Dr. Hurley’s Digest, Week 41

As we near Christmastime, the good Doctor has insisted on another exciting guest-edited week, starting tomorrow! This time, we’re featuring work edited by one of our regular contributors, Emily Markussen Sorsher. For now, catch up on this week’s posts, and merry Yuletide.




Happy Sunday, and welcome to our newest guest editor tomorrow!

A Disastrous Marriage

t rained so hard, the wicker baskets were overflowing.
Water poured through the ceiling, carrying nails, unrecognizable timbers, and sloppy pink insulation. It was a relief to go outside.

“This isn’t as bad as the time our house burned down in the middle of Death Valley,” said Herbert, standing under the useless awning.

“Why?” I shouted, skeptically, through the pounding roar.

He pulled something out of his pocket. “Because I’ve salvaged this water purifier. We won’t go thirsty!”

I waded to his corner and threw my arms around him. Our fingertips were beyond pruny. Our clothes had long passed the spongy stage, and were now brittle.

I felt his body’s warmth, hale against the elements.

We met when I was holding an enormous umbrella high over my head, across the street from the Massachusetts State House, waiting for all the brave souls who’d signed up for the walking tour. At least one of them should wade through the mess, for the sake of the $20.

“Hi, is this the tour? I wasn’t sure where the State House was.”

“Because of the rain?” I asked.

“Because I’m not from here. I work here four days and fly back to Idaho for the weekends.” He took off his glasses to wipe them down. Through the lowered lashes, I saw our two life paths merge.

“I don’t think anyone else is coming,” I said. “Would you like to get coffee and wait this out?”

I was married to someone else, and so was Herbert. When I told my then-husband that it was over, he set the house on fire. So the Death Valley incident wasn’t my first house fire since I’d known Herbert.

“This isn’t as bad as when Grabble burned the house down, either,” I said.


“It was much worse, because I was in Boston and you were away in Idaho.” Our slippery fingers intertwined.

We stepped into the rowboat. Herbert took the oars and I used a tin pail to keep the craft afloat under the cascade.

After the Death Valley fiasco, I got an internship with a Hollywood studio and Herbert managed the grocery store. One day, when I was done shredding unsolicited scripts, I biked to the store to get some kisses, but the Earth opened up underneath me. I halted, my front wheel spinning over the abyss. Across the rift, cars from the lot tumbled ceaselessly downward, and the store’s automatic doors opened and shut over darkness. Herbert waved to me from just beyond the glass.

“Sweet love!” I called.

“Hey darlin’!” he replied when the door opened. The next go around, he said, “The radio’s saying it was 8.5, but this looks bigger than that to me!”

There was nothing else to do: I biked home to find some books fallen off the shelves. I ate ice cream because the power was out and waited for Herbert to come home. It took five days before someone finished a bridge across one of the gaps and Herbert crossed back into my arms.

We vowed never to work in different buildings again.

We progressed down the river-like street past rooftops that appeared to be sinking. My shoulders developed a grinding pain, as if they were on fire. I couldn’t stand the thought that Herbert might feel the same pain, so I set my jaw against it, abandoned the bailout and sat on the bench next to him.

“If I stop rowing, my love,” he said, “it will be too hard to start again.”

I put my hands over his on the oars. I loved the way the incessant droplets scuttled straight down his nose and lingered at the tip for a full second before releasing their grip.

“You know what this is worse than?” I asked into his ear. “The time we walked back to Boston.”

It had been on TV, the crazy couple who survived the quake and took off in a wagon.

We longed to return to the city where we’d met, but airline seats weren’t to be had for love or money. In the rubble, we found a rusty red Radio Flyer, piled some necessities in it, and started walking northeast. We each carried an umbrella to avoid outright sunstroke. Sometimes, one of us would sit in the wagon and rest while the other pulled. We survived 200-mile-per-hour winds in Nebraska by hunkering down in an old barn. The roof blew off, and it was hard to breathe the rushing air, but then it was over and we got back up. We forded the Mississippi on a barge. Sometimes, we used gravity to our advantage. We both sat in the wagon through most of Pennsylvania, coasting down the Poconos.

“It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you help each other!” I said hoping Herbert would let me relieve his oar duty. “We made it all the way to Boston, even though we destroyed our knees!”

“None of that matters when you’re so much in love,” Herbert replied. He looked at me through those wet, streaked lenses. Our lips touched, slimy and chapped at all once. It was the best feeling in the world.

We barely had time to grab each other’s hands when the flash flood hit. We held on tight, but nature always wins.

In the hospital bed next to mine, Herbert was saying, “Nothing’s really gone right since we met, has it, sweetheart?”

“But we’re together!” I said, blowing kisses as best I could through all the tubes. “How can it be wrong?”

A friend in L. A. pulled some strings, and my old studio, just recovering from the quake, asked me to write a script about the fascinating story of Herbert and me and our true love. I tried, but it was impossible. There’s just no drama.

* * * * *

Born and raised in Northern California, Jessica Knauss is a fiction editor at Fireship Press in Tucson, Arizona. She has published fiction, poetry, and nonfiction in numerous venues and is working on a novel set in medieval Spain. Get updates on her writing at her blog: jessicaknauss.blogspot.com. Her other contributions to Snake-Oil Cure can be found here.

Mid-Life Layoffs

In the trash heap where we lay
Discarded and forgotten,
The scavengers come in their trucks
To pick through stacks
Containing our bodies,
And carry off our lives,
Or part of them,
Maybe just a hand or an arm,
A foot here, a leg there.
To be recycled and reused,
While the core of what we were
Rots away, rejected and ignored.

* * * * *

Joseph Farley edited Axe Factory for many years until it died. His books include Suckers, For the Birds, and Longing for the Mother Tongue (March Street Press). His other contributions to Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure can be found here.

Foreign Body

Elephas imperator, Right Foreleg, 1900-1935.

he effort was enormous but the rewards worth it. He knew it was never part of him. A foreign body, sapping him, draining his will to go on.

Over the years he had tried various ways to get rid of it. He didn’t want to call it a leg, because that would denote ownership.

It was always there, and he hated it. When he was six he tucked it up in his pyjama leg and wished for more than the tooth fairy.

The knife sliced the frozen flesh, and his relief grew with every cut. The tourniquet gripped the living, a line in the sand between indecision and release.

He knew when it would be too late to repair, and only then did he call for an ambulance.

* * * * *

This post is one in a series of works inspired by the Smithsonian Institution’s photo archive, made publicly available on Flickr. If you would like to, choose an image from their collection and create something – be it prose, poetry, audio, or visual art – inspired by it, and send it to snakeoilcure [at] gmail [dot] com.

* * *

As a writer Hettie Ashwin does her best. She writes for magazines, radio and fun. Hettie has a healthy ego, and a fertile imagination which combines with a robust work ethic to make her a well rounded individual. As the proud possessor of an enlarged funny bone, it has a marked influence on her writing style and her life in general. Hettie blogs here. Her other contributions to Snake-Oil Cure can be found here.

The Boy with the X-RAY Vision

he boy sends away for a pair of glasses
that are supposed to allow him to see the bodies of the beautiful girls in school, Joanne Galino, Teresa Russell, even the nuns so mysteriously sexy in their dark raiment.

He’s been told these glasses are a gag, that they will not work, but he has faith, far more faith in this than in the afterlife.

They arrive one day in a brown box, and he takes them into his room, tears open the box and pulls out a pair like ordinary sunglasses, except with spirals around the front of the eyepieces.

No matter. He carries them to school, trying them on in homeroom, and there he sees they work, only too well they work, for they see past not only clothes but skin, straight to bone.

There is Joanne’s beating heart, Teresa’s liver, the skeleton frame of Sister Angelina. All around the room he sees blobs and bones, all the world’s inner parts exposed, kidneys, bladders, intestines coiling round and round.

He chucks the glasses into the trash, thinking, What a rip! Next time I’ll get the Sea Monkeys.

* * * * *

James Valvis lives in Washington State. His work has recently appeared in Anderbo, Arts & Letters, Front Porch Journal, LA Review, Nimrod, Rattle, River Styx, and is forthcoming in Green Hill Literary Lantern, Hanging Loose, New York Quarterly, Slipstream, Night Train, Waccamaw, and others. His fiction has twice been named a storySouth Notable Story. His poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart and Best of the Web anthologies multiple times. His full-length poetry collection, How to Say Goodbye, is forthcoming.

His other contributions to Snake-Oil Cure can be found here.

Ike Reality Blues

I like Ike Reilly really
but I can’t imagine his eggs
scrambled at noon, that gaunt Irish mouth
screaming all broken teeth
and car bombs. His love of pop tarts
going down with his toast

I know he belongs to the sweltering evening
and his hollowpoint eyes are hungry
for the moment the moment
will fill him just one more time
with enough to make it to the finish line

first Vica and plastic and hip hop thighs
shot up through the alleys
of veins each one searching the puddles of scum
for the fountain of youth
something you can drink while you’re on your knees
that doesn’t taste like it was 62

But he keeps running off sleep
like it’s the devil or a god you trick
skating through discretion
and salesmen and jokes
and racists calling the shots you have to down
for street cred cum the morning burn

I’ve wanted Ike’s cool wanted it for years
I thought I’d get some one night at the Ave

But he just kept pissing
and reading the walls
acknowledging that he was
completely alone

* * * * *

Michael K. Gause has taught German, sold men’s clothes, stocked diapers at midnight, and served coffee to people he hopes never to see again. He was once told he’d never write anything good. Last year he was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He figures that makes things square. He assumes responsibility for two chapbooks and is creator and host of The Dishevel’d Salon, a monthly gathering of Twin Cities artists.

His other contributions to Snake-Oil Cure can be found here.

Dr. Hurley’s Digest, Week 40

An exciting week at Dr. H’s office here, with the announcement of our First Ever Short Story Contest, which you can read more about by clicking right here. We also launched a new series, entitled “Trees”.

We have also digested this week’s posts below, for  your Sunday afternoon pleasure. And remember to read our submission requirements for our short story contest, and submit!





Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure‘s First Short Story Contest

Since Dr. Hurley laid the first foundation for his Snake-Oil Cure in March 2011, our little journal has come a long way, featuring poetry and art, tonics and photography, music, memoir and fiction. Although our editors are fans of many kinds of artistic endeavour, the good Doctor loves a rip-roaring yarn that includes passion, adventure, character study, and a minor note of melancholy.

To that end, he has requested that we announce Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure‘s First Ever Short Story Contest, the winners of which will be announced to coincide with our first anniversary in March 2012.

You may have some questions, such as:

What can I submit?
Short fiction only, please. No flash fiction.

Is there a word limit?
Not strictly, but we prefer pieces that are at least 1000 words, and not more than, oh, 7000. Great stuff that is a little shorter or longer will still be considered.

Is there a genre the Doctor really doesn’t like?
He’s never been partial to westerns or bodice-rippers, but other than that, you can submit anything in any genre. If it is good writing, it will be considered.

Can I submit previously published work?
No, unless it is a piece you have previously published with Snake-Oil Cure. If you are already a contributor, and wish to nominate a previously published piece, please email us to let us know, at snakeoilcure[at]gmail[dot]com.

What is the deadline?
All contest submissions must be received at the above-mentioned email address by February 29th, 2012. Please indicate in your subject line that you are submitting for the contest.

What do I win?
You, dear winner, will be the inaugural short story in Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure‘s First Print Edition. Also, you win the hearts and minds of our editors.

So get writing and submitting your best short stories now! Our first print edition will be published next year (before the Mayan calendar ends, do not worry), and we want great fiction!

The Editors
On behalf of Dr. Hurley


It was something,
the way she felt
under pressure,
the way her skin moved
with intensity,

And she could
get it going,
in every direction
at once,
making me shutter,
stir like soft milk
in nothing but
the full moon-light.

Vulnerability is a turn on.

And I’m swimming again,
reacting without caution,
shaking in ways
I’ve read about
in other peoples books.

But this one is mine
well written,
and it’s just getting good.

Exposure № 053: Trees

Photographer Ellen Jantzen shares these beautiful tree photos as part of Dr. Hurley’s new series of works inspired by trees.

To read more about our trees series, go here.

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Ellen Jantzen was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri and lives in Southern Illinois. Her early college years were spent obtaining a degree in graphic arts; later emphasizing fine art. She obtained her advanced degree at  the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles in 1992. Her current explorations in photo inspired art use both a camera to capture staged assemblages and a computer to alter and manipulate the images. Ellen has been creating works that bridge the world of prints, photography and collage. Ellen’s work has been shown in galleries and museums world-wide as well as numerous websites. She is currently represented by the Susan Spiritus Gallery.

Her other contributions to Snake-Oil Cure can be found here.