Bewildering Stories

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Made It Way Up

Part 25, conclusion:
Essa and Kelly

by Ian Donnell Arbuckle

Part 24 appears in this issue.


I pulled back the curtain from my bedroom window same as skin from a paper cut. The tail lights jittered between the grids of ash trees lining the stream track. Then they were gone. It would cost a couple hundred bucks extra to get the moving truck up here. But Laddy was in the ditch, anyway, so what difference.

On my back, in my bed, under covers, I turned the world around. Closing my eyes, I imagined the room given a shake and rotated until my floor was the ceiling. I opened my eyes, delighted in the vertigo. Something I do a lot when I’m bored. Nothing could keep me all the way to Earth. I was being sucked up against the thin sheet rock, the cloudy insulation, the knotted roof above.

Lane had been ready to give it all up. Burdens, cares, and me, to make him light enough for fuel efficiency. What it must feel like to be weightless. Worried that your next step will be too hard, and there you’ll go beyond the reach of gravity, and sink above the folding waves of radiation.

Todd answered on the second try. He knew someone with a stolen U-Haul.


I measured it. It took a hundred and thirty-eight steps to get to the green from our warped front porch. The barn is half way. I walked back to the barn and it took me almost two hundred steps. The sun was down and I was walking slowly but my legs are still as long. I’ve decided home is running away from me.

I pushed hard on the barn door but it has always been too heavy for me. So I did what I always do: I climbed. Plenty of places for my feet on the cracked surface of the old wood. The second story hay loft has a wide window for feeding cows or throwing paper airplanes. I pulled myself up into it. I thought about hiding here, but it would be the first place she looked. I could throw things at her. There was a shovel up there with me. But she’d know where I was.

I climbed down the ladder on the inside. There was hay everywhere, just like after a big wind, when daddy and Lane would run out with the tarps from our roofs and cover the rockets, weighting the corners with heavy rocks. There was a big space where the first rocket had been. The second rocket was only half finished. It didn’t have fins or a nose. It was just a middle unattached, a tube.

It was warm inside and still. I picked a few pieces of straw from where they had stuck in the cracks under rivets. My feet fit all the way inside. It smelled of metal, like lightning. I fell asleep.

I dreamed — no I didn’t I’m making this up — that Nine had his teeth in my ear and he didn’t care. He didn’t care about my blood or about me saying, That’s enough now, Nine. He said he didn’t like the taste or someone else did. We were on the moon, chasing stones. He told me which ones to go for and he said some of the same jokes as Lane always did, but not with the same voice, and not at all funny.

Later, he was off my ear, he hopped for the first time. He went as high as my head, laughing. He said, Look what I can do. I tried staring at him. I tried the turning him green. But I didn’t even have Essa’s super powers in my dream. Look what I can do, he laughed and bounced. But I felt like a slug. I had to bend over to walk. I had to put all four feet on the ground. I howled.


I was chatting with Perch when Bern wasted his one phone call. I really wanted to ignore the drill bit beeping that signalled the other line, but I couldn’t. It was ruining a great story, anyway, so I apologized to Simone and switched over.

“Hey. It’s me. Is Kelly all right?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t checked on her yet.”

“Essie,” he started to whine.

“You shut up, Bernard,” I said. “I’m going to say it now. I have had enough of you. I’ve had enough of your clumsy attempts to bed me, and of your successes, and of your clammy hand comforts. I’ve had enough of your hope and of your overuse of the word.” I screwed up royally getting my words out. I stuttered, I flinched, and everything I had ever prepared kind of dribbled out the corner of my mouth. I was suddenly sick and disgusted at myself.

“Lane knew,” he said.

“Lane knew a lot of things,” I said.

“Lane knew a lot,” he agreed for no reason. “Will you check on Kelly for me?”

“No. I mean yes.” I didn’t expect to say, No.

“Drop her off in town on your way home?”

There was something in his voice that made me wonder why we ever called capitulation “being cowed”; cows murmur and hum with the workings of their organs. Bern was putting me in mind of Laurence Olivier’s eyes. Back then, they may have been emotive, but now they’re dead, lifeless, but still sickly warm.

“Going home,” he said.

“What’s prison like?” I countered.

“It’s...” he went completely silent. I just about switched back to Perch. “Different,” he finished.

“Yeah, well, I’ve got someone on the other line.”

“Oh. I’m sorry.”

“I’ll bring her by.”

“Thanks, Essa. I’ll be all right.”

Everything else was unnecessary.

I wrapped things up with Perch., ending with a See you tomorrow.

It was fully dark outside and starting to cloud up.

Kelly wasn’t in her bed, or even in her house.

I had to slice open a box to dig out my flash light.

The launch site was ghostly, picked out in my small circle of white.

The barn, still darker than the sky, was empty. I shined up through the slats of the hay loft.

The stream chattered so I had to yell louder than I wanted. I almost missed the deer’s gurgling and fearful reply. And the call of the hunt. I thought for a moment I had stepped into the stream. My calves went colder than old bone.

I ran.

Her bed was still empty.

I lost one of my shoes on their stupid front porch and went back for it so fast I broke a nail. Night beat on me without a dream. I yelled.

Damn it girl, I’ll tan your hide.

Copyright © 2004 by Ian Donnell Arbuckle

Made It Way Up began in issue 89.

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