Failing Upward Ch. 19

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Author’s note: The next chapter will end this story!


We were at the Lancaster’s– the familiar washboard driveway jostled us around. Tires spun from the sloppy ruts where the spring thaw and showers had deepened them. Alan fish-tailed the car once or twice again for fun.

The sugar maples had budded and the edge of the pond had begun to wake, green life poking through the brown leaves.

Alan honked the horn as we pulled up to the house. He threw the car in park and sputtered off. He jumped out and went around to open the trunk as Uncle Daniel came out the door. His gait was stilted, head down watching his feet and stepping over puddles in the drive. Half way to the car, he lifted his head. I could literally see a charged aura around him.

We got out. I’d muddied my hand as I slammed the car the door. Looked like a demo derby special all caked in globs of mud, dried grass, weeds punctuated with bird droppings. I gazed over the top of the car and laughed– it was the only place that was clean. I met Sid’s eyes as I wiped the grim off my hand on the side of my jeans.

I chewed my lip, nervous habit. But right now, my nails were gross. I skittered over to Sid, grabbing my backpack, anxious to talk to him alone– tell him what I’d learned. Didn’t look like that was going to happen any time soon– Uncle Daniel stopped in front of me and put his arm around my shoulder squeezing me in an over exaggerated death-hug.

Glenda stood in her usual place on the porch, waiting.

“I’ll call you,” Lynn said. I’d known her long enough to see she was more than uncomfortable under my uncle’s sharp eyes.

Alan and Lynn got back in the car and took off home, leaving the rest of our things at our feet.

I had to admit, Uncle Dan did look kind of frightening, his brow creased and mouth set like a criminal court judge about to pass hard sentence.

“Come in,” said Uncle Dan., giving my shoulders a tight squeeze, then letting go. “We need to talk to both of you.”

I frowned. Crap. We followed him two steps behind him into the house.

I knew. Sid knew. The screen door scraped open under my uncle’s leathered hand. Glenda held the door and came behind.

“Shackleton?” Sid asked as the door banged shut.

The first step inside they house it hit me like some airborne narcotic. Roses everywhere. My chest tightened. Glenda walked up to the vase on top of the piano, fiddling. The florist in me wanted to slap her hands and show her right and show her the way you handle flowers, but I reined the designer in.

That wasn’t all that needed reining in.

I hungered, itched. As I walked by the looking glass over the mantel, I saw my cheeks spotted red, and Sid’s face reflected back, flushed. I watched the room through the mirror. Glenda pretending the roses needed watering. Uncle Daniel watching my back. Les biting his lip.

“I’ll never understand why you dug him back up,” Les said, trusting his hands in his pockets.

I didn’t understand what he said at first. I turned and faced my brother. I looked at his eyes, pupil’s dilated. His lips moved again. He repeated the words.

I dug Shackleton back up? Hell why’d I do that? I recalled begging for mercy on his behalf– how I felt as if it was me being buried alive. And then it became real. I could feel sand, suffocating. My stubby nails dug into my arm, scratching.

“You should have left him there–” he spat at me. “None of this would be happening. I don’t understand,” Les stepped into my space, nose almost touching mine. “What’s going on with you? There’s something you’re not telling me.”

Fuck. I was distressed. Sweating, itching.

“I’d like to talk to Sid and Wes alone,” Uncle Dan said, pulling Les back.

“Damn, it’s always this way. Wes, I want to help.”

I felt helpless to tell him anything. I wanted to, but I couldn’t speak. I stood stuttering.

“Don’t tell your own brother then,” Les said. He began to leave the room, stopping at the old grand piano and picked up the vase, turning to Glenda. “What is it with the house filled with roses? Are you trying to ward something out or keep something in?”

Les set the down the vase with a clunk and turned his back to us.

“Why must you always be impossible?” Glenda asked.

“You know, I give up,” he said, waving his hands over his head. “I’ll be upstairs if you decide to let me know what’s going on.”

“Go upstairs then,” Uncle Daniel said.

“This is such a fucking dysfunctional family,” Les called over his shoulder.

“Must you use that language?” Glenda called behind him.

I really had to agree with Les.

My uncle’s eyes rested on the book that Sid clutched tightly in his hand. His eyes were unfocused. I heard a bang far in the house– Les shutting his door.

“You’re not the same,” my uncle said, eyes level with mine.

I hesitated, finding my voice. At last I said, “No.” He was not surprised. I looked hard into his eyes. They moved like a mist swirling behind.

I poker oyna felt it too– the pull of the roses like the tide.

The old grandfather clock struck the half hour.

“Are you displaced?” he asked.

“You could say that.” I didn’t know how much to say. What to say.

“Do you belong here?” he asked.

Sid looked over at me.

“I sure hope so,” I said.

“It worked then,” Glenda sat down on the couch, face in her hands. “Sid was right.”

“I was? About what?” Sid asked. He seemed to come from a dream as he looked to her.

“That you could return to where you came from,” she said.

“Oh,” I said. My mind tumbled. I sat down on the old piano bench, and Sid sat next to me. I rested my back against the keys.

“You say that as if you were expecting a different answer,” my uncle said, sitting on the arm of the couch.

“I was.” I felt myself swaying. “What answer were you expecting?”

“Depends on the question, doesn’t it?” my uncle asked.

“What the heck does that mean?” Sid asked.

I was getting woozier with Mica’s effect and glad I was sitting.

“We don’t want to upset either of you. We know you’ve been through so much. I can hardly imagine, but you must know that in your absence much has happened to us– all of us.”

Glenda told us the story. My angst driven behavior at the lake as we buried Shackleton. The family’s confusion at my behavior, and how I’d rejected Sid– the annoyed voice, and the way she stared at my hand on Sid’s knee, I realized she wished I rejected him still.

She stopped as the clock struck six times. We waited for her to begin again. Take up the story. It was a riddle, she told us. Why we had acted oddly. Yet our uncle seemed to accept this. Finally he shared it with her, what he knew. She said she wasn’t surprised– that I was not the same and that Sid wasn’t either– after all, she knew it had to be something like that. Normally she didn’t bother herself with concepts like these. Time travel, parallel universes were my uncle’s and my parents’ preoccupation. Her preoccupation was the garden– this house. Keeping the family together. At last she spoke of her confusion– how I’d gone back to Lake Michigan, dug up Shackleton, leaving “that man” free on the beach– why had I done such a thing?

“You told us that it was the only way to finish this,” she said at last. “We thought it was finished when we dumped the last of the sand on his grave.”

It was like she could not distinguish that the two she spoke about–that other Sid and Wes– from us. I admit that the scent of roses made my mind muddled too. Having Sid so near, made me want him. I had to fight to ignore the heat of his leg against mine and how warm his knee was beneath my hand.

The room was silent for a time. The old grandfather clock ticked the seconds, then minutes. I cleared my throat then I told them our story in bursts. My mind was deadened with Mica’s mist while my tongue was loosened. I felt like I’d left pieces of myself behind as I’d told the story. I spoke of how I was buried. How lost I was– the longing I felt. It seemed the air in the room made the longing all the stronger. I told them how Sid came to be immortal. How I felt remorse and delight in this. How I’d lost Sid for a time, and how losing Sid was like losing a piece of myself. I hoped as I told this, Glenda would come to understand how much Sid was a part of my soul.

At last I told them how this was not finished–that we intended to finish this. But I did not tell them how I intended to do that. How could I when I didn’t know myself?

I stopped. Took a breath. Waited. Uncle Daniel stood up.

“Are you bent on self destruction?” Glenda asked.

“No,” I said. “If we were, we wouldn’t be here now.”

“Will you help us?” Sid asked.

“I’m not going to interfere with what’s going to happen,” my uncle answered.

“You should stop them,” Glenda said, grabbing my uncle’s arm.

“I’m not going to do anything,” he answered.

“I’ll never understand you,” she said to him.

“You know something. You could tell us,” I said.

“I could, but then why do you both need that book?” he replied.

Sid turned it over in his hands. I could feel him shaking.

“We want to know how to stop Shackleton and the Community. Isn’t that something we all should want?”

“It’s not that simple,” Glenda said.

My uncle knew more. I looked in his eyes. He’d known who I was and what I was from the beginning.

Glenda noticed Sid’s hands shaking. My uncle noticed too. I put my hands over his.

“I don’t feel well,” Sid admitted.

“I guess there aren’t any answers for us here,” I said, helping Sid to his feet.

“Goodnight,” Uncle Dan said.

As we walked out of the living room, I heard my uncle chastise Glenda, “You could at least say goodnight.”

I helped Sid upstairs to our room and closed the door. He flopped down into the overstuffed chair by the old victrola. Sid opened the book and took a shaky breath.

Roses canlı poker oyna in our room. My own hands quaked as I picked the vase off the old maple dresser. I strode across the room. I sat on the old cushions in the bow-window, pulling back the yellow lace first then then the faded teal drapes. I opened the window and flung them out like garbage.

“This is some kind of distraction on Glenda’s part,” I said, latching the window. “Trying to get our minds off of who knows what.”

I walked back toward Sid. “God I want you,” I said under my breath.

“Ignore it.”

“I can’t.”

“We have to. I’ll read the poem. I marked the page–“

I heard the soft knock on our door. Les– I told him to come in.

“Wanted to see if you were both ok. I know how Glenda can be. And I wanted you to know that it doesn’t matter that you can’t tell me what’s wrong. Just talk to each other. If you need to, you can go down to the garden. I know not much thinking goes on there, but sometimes it’s better to feel than think.”

“I agree with you, but I don’t think this is one of those times,” Sid said.

Les smiled. “You know where I am if you need an ear… g’d night.”

He stepped out, closing the door behind.

Sid saw the look in my eye.

“Ignore it,” Sid said. I wasn’t sure if he was saying it to himself or me.

“Ignore it,” I repeated. I stared at the ceiling. Stucco. Off white. Some cobwebs.

“Where oh where has my little dog gone,” I sang, “oh where oh where can he be…”

“What the hell is that about?” Sid asked, licking his finger as he turned a page.

“My own form of distraction,” I moaned. “And will you stopped doing that?”


“Licking your finger!”

I blushed hot thinking of the things that finger had done to me in the past. I wanted to feel him inside me so bad. I sat purposely on other side of the room in a rickety cane chair next to the maple vanity. I gave up singing, and I haltingly told Sid about what Alan had said about the “end of forever” and wondered aloud what it might mean.

After, we sat silent for along time. Shadows grew long. The sun bled red in through the bow-windows. Sid read. I thought.

My arm itched horribly. I dug at it while I felt the world closed in around me.

“It comes down to a message my parents wanted me to find in it,” I said, breaking the white hot silence. “Yet, it sounds like you were closer to understanding it than I was.”

“I don’t think so. It sounds to me like the other Wes knew and didn’t want Sid to find out.”

“What? What makes you thinks so?”

“If we understand why, I think we’ll understand what the message is– at least it will make sense.”

“Sense? What the hell makes sense anymore? If it were me, I’d only keep it from you if I thought knowing it would hurt you,” I thought aloud. “There are a lot references in the poem to pain and suffering as necessary to the human experience. Pain, suffering– what I experience and other immortals don’t.”

“Like me. Yeah, I thought of that.”

“And in giving to those less fortunate– maybe the message is giving the ability to everyone.”

“Thought of that too– in fact, we both thought that once. That doesn’t jive with the end of forever, and it sure won’t get rid of Shackleton– maybe make him less of a nuisance, though.”

“True. It’s just when I think of the poem– and us–“

“To see a world in a grain of sand… and heaven in a wild flower.”

“Yeah, we’ve thought of that– the sand as the catalyst. Or literally each grain is a world with different possibilities. I guess I’ve experienced heaven in a wild flower, which I’d love to experience right now– with you.”

“Ignore it.”

I watched his lips.

“Yeah. Ok, the rose is now cultivated–not a wild flower– but there was a time it was wild.”

“You don’t seem to be treading any new ground here. Try some inspiration,” and he got up and handed me the book. I read it again. I got up and began pacing around the room. Sid got up and began following me in my convoluted circles, trying to read over my shoulder.

“It talks about power corrupted,” Sid said, pointing to two verses in particular. “I think your parents chose this because it represents what’s gone wrong with the immortals. Look at the Community. ‘The strongest poison ever known/Came from Caesar’s laurel crown.’ But where’s the key on how to bring it down.”

“Listen to this will you?” I said, stopping next to the bed. I sat down, leaning my back against the poster at the head of the bed. Sid sat next to me as I read aloud:

If the sun and moon should doubt,

They’d immediately go out.

To be in a passion good you may do,

But no good if a passion is in you.

“It’s telling us not to let passion rule us. Damn if that’s not what I’m trying to do now!”

“Quit scratching your arm.”

He reached over and turned my wrist.

“Look at your arm.” His finger brushed over a blister that had formed over where the thorn was internet casino under my skin. A red line ran up my arm.

“What is that Wes?”

“You mean the thorn? Forget my arm.”

What was he going on about. I almost had it. End of forever? Doubt? Geeze.

“What if it isn’t just a line from the poem?” I said rapidly. “What if it’s the message, too? The title. ‘Augeries of Innocence.’ This poem is an omen, a portent. Sid, what would be the end of forever for immortals? No longer being immortal! The poem is about making everything the same through acceptance and belief–looking at the world with open eyes.”

“Why is your arm doing this?”

“I can stop Shackleton. I can make him mortal. I did it once– I made him feel that first time at the Community– remember I told you how I gouged his eyes and he screamed? I did it through my own will, my own belief. I can do this. I know it.”

“Your wrist. Why is it doing this?” he repeated. “The roses in the house, the room, the garden. Maybe this is a reaction.”

“Didn’t you hear what I just said? What this means? We can be normal again. Everyone can.”

“Wes, not everyone wants to be normal.”

“Don’t you?”


“You don’t sound so sure.”

“It’s not that. We know what it’s like to be this way, going back might not be that easy. I don’t like the trade off of not feeling pain but…”

“I see how you are now–especially when you think I’m not looking. You can’t hide it forever. Deal told me it eats away until you feel numb. I don’t want that to happen to you, to us.”

“What I want is for it all to be over. What I feel for you won’t change. But the rest? There will always be people who want more. To be the few who have power. It will never be that way. They’ll want it back. Shackleton. There will be no end unless he’s dead. The Community there will never be a place far enough for you to hide. You think it’s bad now. What would it be like with them all wanting what they no longer have anymore and knowing you’re the one responsible? Are you saying you’ll change everything? You’d have to make them forget, too!”

“God, Sid. I’ll love you no matter what. No matter where. You know that. You have to believe too. That’s what the poem’s about, as long as we believe we’ll find each other.”

“You’re scaring me.”

The our silhouette on the wall was long with the last gasp of the sun through the bow-window. I’d first seen this bed in a dream. I recalled how I’d made that dream come true. I’d used sex then to avoid what was to come. I felt the same swoon mixed with fear now.

“I’m scared too,” I whispered. “I can feel him. He’s near.”

“Wes. What if–“

I put my hand over his mouth. He gently set my hand aside.

The kiss on my forehead let me know that he didn’t want to ignore our need any longer.

“I want to feel you close, so close we shut out the world,” he murmured.

I tucked my head into that rough spot under his chin I loved. We explored each other slowly, losing ourselves along with our clothes. Heat, sweat. The sparks. Seeing inside the other’s hearts. Doing what Sid loved best, fiction slick with spit and sweat. Slow and easy. Sliding and building the heat between us. Him on top, setting a steady rhythm. No need to break our mouths away– kissing and capturing each other’s tongues and moans. Cocks slick with each other’s musk and sweat mingled. Hands caressing face, pulling hair, raking backs. Taking our time as all our life’s blood swelled into one place. Holding, holding on. We forgot the world for an hour.

Sweat, spit, semen. And then sleep.


I was shivering when I woke up. Cold, damp air. I rolled over– all I found was wadded sheets and quilts. Sid was gone. I sat up, opened my eyes. The window was wide open.

My heart raced. My lungs ached. I scrambled for my jeans as I ran to the window. I climbed on the cushions and leaned out the window into the night air. Too dark to see. I scrambled down and tripped, pulling on my jeans as I ran for the bedroom door.

Why the hell didn’t he wake me? Where was he? What the hell did he think he was doing? For all I knew, Sid was in the bathroom taking a piss, but I had a bad feeling. As stood looking down at the top of the stairs, fear crept into my throat. The large doors that faced the garden stood open.

I clutched the railing for support–then let the railing lead me like a friend as I ran down the winding stairs and out the back door into the night. The chime of the old grandfather clock echoed behind me.

My eyes quickly adjusted to the dark, not that I needed them to guide me. My shoe laces were untied, but I didn’t stumble. I didn’t need eyes or ears to find him. My old red Converses had a mind of there own, and the garden had its own way of calling. As I entered through the gate, panicked chirps and frantic wings flapped, startling me. House sparrows flew out above my head. A few moments later they reclaimed the branches on the red dogwood, resuming their slumber.

Shackleton had to know I was here now. While every fiber inside me wanted to shout Sid’s name, I didn’t want to give Shackleton any more advantage then he already had.

I dug at the blister where the thorn throbbed beneath and walked.

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