Failing Upward Ch. 06


The paramedic who noticed me earlier came up to check out my arm.

"Is he going to be okay?" I asked him. "Do you know his name?"

"Don't know his name. No ID, I think he'll make it," he said, with an odd expression on his face examining my arm. "Is this your shirt?"

"Yes," I said, wondering how I could talk my way out of this fucking mess. "Well, actually it was given to me, without the bullet hole though." Hmm, now that was fucking stupid to say. "Must have gotten blood on it helping that guy over there," I said lamely.

"And a bullet hole, too?" The paramedic asked and shrugged, raising his eyebrow to Officer Byron. I'm fucked.

The officer pulled the medic out of my earshot. Sid was still talking to a couple of other officers. Then Byron and walked over to the group, shooing Sid away. Sid scuffled over to me.

"Let's leave," he whispered. We start for the Cutlass when Byron and her partner stop us.

"Hey, you two aren't going any where. We need to ask you a few more questions. You'll need to come with us to the station." God, I thought they only said that in the movies or on police dramas on TV.

"Guess bacon and eggs will have to wait," I said.


After being interviewed, we sat in the lobby on green vinyl chairs with duct tape covering the holes. The yellowed wax on the floor half concealed the cracked tiles-- I'd counted up to 157 cracks when I heard Lynn's voice. I looked up, and there she was along with Alan. Even Alan looked worried. Lynn hugged me and kissed my cheek. I hugged her in return.

"Let's get you out of here," Lynn said, patting me on the back.

I sat in a daze on the way home. Enough people saw the shooter, so they let us go. They kept harping on motives such as, a drug deal gone wrong or fagots having a lover's quarrel. Sid called Lynn for a ride. He'd get his car later. Sid explained part of what happened on the way home to Sid's house-- I invited them in for scrambled eggs and bacon.

They walked me up the stairs to the house. Lynn put herself to work, putting away the few groceries, and I got out the frying pans. Sid sat down at the counter with Alan.

"I'd like to know how Lancaster is behind this. Do you have any idea?" asked Alan.

"Don't know," Sid said. He got up and brought the folder with all the information he'd collected, handing it to Alan.

"So, this is the stuff you were telling me about?" Alan leafed through the folder. "Wes, ever seen that guy who took the shot at you before?"

"No, never," I said, searching under the cabinet for a bowl.

"Show me where you were shot," Lynn said. I stood up, the aluminum bowl clanging on the counter. Sighing, I pulled off my t-shirt. Lynn inspected the angry red scars that remained there. Alan's attention was drawn from the folder to my arm. "Hard to believe," she murmured.

"I can't believe this," Alan said. "It's not possible." Hard for me to believe too, I thought, sorting through the silverware drawer for a fork. But it was real. All too real.

I don't know why I did what I did next. Maybe to prove all of it to Alan. Maybe to prove it to myself. I grabbed a paring knife out of the drawer. I laid my left palm flat on the counter between where Sid and Alan sat. I raised the knife and mechanically stabbed myself through my hand. I felt a crunch. Fuck. That really hurt.

Sid yanked it out quick, blood splattered on the counter. I was swearing; tears were in my eyes.

"Are you fucking crazy?" yelled Sid. Lynn quickly grabbed a dish towel, wrapping it around my hand. "Why'd you do that for? What are you trying to prove?" Sid asked.

"I'm a god," I giggled between curses, then I felt the familiar spongy tingle in my hand. "Shit, I don't know why I did it, but I'm healing faster each time." I wiped the blood off my hand with the towel and showed them.

"My God," whispered Lynn. Alan snatched my hand in his, turning it over, fascinated. He looked up at me with the oddest expression. Disbelief. Pity. Awe. All three washed over his face. Me, I'm captivated by the texture of Alan's hand in mine.

Sid cleared his throat. Lynn picked her purse off the counter, and Alan stood up.

"What a rush," Alan said.

"I'm not hungry anymore," Lynn said. Her mouth set. It was like she suddenly couldn't get far enough away from me.

"Need a ride to your car?" Alan asked. Sid nodded.

"Well, I'll see you later," I said. Driving a paring knife through your hand probably was unsettling to others. I guessed I'd better stay here. "See you tomorrow at work, Alan. And thanks for coming to pick us up. Sorry I spoiled your appetites."

All three left, and Sid locked the door behind him saying, "I'll be right back."

Personally I think this part of the evening was a success-- this was the most civil exchange Alan and I have ever had in our entire lives. I cleaned up the blood with bleach. I wondered if my body was as resistant to caustic materials and disease as I do it.

I decided it might not be wise to drink the bleach.

Well, I was hungry. I finished preparing the eggs and bacon. I was anxious for Sid to get back. I didn't like being alone. I hoped he liked his scrambled. Me, I'd rather have fried eggs. I put the meal on our plates when he returned. I wanted to kiss him, but he was preoccupied. He sat down and ate. He seemed to like the eggs, but picked at the bacon. I liked it crispy. Shit, I forgot to ask him if he liked his bacon crispy or rubbery. Sid didn't talk, just ate, staring into his plate.

"What was that with Alan earlier?" he asked. I stared at Sid, perplexed. "You were holding his hand like some teenager in love."

How to explain? Since I was a kid, I always assumed everyone saw and felt the world the way I did. I never knew until I was about twelve, other people weren't like me.

"It's like, sometimes the way things feel, they have a memory," I said, struggling for the right words. "Like how I recall numbers exactly or a song after I've heard it only once. I feel it. I remember it. As a texture, as a combination of colors. I don't forget. Same with people. When Alan touched my hand, I felt something from him I never felt from him before. I don't mean something sexual or anything like that. I mean something profound. He understood-- he understood me."

"I'm not sure that makes me feel any better," said Sid.

"But it should, because-- well, because I've always had that feeling with you. And last night, shit. Why do you think I fucking screamed?"

And I know I've had more sex in the last twenty-four hours than I've had for the last twenty-four years of my life, but hey, I want to live dangerously. Call me greedy. My mouth found his, and I moaned as his tongue did those torrid, nerve blinding ministrations. Later as my fingers scratched his back, I screamed even louder. The neighbor's dog howled.

But despite having Sid's warm body next to mine, I didn't sleep well at all that night.


Chapter 9: In a Rose Garden

At work, and it was Wednesday, hump day.

The day was slow. I called the hospital, asking about the shooting victim they brought into emergency. The receptionist got all hard ass and wouldn't give me any information, except I heard a muffled voice in the background say, "Don't disturb Samuel Trent."

I waited and called back an hour later, and said I had a delivery for Samuel Trent. They gave me his room number and extension with instructions that I get the flowers up to him in the next hour-- they were discharging him.

I called Sid to tell him, and he admitted he'd already been to the hospital-- but got stalled at the nurses station. No visitors allowed in his room, he said.

I already decided-- I'm going over to the Lancaster's and get answers. I fingered the card with the binary message in my pocket. I was taking the card personally-- the least I could do after all the Lancaster's have done for me.

I didn't tell Sid. If I told him, he'd try to stop me. I must have answers. Some things I just know.

I felt them.

I volunteered to take the delivery-- I felt kind of lousy lying to Mr. K, making it sound as if I'm doing him a favor by hand delivering the card to Emma Lancaster.

"Since Alan's still at lunch, and I'm bored-- I'll take these deliveries."

Mr. K smiled, "Fine, we're slow. Take your time," which made me feel even more like a shit. Then he reached for the van keys off the peg on the backroom wall.

"I'll be back in time to help out with transplanting the mums," I said. I opened the showroom cooler, a flash of cold air blasted me as I picked out a rose bowl from the glass shelf for a delivery to the hospital. Mr. K nodded as I picked up a blank get well card and envelope. Mr. K helped me load up Long Tall Sally with a couple of other deliveries, and her sliding door groaned and moaned as I slammed it shut. It was the first time I'd driven since the accident; I was a bit nervous but that's not the only reason why-- I'm nervous about the other decision. The one I made when I reached in the cooler for that rose-- another stop.

To the hospital.

I didn't know why, but I had to face this nagging inside my head I've had since I got up this morning, and that man being discharged early was the only person who could answer my questions.

Sally's driver's door creaked open; I climbed onto her sun-bleached bucket seat. I placed the rose bowl on her floor next me, sloshing the water around. Fuck, my fingers had a hard time finding the key. When she started, the old girl was shaking as much as I was.

Okay, so maybe it's not a smart thing to do, going alone to talk to a man who tried to gut me. Or maybe I too fucking dense to know better since I'm afflicted with the 'I'm Superman and I'm invincible' syndrome. Or maybe it's that I'm more worried about Sid than myself. I heal-- he can't. Yesterday was too close. I can't let him take anymore risks. Better that I take them.

Maybe I'm not such a super weenie after all.

Delivering the flowers relaxed me. My last stop before the hospital was a mixed bouquet. I knew the house. Large white Victorian home with moss green trim and geometric arborvitae hedges lined up like clowns in a circus along the porch. I drove by it often, always wondering why someone would paint their front door chartreuse. I rang the doorbell-- from the thumping and bumping I heard inside, I figured I was gonna find out why in a moment.

Her over-bleached honey blonde hair was piled up on her head. The solid mass of hairspray, bobbie pins and ratted snarls reminded me of the topiary in the front of her house. Her color of house dress was a faded version of the front door. The moment she saw the bouquet in my hand, her thick eyeliner became black flowing rivers of tears, creating gorges in the cakes of bright red rouge on her cheeks.

"It's my birthday, and I thought my son didn't remember," she sobbed as I handed her the flowers. She sniffed them and sneezed, "thank you." She shut the door, and I walked back to the van.

I loved delivering.

As I parked in the hospital visitors' lot, I rehearsed in my head what I'd do-- what I'd say. I flipped open the glove compartment, taking out a pen. Carefully printed on the blank envelope:

Samuel Trent

Rm 304

Morrison Hosp

I picked up the rose bowl off the floor then started for the entrance.

I pushed the revolving door with my shoulder and walked straight past the visitor's desk where I usually leave deliveries. I waved at Mrs. Eva Archer, the prim gray haired volunteer at the desk

"Taking the flowers straight up to the room," I said. "Going to be discharged right away and don't want to miss him."

As the elevator door closed, I practiced Dr. Deal's breathing technique. Yeah, do a little self-hypnosis. One, two, three... In through nose, out through the mouth. Hmm funny, wasn't that the same technique Sid used to get me to relax? and push? God, no time for horny now-- man of steel must shovel in nerves of steel. The elevator squeaked open, and I smiled wide when I saw my buddy, Big Bernice, behind the nurses' station. Must be she's on the day shift now.

She grinned right back and pointed her clipboard at me, "Hello there. You're looking dandy and well enough to be making deliveries, I see." I hold up the rose bowl.

"Yes, slow day. Thought I'd bring it up personally and waste even more time," I lied.

"Nice to see you Wesley."

"See you later Bernice." I started toward room 304. The door was shut. I opened it slowly, cautiously walking in, closing the door silently behind. He was sitting up in bed, dressed.

"I've been expecting you," he said dispassionately, straightening his tie. "Your lover was here earlier, very persistent. A personality trait of his?"

My lover. He knew about Sid and me. My mouth opened to speak--


"You really shouldn't scream so loud."

I flinched. He'd heard. God, he must have been outside the house.

"Is intercourse more intense with your suped-up senses? Have a need to release that charged tension?" He laughed.

"Fuck you," I said. "That's none of your business."

"Everything you do is my business," he said slowly. "What you think, what you feel, and what you do. I knew you would come here to see me. You're inquisitive. I made certain at the desk I'd only see one visitor-- you."

"But the police," I swallowed hard, "you've see them, haven't you?"

"They've been taken care of," he said. I placed the rose bowl on the cheap plywood dresser then shoved my hands deep down into my pockets to keep them from shaking.

"For me?" he asked. "A rose does seem appropriate." His eyes invaded mine, judging me. Steel blue and cold, unforgiving. His gaze haunted me, recalling the fierce grip as his hand twisting the blade. He had stared inside my soul as my body shuddered. His eyes met mine with the same intensity now.

But I don't take my eyes from his; I don't look away. I know he saw the monstrous fear inside me, but I damn well would not let the fear overwhelm me. I won't give him the satisfaction.

"Why?" I asked.

He sat forward, on the very edge of the sanitized hospital bed, and his lips curled into a whisper of a smile. "I should ask you why. Why do some live, why do some die? You want to know why I stabbed you? Because that's what I do. You were a just a job to be done. In your case, a test."

"To see if I'd die?" I asked.

"No. I already knew you wouldn't die. Your car accident proved that. What I needed to learn was, do you feel pain?"

"Pain? That's crazy. Of course I feel pain." I've felt far too much of that in the last weeks. Right now the memory of it was crushing me.

"You are an unusual creature. One among a very few left," he said. "There are others like you who heal-- yet they feel no pain. Nothing. Pain is the rapturous ingredient. There was once another who did feel pain. With that pain came other gifts-- over the years we've watched and waited. You might be the one. Are you the one Wes?"

"I hope not," I said. "I don't want you asking for directions ever again." He laughed a bit and held his side.

"My society isn't the only one with an interest in you. Be thankful those who I work with are interested in you. Without us, you would have been at the mercy of men like the one in the parking lot yesterday. Those men would cut you apart piece by piece and put you back together just because they can." He moved to the edge of the bed, closer to me. "You don't understand yet what you are-- what you are capable of. What can you do, Wes? Just heal yourself? Each time you heal, you heal faster. I see by your eyes, I'm right. You have scars now. Soon you won't even have those. You have a strength. I see how afraid you are, but you still came here." He paused. I didn't feel strong. My legs were weak. I needed to sit down. Or leave this room. Get as far away as I could. "What about someone else? Could you heal them? That's what that gunman wanted to know yesterday in the parking lot."

I felt like he slapped me.

"He shot at Sid to see if I'd heal him?" Panic crept into my mouth. Sid's life almost forfeited for a test?

"I must say that I was curious what the outcome would be," he said, "but it was too soon. Even if you can heal someone else, I don't think you could yet. I may be a killer, but I don't kill wastefully."

"I don't understand any of this," I said. "I'm nobody."

"You understand," he said. "Take my hand," he ordered. I searched his face. What can he do to me in this room that's anymore horrible than what's been done to me already? I haltingly pulled my trembling hand from my pocket and touched his. "What do you feel?" he asked me.

A surge of tingles and points of light filtered through me. "You want me to do something. Take you somewhere," I said. At contact, images mingled and a calm settled over me. "You won't hurt me. Not today."

"Very good," he said. "Yes, I was right about you." He stood up. He was much taller than me. Not thin, nor muscular, but his body radiated a fierce energy, jolting my senses. I reeled back, letting go of his hand.

"I'll take you to Lancaster's then," I said in a hushed voice.

We walked right out of the hospital. No signing insurance or release forms. No wheel chair. Just walked out. The calm I'd felt was replaced with reason. I was afraid again-- my heart palpated as irregularly as my feet's hesitant gate. Walking to the van, I was scared shitless.

Suped-up superman? I sure as fuck didn't feel super. As he walked two steps behind, the clomp of his hard hollow steps vibrated up through my legs. I didn't look back. Didn't have to-- his energy seethed into me like I was some kind of cosmic sponge.

Eye of the storm. That was what it was like in the van when we both ducked in. The hairs on my body standing up, electrical charges zapped me; the air ionized, yet still.

"You know Lancaster?" I asked.

"We're acquainted."

I drove through town on automatic. A sadness filled me, thinking that all that I might feel for Sid might only be the result of that fucking rose thorn-- my lust and hunger for him just an overactive sensory drive. I worry about what I feel and for his safety. Every moment that I was near him, he was a target. It was selfish to think that I didn't want to lose anyone else I cared about, but it was true. I didn't want to be responsible. And this other group or what ever cult they were, they were watching too. I think this was how Daniel Camden, the school master, felt-- stalked and cornered. At least he only had to worry about himself. Me, I had to worry about Sid. And thanks to my big mouth, the whole world knew we were involved-- at least any one standing within shouting distance from Sid's house.

As we started down the back country roads, I didn't care any more how vulnerable I was. Sure I could feel physical pain-- but what was physical pain next the anguish of seeing pain inflicted on some one close? Maybe I should be like Camden, alone.

I wound around into the Lancaster driveway. I hadn't looked at my passenger once on the drive over. I knew he'd been studying me the whole way. Now I turned my head and acknowledged him.

"We have company," he said, nodding to Sid's Cutlass parked by the house.

Suddenly, there was a hell of a lot more at stake than just my ass. The wooden screen door opened. Sid and Lancaster stepped out with Glenda behind. I threw the van into reverse and stepped on the gas. Trent put his hand over mind, stopping me. No backing out now.

"I won't hurt your friend..." he said, "much." Then he winked as he got out of the van.

I wasn't sure whether Sid wanted to hug or punch me. Lancaster and Trent nodded a silent secret elite signal. I'd read too many books on conspiracy theories. During the last few weeks, I'd gained a new appreciation for them.

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