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Failing Upward Ch. 13

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Babes

An author’s note:

Believe it or not this is a finished piece that has a definite plot. The end of this chapter reveals the truth of Wes’s situation–no more false leads. Have fun reading. Now the ride gets bumpy.

*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*

Dead air.

Then interference. The sound of sandpaper on raw wood like splinters piercing my eardrums. I listened and waited, watching Sid’s face. I didn’t have to hear his voice to know Shackleton was on the other end.

“Yes?” I asked. More dead air, then his voice–

“Look out the window.”

I hesitated. So he was out there. I didn’t need to step up to the window. I didn’t need to look. I didn’t need to draw back the curtain. I didn’t even need to see him standing twelve feet from our window to know he was there. I didn’t need to, but I was compelled to. I took the steps and pushed back the musty curtains. Diffused light from the porch exaggerated his jagged form. The dark transformed him into some unworldly predatory creature– his tan slacks and brown suit jacket no longer looked ordinary but ominous.

“Go away–” I hissed.

I watched him with his Nextel phone pinned to his ear and a self-satisfied smirk pasted on his face.

“But don’t you want to hear my deal?”

“I don’t make deals. Not with you.”

“I think you will… You see Wes, you have no other choice. Come outside and it won’t get messy.”

I felt Sid press against my back, looking out the window over my shoulder. He cussed under his breath.

Shackleton smiled, then stepped back, his face half concealed by the shadows from the tops of poplar trees that stood complacently by of the dunes. His free hand fumbled for something inside the lining of his jacket. I spied a flash of reflected metal– a gun.

“You wouldn’t want anything to happen to that charming young man behind you, would you Mr. Grant?”

“No..” I choked, cursing myself for letting my voice betray my emotion. “I’ll be right out.”

I flipped the cell phone off as Sid grabbed my arm. “You’re not going out there with him. No way.”

“If I don’t, he’ll shoot you.”

I’d turned to Sid as the gun popped, glass splintering like icy rain into the room. I pushed Sid, and we both crashed backward onto the floor. I banged the back of my head into Sid’s jaw, and I felt silvery fingers of pain in my face as my cheek scraped his. I looked into his eyes– it took me all of a nanosecond to realize Sid was fine. I winced again.

“Fucking hell,” Sid whispered, reaching up and carefully pulling the glass splinter out of my face. He frowned at it, then at me. My eyes watered. “That was close. I think I felt the bullet fly by my head.”

He started to stand, and I yanked him down.

“What the fuck are you doing?” I hissed. I crouched down and made my way to the window, crunching through the glass.

“Careful, he can blow your head off as well as mine,” Sid whispered.

“Yeah, I’ll be careful– I’m kinda fond of both our heads.”

I sucked in my breath and got up the nerve to look outside when I heard Smith hollering, “Are you fucking crazy?!”

I heard the bits of glass grinding under Sid’s feet as he pushed up beside me. He gave his ‘I’m so worldly’ eye wink as he wiped the blood off my cheek. “Might as well peek over the window sill together,” he whispered. “I think we’ll be safe.”

I jumped as someone yelled, “Hell!” at the top of their lungs. “He’s fucking dead!”

It was Smith.

“Shit,” Sid cursed under his breath as the light from the back porch unveiled the scene.

Shackleton wasn’t really dead. He just looked that way. There Glenda stood, staring down at Shackleton. My senses spiked. I heard and saw all of it, but worst of all I could feel it inside me. The grit of the sand and blood in my mouth– the pain in my head. I looked at him sprawled face up in the sand, and could have sworn I was looking inside myself. I watched as Glenda gritted her teeth and raised the shovel over her head, winding up for another swing. Smith grabbed a hold of the handle before she let it fly.

It was like a bird some two-year-old was squeezing and by some miracle released. I jumped free and sprinted out the bedroom and down the narrow hallway, Sid on my heals.

When we rounded the corner of the house, I saw Les had beaten us to Smith. Les stood face to face with Smith– forehead pressed against Smith’s. I could see as we drew closer Smith’s eyes searching for mental support and his hand like a claw gripping Les’s arm for physical support.

Glenda still had the shovel, but it rested against her leg. She kicked it with the side of her foot.

“Jesus Christ, ya killed him,” Smith whispered to her, as he tugged away from Les and knelt down in the sand next to Shackleton’s body.

“Believe me, he’s not dead…” Glenda said.

“Who is he?” Les asked.

“You’ve heard his name– Simon Shackleton,” she answered.

“Oh man,” Les said, looking at me, his lips thin with worry.

I knelt down beside bursa escort Smith, carefully turning Shackleton’s head, inspecting the wound. Blood, bones and brains. Damn, those lithe little arms of Glenda’s packed some power. I stared up at her. Her expression was peaceful, serene. She looked like Ivan, her masseuse, had just completed a full body massage. If it wasn’t for the bloody shovel in her hand and her jaw twitching, I wouldn’t have known she’d crushed the back of Shackleton’s skull.

“How can you say he’s not dead?” Smith said, cautiously nudging him. “He’s dead. Christ, his brains are on her fucking shovel. Nobody could live with their head crushed like that.”

“He’s not dead, just resting,” she said calmly.

My head began to throb again.

Sid kicked Shackleton in the ribs. I flinched.

“No such luck,” Sid said under his breath. “If he was dead, it’d be a relief.” Sid kicked him one more time. I could swear I felt a hitch in my side where he kicked Shackleton.

“Hey!” Smith yelled. “That’s enough! Have some respect for the dead!”

As I looked at Shackleton, I wondered what was going on inside me. This was new– except for Sid, I’d never been able to get into someone else’s skin with out touching them first. Maybe I’m a romantic but I thought it was special between me and Sid. I’d thought it was because we were kindred souls. Now, this with Shackleton– my worst enemy– I wondered about all the assumptions I’d made regarding my powers. Had they always been this way? Were they strengthening?

Shackleton groaned, and Smith jumped, stumbling to his feet.

“Fucking hell, I don’t believe it–” Smith whispered, taking two steps back, “he is still alive. I’m callin’ an ambulance.”

Smith turned for the house, Les grabbed his pizza- stained t-shirt, pulling him back. “No.”

“No?! You can’t just leave him to die. Will someone tell me what the fuck is going on?! Who is he?!” Smith asked.

“An obsessed fan– and will you shut up!” I said. “You’ll wake up my sister and Alan. Last thing we need is to explain this to them, too. Fucking calm down.”

“Shut up?!? Now you’re telling me not to get excited, or I might wake up your precious sister? I think you have serious issue with what constitutes a problem. To me, someone whacked in the head with a shovel is more serious than you sister’s beauty sleep. Shit. All of you are acting strange. Tell me what the hell is going on right now, or I’ll wake the dead and your sister.”

“That’s an incredibly bad choice of words– considering what Karen’s been through,” Sid said.

“Oh, don’t throw that in my face! Just what I need is more ‘Oh, Smith is so insensitive’ right now. You’re the ones wacking people in the head and kicking their side. And as for waking the dead–shit– it’s the truth! I think I’m in a manic cross between Night of the Living Dead and Nightmare on Elm Street! Glenda just did a Freddy Krueger on this poor son-of-a-bitch…”

“He’s no poor son-of-a-bitch,” she said.

“That’s harsh– I mean wishin’ an obsessed fan dead is one thing, but clobbering him over the head is extreme, don’t ya think? And now you’re gonna stand here and watch him die?”

“He’s dangerous,” Sid said. “He deserves worse.”

“Who is this guy?” Smith asked again.

“More like what…” I answered. “You wouldn’t understand…”

“Clue me in…”

“He tried to kidnap Wes,” Sid interrupted.

“Kidnap? How come I’m the last to know this shit?” Smith asked. “When did this happen?”

“This afternoon,” I said. “And it wasn’t him, I mean, it was him– he sent someone else to kidnap me.”

Smith stared at me, eyebrows raised. “What in the hell are you going on about?” he asked. “Nothing you say makes any sense. Maybe you’re in shock– maybe you’re all in shock. Nothing any of you are doing makes sense either.”

“We’d better tie him up before he becomes fully conscious,” Glenda suggested to Sid.

“I’ll get some rope out of the boat–” he answered. I watched him jog off down the dune.

“What?” Smith said. “Tie him up? What for? I don’t think he’ll be putting up much of a fight in his condition. Don’t you think we should be calling the cops? If he’s some kidnapper…”

“No,” Glenda said, punctuating her answer with the shovel by wedging its point into the sand. She hoisted a shovel full, the grains spilling over the sides. “I know exactly what to do with him.”

“What?” I asked.

“Bury him,” she said. Her eyes bored into me as she dumped the sand onto Shackleton’s chest.

“What did you say?” Smith voice was hushed, his face a cloud of disbelief. Les stepped closer to Smith, shoulder to his chest. He whispered something to him, although I didn’t try to hear because what little composure I had left was fracturing.

My insides chilled. Goose bumps spread up my arms. Suddenly I felt like I was in the 45- degree walk-in cooler back at the flower shop. I hated him, too. I hated what he was– is… but–

“Over there is perfect,” she pointed. bursa escort bayan “Of course we’ll have to make the hole very deep.”

I shook my head, “No, no,” I heard myself saying. I stared down at Shackleton, and I saw him grimace.

“But I thought you said he wasn’t dead?” Smith said, incredulously.

“He’s not,” I whispered. “Listen Glenda, I hate the guy as much as you do, maybe more, but we’d be like him if we did this.”

“I’m not asking for your help or permission. I’m telling you what I intend to do. He deserves much worse. As I see it, it’s the only way to keep you and Sid safe. It’s the only way to protect the future.”

Sid walked slowly up to us, white nautical rope in hand. He kneeled beside me and began binding Shackleton’s hands.

“What’s wrong?” he mumbled looking at me, tightening the slack in the cord with his teeth. My hands began to tingle.

“Glenda wants to bury him alive…”

He sat back on his knees and looked at me a moment, then crawled down by his legs and began wrapping the cord taunt around Shackleton’s ankles. Sid silently tied his feet. Then he met my eyes for an instant and turned to Glenda.

“Where at?” he asked her coldly. She pointed over to the dark wooded area of the dunes. Sid nodded.

My stomach tightened in disbelief. What was he thinking of? Where was the soft-edged Sidney who gently wiped blood from my cheek just minutes ago?

“You can’t be serious,” I said, clenching my hands.

“Yeah, I am. It’s the only way to stop him– the only thing that will work short of chopping off his head or burning him alive.”

I shook my head. Sid’s jaw set. He wasn’t going to change his mind.

“And if it doesn’t work?” I asked. “He’ll just be really pissed off.”

“It will work,” Glenda countered. “I’ll bury him so deep he could never dig himself out.”

I felt the grit in my mouth. The burning in my chest. The crushing weight. The unfathomable darkness. Fuck. No way. “You can’t do it.” I choked.

“He’s right– you can’t do this. Why are you even arguing about this? It’s insane,” Smith said.

Shackleton’s hands clenched. He moaned.

“Stay there with Smith. I’ll take care of him,” Sid said to me then turned to Glenda. “I’ll do it. We can both do it.”

I stepped back– frozen.

“This is fucking crazy! What are you thinking?!” Smith screamed.

Sid grabbed the rope between Shackleton’s ankles and began dragging him toward the woods with Glenda behind. I watched– immobile.

“You’re just going to let them do this?” Smith said to Les and me.

“Yes,” Les said quietly, starting for the house. “Let’s go back inside and talk. I think I have a lot to explain to you…”

“A lot to explain?!” Smith said, following behind Les. “I don’t think you could ever explain this to me. I don’t know why I should listen to anything you have to say…”

I felt like an acrophobia who’s about to bungee jump head first off the edge of the Grande Canyon. My heart pumped and head swam. No way could I let Sid do this alone, but I couldn’t move. My legs locked– like they were tied together instead of Shackleton’s. Couldn’t force myself to follow. I watched helplessly as they disappeared into the dark of the trees.

“Are you coming?” I heard Smith ask me, his voice sounded far off and surreal. Back to the house. Back where it was safe. I couldn’t move that way either.

“No.”

I stood there a long time, hours, listening to my own heart pound, my feet cold in the sand. Every so often I’d catch a word or two. One from Sid or one from Glenda. Time slowed, voices slurred. I’d feel like an eternity passed as I struggled to move. Voices rose and fell. Finally I did it. I put one foot ahead of the other, following the line in the sand that Shackleton’s feet had made when Sid dragging him. I followed. As I got to the edge of the poplars, I stopped again.

Listening.

I heard Shackleton. I heard the sand squeak. I heard Sid cough. I heard disjointed words. I felt like someone else. A specter maybe. As I began to walk following the voices that carried up from the backside of the dune, I became more disjointed. I felt something cold under foot. I’d crushed it. I bent down, thinking at first it was a piece of Shackleton’s cell phone until my finger touched it. A piece of his skull– part of him. I can’t explain why I did what I did next– some madness maybe. I was like Doctor Frankenstein shrinking away from his creation, then irresistibly drawn to the thing that would destroy him.

I slowly reached for it. I had to pick it up. Even as my mind said no, I reached. I had to have it. Profane, repulsive, inhuman yet strangely narcotic– I picked it up. With a twinge of horror and delight, I laughed aloud. I sounded crazy. I realized as my eyes burned, I was drowning in my own sweat. I stood up, shaking. My chest hurt like I’d punctured my lung. I held it. Fingers twitching, my other hand jerking near than far, wanting to touch it too. Part of me said, drop it. The other part escort bursa of me slipped it into my pocket.

I wondered how the hell my life could have gotten this fucked up. As I started toward them again, I wished for my old life back, when all I wanted was to own my own flower shop and listen to brides-to-be argue if sonia or minuet sweetheart roses would accent the brides’ maids dresses. It was so far away now, I’d almost forgotten that part of me. Standing on dune with a piece of cranium in my jeans pocket, I wished I’d wake up, and this was all a dream– tap my heals three times and say, ‘there’s no place like home.’

Then I remembered what happened the last time I wished something away– this is what happened. All this. Maybe I’d better forget wishing if this is what I got…

As I neared them, I strained my eyes to see although I was terrified– I already saw it in my mind’s eye. Down the slope of the wooded dune, the moon illuminated Sid as he shoveled. He was inside the hole he’d dug with only the top of his head visible above the sand. That same shovel. Sand flew out of the pit. I stood transfixed watching the sand sparkle, casting an eerie haze like hundreds upon thousands of infinitesimal prisms. I had to shut and open my eyes again to be sure it wasn’t some aura surrounding Sid’s head. But it didn’t work. I still saw it all– it was still there like a ghost behind my eyelids.

Sid was almost finished. The aura was gone. Glenda noticed me first. I don’t know what I intended to do or say to stop them. I had no clear argument. I knew why they were here. Sid participated in this abomination to protect me. Glenda to protect order. I suppose in some part of our minds each of us was trying to justify sealing Shackleton in this eternal glass tomb. At least I knew I was. I knew why Sid believed this had to be. I knew why Glenda reasoned this was the only way. I’d watched them and tried to buy into their thinking. I tried. My brain rewound some old insurance commercial selling a policy stating that they’re ‘people, making a better world.’ I couldn’t bring myself to buy the policy– the deductible was too high.

“You can’t stop us,” she said to me. “This will end.”

I thought, what melodrama. I choked out a laugh– almost the same maniacal outburst I had moments earlier in the woods. This was insane. I wanted Glenda to be right– that this would end. But I knew better. No way to wipe Shackleton’s memory off the face of the earth. Not even if I changed time. I’d still remember. The patch of skin on my hip that was rubbed raw from Shackleton’s skull would recall…

“Understand,” she said to me, “he is nothing– just a drop. But he could change it all– make a ripple– “

Karen used to get frustrated with me because I had a hard time seeing The Big Picture. Now I was pretty damn sure I saw The Grand Design inside this situation. Trouble was, the big picture became small when there’s a hole six feet deep with your name on it. As far as I was concerned they were burying me along with my worst enemy. I felt that piece of him leaching inside me. Shit, it was leaching inside all of us. They were burying a part of their souls, too. I wasn’t sure if I could talk sense into them. Hell, there was a part of me that didn’t want to talk sense into them. Might be best not to. But I had to give it one last try.

I only wished that Shackleton was still out cold.

I helped Sid out of the hole. His hand was slick from sweat, and I latched onto his forearm to pull him out. With a jolt I felt the intensity of his conviction in this mess. I searched his eyes as sweat rolled from his matted hair like rivers.

“This isn’t going to work,” I pleaded. “The ground will give him up. Something will happen. Or worse, you’ll lose a part of us. It’s like messing with time; it’s not for us to play with. You said that once– that we shouldn’t mess with time. You were right. Don’t do this.”

“I’m doing this so you won’t end up messing with time,” he said. “What other solution is there to all this? What other choice do I have? He’ll destroy what you are. He’s come after us and come after us. He will not give up. Fuck, just ask him. I bet he hears what I’m saying. No way– I’m not going to let you be trapped in limbo or worse spend eternity in a living hell with this sick monster. And what if he discovers your secret and becomes like you? What would he do with that power? I don’t want to think about it. The only way out other than this is to change time again. That’s a throw of the dice. What if it’s worse than this? That’s why I’m ending it here. It’s not your choice, Wes. Not any more.”

He shoved Shackleton into the grave with the heal of his foot. Air forced out of my lungs.

“Go back to the house,” he ordered and he took a shovel full of sand and dumped it into the grave.

“No!” I shouted. It wasn’t going to work. Neither of them would change their minds. Sid said he had only one choice. Now he left me with only one choice, too.

This time I wished for real. In a flash, it all changed.

At first I thought it was Shackleton screaming. Then I realized it came from somewhere else. In my head. Not me. Not him. Like some animal in agony. Maybe it was both of us screaming in terror together.

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