Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Chapter Four Hundred and nine : The test


Without thought or a plan, Jacob ran straight at the vortex of shame. He waited and watched until he saw Blane rotated past him. He jumped up and reached to catch Blane’s hand. His fingertips touched the palm of Blane’s hand but Jacob was unable to hold onto Blane.

Jacob dropped to the earth. He bent over to try to catch his breath. Saving Blane would not be easy this time. He was going to have to give it his all to try to rescue Blane from the vortex of shame. Jacob collected himself.

When Blane appeared again, Jacob jumped with all of his might. Using his psychokinetic skill, Jacob forced Blane’s hand into his own. Their hands caught. Jacob tugged on Blane’s hand with all of his might, but he did not budge. Their hands disconnected with a pop.

Jacob fell to the ground and landed on rear and his back. The ground was smooth from many millennia of the vortex of shame picking up rocks and debris only to toss them around the world. Jacob groaned with pain. He rolled onto his side where he looked at the odd collection of animals. The rabbit was now sitting on the mountain lion’s shoulders. The mountain lion and rabbit looked as worried as Jacob felt. The crow was distracted by the shiny things floating around the shame vortex. A beaver had joined the crowd. Somehow, the beaver looked just like his father, Sam Lipson.

“How’m I going to get him out of there?” Jacob said out loud, not expecting a response.

“You need the proper leverage,” the beaver repeated something Jacob’s father had said at least a thousand times to Jacob.

“Yeah?” Jacob asked in an irritated voice. “And what would that be? His own children can get him out of this thing! For God’s sake, he’s married to the Goddess of Love and that doesn’t help.”

“Why is it your job?” the crow cawed something Valerie said over and over again. “Big ego. Big ego. Big ego.”

The mountain lion lunged at the crow. Laughing, the crow easily flew up to avoid the mountain lion.

“I know it’s my job,” Jacob said. “Blane … we’re like two sides to one coin. One soul in two body.”

“Big ego. Big ego. Big ego,” the crow’s laughing voice echoed around Jacob. “Big ego. Big ego. Big ego.”

“If you’re one soul in two bodies, then what do you have to change in yourself to free Blane?” the beaver asked another typically Big Sam Lipson question.

As if he was twelve years old, Jacob groaned.

“Big ego. Big ego. Big ego,” the crow’s laughing voice echoed around Jacob. “Big ego. Big ego. Big ego.”

Jacob lay back. For the first time, he noticed the sky.

“Where is this place?” Jacob asked rolling up onto one elbow to ask the animals.

None of the animals in front of him spoke. Jacob scowled. He didn’t like this situation or this place. There was something familiar about the sky. He felt a chill down his back. Rather than think, Jacob jumped up. Giving it his all, he jumped up to where Blane was rotating and kept himself afloat with his psychokinesis. When Blane rotated in front of him, Jacob reached into the shame vortex and grabbed him by the elbows.

“Jake!” Blane said.

Jacob pulled with all of his might. Blane was stuck in the dark mass of the vortex of shame. Unable to free him, Jacob spun around the vortex.

“I won’t let go!” Jacob said.

“Jake!” Blane said. “I can’t …”

Just then, there was a rumble of lightning through the vortex. The lightning hit Jacob’s hands and forced him to let go. They had been flying so fast around the vortex of shame that Jacob was flung across the world at the speed of light.

He landed head first into the Sea of Amber.


Blane woke up.

Or at least he thought he was awake.

He woke up somewhere, some place. He wasn’t exactly sure where. He got to his feet to look around.

He was standing on the top of a kind of mountain made of khaki colored sand. He took a step only to find that he sunk into the ground. He was pretty sure that any real movement would send this mountain tumbling down. From where he stood there was a series of these mountains of sand giving way to sand dunes. The place reminded him of the Great Sand Dunes National Monument in central Colorado or the breathtaking White Sands National Monument. Over the years, he, Jake, and Mike had camped at both locations. Blane nodded.

He knew how to get down from this type of unstable mountain made of sand. He wasn’t sure why he would. He turned in place to look out at the other direction.

Below him, on the other side, was a vast sea. The water had a strange reflective quality that made Blane look up at the sky. The sky was hazy with a thin layer of clouds. Even though the sun wasn’t up yet, the cloud layer was thick enough to cover the stars. And yet, there was a weird radiance to the sky. It wasn’t dark by any means. If anything, he’d have to say that the sky was the deep orange of an overripe pumpkin or that horrible allspice heavy pumpkin spice mix.

And there he was — staring at the burnt orange sky, looking at the burnt orange water — waiting for the sun to come up or possible go down. He stood there for a while before looking up at the sky again. If Mike was there, he’d have noticed that there wasn’t a bird in the sky. Blane scowled. There wasn’t a tree or scrub or strand of grass. In fact, this was the most desolate place Blane had ever seen and Celia had given him a lifetime membership to the National Geographic when he’d first moved in with her.

Where was he?

His heart pounded with panic.

Why was he here? What had that witch put into the water she’d given him?

The instant his panic rose to a fevered pitch until a single thought pierced his brain:

“Heroin will fix this.”

Ahhh!” Blane screamed in frustration at the addictive voice that never gave him even a moment’s peace. He balled up his hands and beat on his thighs. “Ahhh!

“I need heroin,” pressed the voice in his head.

“I have three children who I love,” Blane screamed at no one. “I have a wife who I adore with all of my heart. I make an enormous difference in the lives of the people I work with. I have a gorgeous house that’s being remodeled. I have everything I want. I don’t need heroin. I don’t need heroin.”

He was panting with effort now.

“Heroin makes everything better,” the voice in his head said.

“I don’t need heroin!” he screamed at the top of his lungs. Clutching his head, he fell to his knees. “I don’t need heroin!

The sound of his voice echoed around this weird land. The sand rattled against the mountains. The surface of the sea below seemed to ripple. He’d caused the entire place to vibrate.

Blane realized that there was no movement in this place.

No wind. No breeze. Nothing moved.

He became very still.

Where was he?

He saw something in the sea below. He squinted. Was that a body in the sea? He couldn’t be sure. It sure looked like a body. Without thinking, he took a step and fell into the deep sand. Moving very slowly, he managed to get back to the stable place he’d awaked on.

“That’s got to be an optical illusion,” he told himself. “After all, this had to be some kind of weirdo dream.”

He was clearly hallucinating. This orange place had infused him with some kind of orange heroin that had clearly taken over his senses. He imagined his conversation with Heather. Smiling, he saw himself telling Heather that he was seeing things. She would laugh and ask him what was different. Smiling at his logic, he moved to sit down.

It was time to wake up now.

He sat for a while and watched his breath. He could not express how grateful he was that the thoughts of heroin had left him. Now he could really go home.

He closed his eyes and waited.

Nothing happened. He was just a man, sitting on a mountain of sand, completely alone, a long way from home. His mind flashed to a memory.

“You’re never alone,” Jacob had said.

They were standing in the basement of the Castle a few days after Enrique had tossed Blane out.

“If Enrique hurts you, he hurts me,” Jacob had said. “I don’t have any idea why that is. I only know that it is.”

“Yeah, sure,” Blane had said with a sneer.

“How much has to happen before you believe that you are never alone?” Jacob had asked.

“I don’t seem to ever know when you’re hurt,” Blane had said even though it was a lame defense.

“Maybe I haven’t ever really needed your help,” Jacob had said.

“You stronger than I am,” Blane had said.

“No,” Jacob had said. “I’m untested. I haven’t been though the things you have been through. Thank God.”

“You aren’t a horrible person, that’s why,” Blane had said.

“No,” Jacob had said in a matter of fact tone that knocked Blane out of his pity party. “I haven’t been tested. I know this though — I’ll be tested soon enough. And then it will be your turn to save me.”

Blane gasped. He knew exactly where he was. He was near the Sea of Amber. The body in the water was Jacob’s. His best friend and soul brother was stuck in that horrible liquid amber. The knowledge hit him like a ton of bricks. Jumping to his feet, he took off toward the sea. Three steps later, he was up to sand to his waist.

“Fuck!” Blane yelled with rage.

He struggled which only made him sink deeper into the sand.

“Okay,” Blane said out loud. “I know how to do this.”

He exhaled a breath and gasped for the next breath. He blew out another breath. Focusing his mind on the word “So” he took a breath in. He exhaled to the word “hum.” He continued with the “So Hum” or “I am” meditation until he was calm and his mind was clear.

He opened his eyes to find a red tailed hawk’s face and inch from his nose. The bird’s head was tipped to the side and its furrowed brow made its piercing eyes seemed like arrows of irritation heightened.

“Squawk!” The bird gave Blane an angry cry which reminded him of Mike’s “What the fuck?”

“You’re absolutely right,” Blane said with a laugh.

He tried to get up but sunk deeper in the sand. The bird made a sound that sounded just like Mike’s oft murmured, “Idiot.”

Blane laughed out loud. Mike thought every person on the entire planet, including himself, was an idiot. There was no cure for it. His grumbling of the word was a reminder that he and whomever he was dealing with were both idiots.

The bird nodded its head to the right of where Blane was stuck. Blane squinted. The bird nodded its head in the same direction again. There were rabbit tracks in the sand on his right.

“But how do I get out?” Blane asked.

The red tailed hawk was joined by the enormous crow Blane had seen before. The red tailed hawk grabbed the top of Blane’s left shoulder. The crow took Blane’s right shoulder. The birds flapped and Blane wiggled. He used his hands to push the sand away from him. He sliced his feet through the sand. Very slowly, Blane rose out of the sand. He nodded his thank-you’s to the birds. The crow seemed to smile at Blane while the red tailed hawk flew away without a glance back.

Blane looked around until he found the rabbit’s indentations in the sand. He glanced at the crow and it nodded to him.

“Here goes nothing,” Blane said under his breath.

He took a step and the sand held. He glanced back at the crow and it had flown off.

“You’re right, it’s up to me now.” Letting out a breath, Blane whispered to himself, “I can do this.”

He took another step on the path before taking off in a run.


Jacob saw the Sea of Amber just moment before he landed head first. Jacob prayed with all of his might that he might be magically lifted away from the Sea of Amber. Or that somehow, this time, he’d just break his neck on the surface.

Neither thing happened.

Instead, Jacob plunged deep into the sea. The sea wasn’t full of souls this time. In fact, he seemed to be the only soul stuck there. Knowing that he had precious moments before his mind was consumed, Jacob sent a missive to Delphie and Valerie begging their help. He included Sam for good measure.

His last thought before the horror began was very simply:

“I don’t want to be here.”

But here he was.

Last time, the doubt had grown in his mind. This time, he had no such luxury. Pain and doubt hit him like a ton of bricks.

Jill didn’t love him. No one loved him. And why would they?

Outside of this awful sea, Jacob had been unable to come up with even one single reason why “no one loved him.” Delphie had asked him over and over again. She’d warned him that whatever he’d experienced would come back to bite him in the ass.

Well, she’d never said the word “ass.”

Like a bolt from the blue, he was “bitten in the ass” by a single thought.

“I don’t help anyone.”

Jacob was useless, pointless, and a waste of space and precious resources. He’d never helped anyone, ever. In fact, people only said that he’d helped them to get him to leave them alone. He was a needy, repulsive, awful, a horrible human being.

He’d never helped anyone, ever. Not a single soul.

In this moment, if Jacob could have killed himself right then and there, he definitely would have. But he was stuck in the Sea of Amber and couldn’t do anything, which didn’t matter much since he didn’t ever do anything anyway. Not really. His ego was so huge that he honestly believed that he was responsible for anything. Ever.

From somewhere far away, he heard his mother’s voice.

“Precious boy,” Celia’s voice said. “My precious boy. I love you.”

She wouldn’t love him if she knew what he’d done. She’d never love him, if she knew how little he’d ever been able to help anyone. She’d hate him just like Jill hated him and his children hated him. In fact, his boys never even bothered to look at him. The twins knew he was disgusting and they weren’t even six months old! They knew how useless and ridiculous he was, how he no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t ever help anyone.

And beautiful Katy, who’d filled in all the cracks of his world? She couldn’t stand to be around him because she knew he was such a loser. No wonder she spent so much time with Paddie. She had a waste of space father.

Good thing he was stuck in the Sea of Amber far, far away from his children. At least he couldn’t poison their very existence while he was stuck here.

He promised himself that he would kill himself. It would be the first thing he was going to do the moment he got out of this place. He would never ever forget what a loser he was.




He, Jacob Lipson Marlowe, was a useless piece of shit who was a burden, not a help, to every single human being knew. He’d never helped anyone, and he never would be able to help anyone.

There was no reason for him to live.


Thursday night — 10:10 P.M.

Two cups of the woman’s tea, and nothing happened.

Not wanting to make a scene, Sam carefully looked at Valerie. She seemed to be deep in a trance. He saw Blane holding himself while he rocked back and forth. The tea seemed to be working for them.

Maybe it was because they were younger. Their minds were simply more flexible than his. He would have nodded to himself but he didn’t want to have to drink another cup of tea. Maybe he was right and there wasn’t anything between him and his …

Like the swish from a roller coaster, Sam felt his entire being rush through time. He was standing in the kitchen of their tiny home in the Mayfair. He and Celia had just returned from the gynecologist where they learned that Celia was, by some miracle, a few weeks pregnant.

“No,” Sam said. He shook his head. Not a man for a lot of words, he added, “No.”

“What do you mean ‘No’?” Celia said.

“I will not stand idly by while you kill yourself in order to bring another child into this world,” Sam said. He shook his head again. “No.”

“We’re already pregnant!” Celia said. “You can’t just ‘no’ it away.”

Sam glared at her. He pulled out a seat at the little bar. By angry look and physical gesture, he got her to sit down. She talked the entire time.

“And before you start with all your paranoid stuff …” Celia said.

“Paranoid?” Sam mouthed while trying to get her to sit down.

“You know how you are!” Celia said. “You’re a second away from telling me that I planned this because I like the drama of killing myself by child!”

“I …” Sam shifted his body so that she’d have to move toward the chair.

“Exactly, you think that I planned this. You think that I want to die. Well, I don’t. If I died …” Celia took a step toward the bar stool. “ … who will take care of you? And don’t tell me that you don’t need taking care of. We both know that you’re lost on your own. You need me to make sure that you’re all right.”

“Having Valerie almost killed you,” Sam said.

“How can you say that?” Celia asked. “Valerie is the single best thing that ever happened to me, and to you too. She’s twice the person, either of us, will ever be.”

Celia was right next to him now. To make her point, her right hand, folded so that her index finger pointed toward the ceiling, shot straight up into the air. He nodded and took a step toward her. This caused her to step backwards. Her rear hit the seat of the bar stool.

“I didn’t do something sly to get pregnant either, bub,” Celia said. “It just happened, even though we’ve been careful after the last one. I am going to have a healthy baby. I’m going full term this time.”

Sam opened his mouth to say something reasonable but she plowed on past him.

“And don’t tell me not to!” Celia said. “I want another baby. You want another baby. You’ve said as much to almost every person we know!”

“I …” Sam started.

“Exactly,” Celia said. “Now that we’re finally, miraculously, pregnant, you’ve decided that you don’t want another baby!”

“It’s not that …” Sam started.

“Of course, it’s that,” Celia said. “You want a baby in the abstract, but now you’re saying you don’t want the baby, even though you love all of our employees babies. The great Sam Lipson would never tell his wife to terminate a pregnancy! And anyway …”

Sam jerked forward causing Celia to fall backward and onto the stool. She sat down as if it were her idea.

“ … we were born to have this baby,” Celia said as she adjusted herself on the stool. “I can feel it in my bones.”

“You almost died last time,” Sam repeated.

“Last time is last time,” Celia said with a smug grin. “Don’t be such a pessimist! What could happen this time?”

“I’d rather have you than another child,” Sam tried again. “The doctor said that pregnancy is not something easy or natural for you.”

“We’re having this child,” Celia said.

“But …” Sam started.

“That’s final,” Celia said.

She gave him a firm look. Then, grabbing his tie, she pulled him to her. She kissed his lips.

“What could happen?” Celia asked in a whisper.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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