty surged between them. The lake monster butted Ian with its lowered head, ripping him from the ensnaring folds of his borrowed slicker. It hung like the tattered remains of a macabre scarecrow, the hood empty and the sleeves floundering. McQuade was once again thrown headlong into the water, amid rushes and lily pads closer to shore.

“Alma,” he gasped, sputtering water as he tried to catch his breath from the force of the blow to his ribs. “Help me! Don’t let it get me, again!” Del Nephites yelled for him to hold on, as she managed to turn the boat toward him a second time. He pulled himself along with a one-armed, flailing dogpaddle. His side ached, and he was sure the monster had bruised, if not cracked one or more of his healing ribs. It submerged and was now nowhere in sight. It gave Ian hope that if Alma hurried, they just might make it out of that fetid swamp. She rowed alongside, or as close as she dared, dropped the oars and clung to the side of the boat. She held out her hand to him, as he grasped thin air to reach her in time.

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