Denmark High School Reunion

 … I know, I know, I know.  He’s had way too much to drink—and he just got his 100-day chip last week! The poor bastard, all that 12-step work just down the toilet … … You didn’t know? Yeah. I mean, he used to be pretty good at hiding it. I think he’s probably been a functional alcoholic for most of his life. He started going to AA after he got arrested for driving to work totally wasted at seven in the morning. … … No, no, just leave him alone. I’ll drive him home and let him sleep it off. We shouldn’t have come; being here just brings back tormented memories for him, and I was afraid it may be too much too soon. I can’t blame him.  … Well, you can call it PTSD or panic attacks or whatever, but the bottom line is I don’t think it’s possible for a human being to recover from something like that. He held him, you know. He watched his best friend die while cradling him in his arms.  It just looked like a scratch, he said, but then things got worse quickly.  They were like brothers, you know.  He was suicidal for weeks afterward—did I tell you that? Weeks. … … Yeah. The whole family. Murdered. Don’t believe the propaganda.  It wasn’t SARS or the flu or whatever the media says.  They never arrested anyone, but personally, I think the uncle started that whole fiasco rolling. The whole family is crazy as hell.  I never liked him hanging out with them. They just wallow in their own dysfunction, trying to pull everyone down with them. That’s when I told him he had to quit that government job. Get as far away from those politicos as possible. Then the drinking started, or rather, that’s when it became really obvious. He wasn’t abusive or anything, but he just wouldn’t stop talking about it. He became obsessed, analyzed every little detail of the tragedy like one of those CSI guys. At first I thought it was therapeutic, you know. Talk it out, write stuff down, go to therapy. But then I’d wake up in the middle of the night and find him sitting on the outside patio, staring into space, three empty wine bottles beside his chair. “I’m looking at the stars,” he’d tell me, though it was too cloudy to see any stars. He started talking to himself, saying he could see ghosts … … He’s tried all the meds – our bathroom looks like a freakin’ pharmacy. We nearly went bankrupt shuffling him from specialist to specialist. No one had any answers, or rather, they did have answers, but none of them seemed to work. … … Oh great. He’s spiking the punch bowl.  Right there, see? I thought I had checked his pockets—he’ll sneak a flask everywhere we go, even putting Jack Daniels in his coffee at breakfast.  I swear, he’s going to implode. I feel like I can’t stop him. Like he’s drenched in gasoline and trying to light a match.   I don’t know what to do… … Yeah, he was upset over that, too. You know, I think she killed herself. Don’t listen to the spin the royal family PR machine sets in motion. Those people make me want to vomit.  … That’s not a rumor, I’m afraid. It’s true: He did put pictures of the crime scene on Facebook. The whole grisly thing. I was mortified. Can you imagine what the poor relatives went through, seeing pictures of those they cherish sprawled out on the floor, cold and dead, tongues hanging open like something out of a horror movie? It was sick, I tell you. Just sick. He said it was the quickest way to get the word out. Don’t ask me what that means. Of course, people think he Photoshopped the whole thing. I just can’t understand him anymore. He used to be so earnest, so compassionate—that’s what attracted me to him in the first place— but now it’s like the world has just sucked all the goodness out of him, like a vampire feeding and leaving an empty shell. But you know what they say, for better or for worse. Anyway, it’s good to see you. I know it was a long journey for you, but I’m so glad you made it to the reunion. It feels good to talk this out with someone who has not been saturated with the news —the press has hurled it at us from every angle. Seriously, every other week there’s something bizarre in the tabloids.  …. Well, no, of course they’re not coming to the reunion. You didn’t know? … … Oh, I am so sorry to break the news to you, but Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead.

* * * * *

Dawn DeAnna Wilson of North Carolina is the author of three novels: Saint Jude, Leaving the Comfort Cafe, and Ten Thousand New Year’s Eves. This piece is a variation of a story from her collection, Welcome to Shangri-La, North Carolina. She enjoys painting, kayaking, and drinking way too much coffee.

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

Guest edited by Michael Fitzgerald-Clarke

Nobody Tell Sandy She’s Dead

Josh invited me to the party, and I was grateful. It was summer and the house looked out onto the Puget Sound. The water could have been black ice, but it wasn’t, so I assumed we’d have a nice night and nothing terrible or otherworldly would happen to us.

I didn’t know anybody in this city. Josh showed me around the office on the first day of my new job, and we kissed in the alley behind the building. I don’t know why that happened. It was like a movie, where one minute you’re talking to someone next to a parked car, and the next they’ve leaned forward and you feel their hand under your shirt, touching the skin over your ribs. “This is weird,” he whispered hotly in my ear. “Blake from programming is having a party tonight, do you want to go?”

At the party, there were people with cups standing out on the wet grass leading out to the lake. It had rained earlier, and a garland of colored lights hung from the trees. Josh and I arrived well after 10, so people were just starting to get drunk. A tall man came out of the crowd and shook my hand. “Hi, I’m Blake. It’s Terese, right?”

I said it was.

“It’s really great to meet you. I’m so glad you could come. Josh, thanks for bringing her.”

Some people are naturally gifted at being nice to strangers at parties and this Blake person appeared to have the touch.

“Where is the hooch?” Josh said.

“Just through there, in the screened porch area. You can go into the house to use the bathroom, but otherwise—my Ma is kind of a cunt about it. White carpet, you know.” Blake lowered his voice. “Plus, fucking Sandy’s here.”

“Shit,” Josh said. “Still?”


I came to Seattle for this job at the bookseller’s outlet. I knew which editions were worth money and I wrote blurbs about the books on the website. It was a hip new project for the new economy. It wasn’t the sort of job you move to another state for, but I had nothing else going on, so why not. I like change and meeting new people. When the opportunity came, I took it, and already a man in button-down plaid and black glasses had kissed me in the parking lot.

The people standing around at the party had nice hair and languid limbs. The girls looked like coat hangers, the way their summer clothes draped elegantly off their shoulders; I wanted to be like them.

On the way into the screened porch area, we walked by an argument between two men with matching beards: which was heavier: the lightest stone or the heaviest wood. Sub question! Global warming is real, sure, but is it man made or a naturally occurring cycle?

That’s when I saw her across the room, standing next to a table with half-hearted food spread out on it, and then the smell of her hit me afterward, the smell of churned stomach acid and stale vomit. The girl wore a navy wrap dress; it was sopping wet and elegant. The water dripped off of her in clumps. Maybe it wasn’t just water. Her skin was green and sallow. I watched her scratch at her elbow and look around the room with meek, yellow eyes. Her hair was stringy and matted to her face. It wasn’t just the dress; the girl had been pretty once. I couldn’t understand what I was looking at.


I turned and he wasn’t there. A large girl with dark hair and creamy skin was standing next to me. “It’s fucked up, right?”

“I don’t understand,” I said.

“Somebody should tell her. It’s been over a week.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Oh, you’re new, right? You work for the booksellers. I’m Karen.”

She put her hand out. I shook it and struggled to remember my name.

“You’re Terese,” She said. “So, Sandy used to date Blake. She had the wrong idea about that situation, one thing led to another, she drowned herself off the pier behind his house.” Karen gestured to the water. “But, I don’t know. The death, it didn’t quite take. Sandy is so weird. Really, it’s just like her. Poor dolt can’t even do suicide right. She emerged from the water, and that’s it, she’s been milling about ever since.”

Josh came back with a couple of drinks and I stared across the porch at this impossible girl. People came by to talk to her and then quickly walked away. She smiled shyly at everyone, hugged her wet arms into her chest and shivered. Was it a costume? Her skin seemed to bubble off of her and drop off like a volcano. The flesh singed when it hit the ground. If this were Hollywood, maybe, but these were booksellers in Washington. Special effects? A lighting system? I searched around the room at everyone’s faces for clues and none of it added up to anything. I felt a dread, starting at the top of my head and then pooling down my body into a rock in my stomach. Josh handed me a red cup with fizzy liquid inside. I went to talk and only puffs of air escaped.

“Did you tell her about Sandy?” Josh said.

“I started to,” Karen said. She put on a mocking voice. “Nobody tell Sandy she’s dead.

“Well, what do you think we should do?” Josh said. “This is Blake’s deal. He’ll deal with it.”

“He better,” Karen said. “This is seriously messed up. If I were dead, I sure as fuck would want somebody to tell me about it. I told Blake, if he doesn’t tell her tonight, I’m going to.”  Somebody from outside called to Karen and she clanked the screen door shut behind her.

“Karen’s a cow,” Josh turned to me and explained. “Do you want to go outside? The smell is getting to me.”

He led me through the screen door, away from the dead girl. Someone had turned on Radiohead’s Kid A. They skipped the first track and it went straight to a crooning voice, repeating, “I’m a reasonable man, get off my case.” It reminded me of when I was young but I couldn’t put my finger on where I was when I first heard it or what any of it meant.

“What’s going on?” I said to Josh. “Why are you doing this to me?”

“Terese, what’s the matter?” He looked at me with burning brown eyes through his black, designer- framed glasses, a look of concern torn out of a glossy magazine.

I watched Sandy move away from the food table and try to open the door into the house. Blake ran up and got between her. He had a big voice. I heard him say, “No. Don’t go inside, okay? Just don’t.”

Sandy looked upset. She looked like a body who’d been dead for a week but was walking around like a normal person, and I couldn’t understand how that could possibly be, and why the people at the party weren’t more astounded by it. It had to be an elaborate trick for my benefit, but I didn’t get how they’d made her look so real—and the smell. How and why would booksellers harness the bowels of hell and let it loose on an otherwise beautiful evening?

Above us, the stars were out in staggering numbers. The moon was half full. I looked around and noticed a few good-looking partygoers gazing up in a moment of shared romance.

It seemed as though the number of guests had doubled, fifty people or more, all of them well dressed and beautiful. The whole thing looked fake and I started to feel my body tremble. “I need to get out of here.”

“Let’s go down to the dock and chill out for a second,” Josh said.

He grabbed my elbow again and started walking me down the wet grass. It touched my bare toes around my sandals, and I thought, this is a dream, this is a dream, this is a dream, except the wet grass told me even louder that it wasn’t. Dreams are muted; they don’t jump out at you that way. I tasted the beer in my cup and it couldn’t have been more real. It was Blue Moon. I knew by the way it foamed up inside my mouth. You can’t dream a taste like that.

I heard people murmuring about the girl around us. “No, we’re just not going to tell her,” A girl said. “Nobody tell Sandy she’s dead,” said another one.

“God, look at the sound,” Josh said. He stared out at it from the water’s edge. “It’s beautiful.” Up close you could see the ripples and the way the stars reflected off the surface. I wanted to jump in and swim across to the other side to get away from everyone. My heart was beating fast in a panic with no name or peg to hang it on.

“Who are you?” I said to Josh. I started breathing heavy. I was crying, maybe, I don’t know. “Why are you doing this to me?” I tried to remember how I’d gotten there in the first place. I’d taken a plane, but from where?

The music sounded farther away but I knew the album by heart. “I’m not here,” it said. “This isn’t happening,” it said.

I knew that I had one, but I couldn’t remember my mother’s face. She had red hair, I thought.

“I need to get out of here,” I said. “I need to go home.” I went to run away but I didn’t know which direction to go. I messed up and took a step toward the water. Josh grabbed me by the elbow again, hard enough to leave a mark.

“You need to chill out,” he said.

The smell of the dead girl was all of a sudden on top of us, and Josh turned around. “Hey Sandy.”

“Josh,” Sandy said. “Is something wrong?”

Up close, Sandy had only half a nose. The sight of her blue lips cut with red was lit up by the reflection of the colored lights. It really was stunning, if you didn’t stop to think about what it all amounted to.

“Everything’s fine,” Josh said.

Sandy turned to me. “Hi,” she said. “I’m Sandy.”

She touched my hand and I screamed. “Get away from me. Don’t touch me!”

Sandy’s jaw trembled and she pulled back slowly. That feeling the dead girl couldn’t quite put her finger on crawled around from behind and tapped her on the shoulder. The feeling grabbed her and started shaking. I stood there watching all of this happen.

“You’re dead!” I screamed. “Oh my God, can’t you see that? Look at you!”

Sandy looked down at her paper skin, then out over the sound with yellow, comprehending eyes. She put her hands up to her head and pulled at a chunk of wet, stringy hair. “No,” she whispered.

Josh made his way up the wet grass toward the house, yelling, “Blake. You better get down here. The bitches are running wild.”

“No!” Sandy screamed again. Her voice came out shrill and strangled. Salt water poured out of her lungs and her water logged tongue caught on the roof of her mouth. She grabbed my arm and squeezed it, shaking me and screaming. “Who are you?” She screamed. “What’s happening to me?”

I screamed back, “What’s wrong with you? Let go of me!”

And we just stood at the edge of the lake with the whole party staring, the CD skipping, shaking and screaming at each other: “Who are you? What’s happening? Where Am I? Why are they doing this to us?”

* * * * *

Molly Laich is a Michigander/Montanan who lives in Seattle. She writes film reviews, makes up stories and helps to edit Unstuck Magazine. Read about her secret life at Her other contributions to Snake-Oil Cure can be found here.

Pac-Man (№ 2 in the Atari 2600 Poems Series)

William Lee is not in the neighbourhood anymore
But, before he left, his grandson showed him how to chase the ghosts
That second generation removed –
From zen arcade to anarchy’s home console –
The kid thought he’d taught the old man his last tricks:
How to rack up the biggest numbers,
Keep progressing through the different levels,
Pass through secret doors to the other side of the maze …

But Mr. Lee already knew
The point of the game
Having lived it
He just didn’t let on, even then,
During those final months:
Shake hands with the ghost
And you become one

The kid didn’t know it
But Will Lee always
Counted on the big white pills
To get him through the worst
At precisely the right moment,
When a certain death starting creeping up,
Threatening to touch him,
Threatening to turn him all
Upside down and inside out

He ate these pills like the candy
He would hand out at the store
Especially back in the old days,
The better days,
The days when the only monsters he knew
Were the ones that

Of course, at Thankgiving,
With everyone around the dining room television
That’s when the kid found out
With his head between his knees
That’s when he learned the secret of death
“Just because”

Will Lee,
Was it the daisy or the sunflower that cried for you?
Or was it just the sun,
On its way to becoming a red dwarf,
Gobbling everything in its path
Chasing ghosts and running from them
In an infinite, never-ending maze?

The kid hopes you ran through the secret doors, Will Lee
With your heart pounding and your palms sweating
Not knowing if you’d run right into another ghost

Before you died, though,
On the flickering TV screen
There was a reflection of yourself
A reflection of the thing
You were about to become:

One of them

* * * * *

Zachary Houle lives in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, where he works for the federal government as an Information Officer and is also an Associate Music Reviews editor for, a pop culture webzine that reaches 1.2 million unique visitors a month. He also contributes regular book and music reviews to PopMatters. Houle has been awarded a $4,000 emerging artist grant from the City of Ottawa to write fiction, and was a Pushcart Prize nominee for a novella that appeared in Midnight Mind. His fiction or poetry has also appeared in places such as Broken Pencil, Word Riot, Pindeldyboz, Kiss Machine, The Danforth Review, Girls with Insurance, Thieves Jargon, Friction magazine, Megaera, and many others. His poem “Ode to the Long Lost Mini-Pops Album” was published in the book anthology In Our Own Words, Vol. 7 (MW Enterprises, 2007).

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

Fasting and Feasting

The torso lay
severed, disconnected, discarded;
an umbilical cord
after the act of birthing.

Vacant eyes, mirroring
suspended terror, a hagiography
commemorating the feast
of flies.

* * * * *

Sanchari Sur is a Bengali Canadian who was born in Calcutta, India. Her photography, poetry and short fiction have been published or are forthcoming in Map Literary, Barely South Review,Red River Review, Black Fox Literary Review, Urban Shots – Crossroads (India: Grey Oak/Westland, 2012) and elsewhere. Her short story, “Those Sri Lankan Boys,” was selected to be a part of Diaspora Dialogues Youth Mentoring Program in Toronto this year. You can find her at Her contributions to Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure can be seen here.

Hindi Death

Old wind, dark waters, sky dreams of ancient voices, sides of a shadow
leaping out, spirits watching.

Rode across the sky, folding shadows.

Pitted across the setting sun, Hindi death, joyous celebration, children
hugged, her body smeared with cold ash, long repetitive songs.

Sun disappeared, lost into another life, wind, space.

* * * * *

Dennis Thomas is an Australian poet who resides in Canberra.  His work has appeared in The Lost Words, and The South Townsville micro poetry journal.  He is currently preparing his fourth collection. His contributions to Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure can be found here.



ometimes when Jessica is sleeping, Kyle thinks of ways that he could kill her.  It would be easy, with a pillow or with the knife she insists on keeping in the nightstand in case of intruders.  She’s scared that they’ll come so close to her that she’ll need something powerful, like a knife, instead of just her cell phone to call 911.  She watched the E! special about unsolved murder mysteries last Sunday and knows that everybody is not what they seem.  She watched the show lying on her stomach with her nose stuffed in the musty, pilly brown pillows that line their couch, and she lifted her eyes just high enough above the fabric to see a middle-aged overweight actor re-creating the murder, going into a house of the woman he was about to kill.

“The children were in the house,” the narrator of the show said.  “In the house,” Jessica heard the narrator whisper more softly, for effect.

Jessica got up off of the couch and walked into the kitchen where Kyle was doing a crossword, sitting on top of the counter like he always did.

“The kids were in the house when he shot her,” Jessica told Kyle, pushing past him to get into the cabinet where the Cheez-Its were.  “Isn’t that horrible?”  A Cheez-It crumb flew out of her mouth and landed on the counter next to Kyle’s thigh.

“That’s horrible,” he said, and folded the crossword over so he could only see the “Across” prompts and finish them first.  “People are sick.”

Their kitchen always smelled slightly of cat food and bananas, even though they didn’t have any cats.  The people who lived in the house before them did, though, which Jessica found out shortly after they’d moved in the year before, when she was looking in her closet for shoes. They were still unpacking and she was expecting, after four years together, to find a ring hidden underneath a suitcase or shoved in a sock drawer, but she didn’t. Instead she found the height markers.

“What is this?” she’d asked, crouching over to see the marks on the doorjamb, little lines with numbers next to them.  Eight inches, nine inches, 11.5 inches. The numbers were written with black marker but the lines were scraped into the woodwork.  Kyle hadn’t been home so Jessica had talked to herself, like she always did when she was alone, and sometimes did when she was with others.  “They’re too small to be kids’ markers.”

They were for the cats.  Jessica had found gravestones in the backyard for the cats and then realized that the markers in the house were for their growing, too.  There were none marking the children’s growth spurts.  Only the cats.

“I want cats, one day,” Jessica had told Kyle.  “Do you?”

Kyle had shaken his head, no.

Jessica also likes to watch infomercials, even though she refuses to buy anything on them. When the E! specials are over on Sunday mornings, Jessica flips the channels until she gets to the ones advertising the onion choppers and closet miracle hangers. Her favorite is the P90-X.

“I want that,” Jessica said the first time she saw it on the infomercial. The girl on the screen was ripped, too ripped, thought Kyle, and her muscles bulged out of her tiny sports bra and skintight biking shorts as she demonstrated how she got rock-hard abs in just 90 days.

“Why? She looks horrible.” Kyle sat next to Jessica on the couch and reached behind him to open the blinds.

“Don’t,” she said, “there’ll be a glare on the screen.” She moved closer to him and curled her legs up on the couch. He put his palms on the fabric, feeling the pilly covering as he adjusted himself closer to her, too. Jessica pulled the box of Cheez-Its nearer to them and delicately ate one.

“I guess I shouldn’t eat Cheez-Its if I want rock-hard abs like that girl,” she said, putting the box on the other side of Kyle so she couldn’t reach it.

It was stale in their house and Kyle badly wanted to open the blinds but he knew Jessica liked these Sunday mornings, lazy, dark.

“You don’t need rock-hard abs,” Kyle said, reaching his arm around her waist and pulling her tighter. “I love you.”

Kyle could see Jessica smile under her mass of curly red hair, which was snaking its way up into his face as she put her head on his shoulder. Jessica told him once that she’d fallen for him because he’d never tried to imagine what she could be like, if she were someone else.

He imagined that was probably the only reason she’d stayed.

* * * * *


ometimes when they’re lying in bed and Kyle is thinking of ways that it would be so easy for her to die, Jessica plops over onto her back and sighs, rubbing her eyes in her sleep a little bit, and Kyle’s stomach drops and he wishes that he didn’t even think about her dying.

Kyle gets out of bed and picks up the socks that Jessica left on the ground, going downstairs to get breakfast.  He sits on the counter and does the crossword with one hand while eating a granola bar with the other.  The counter is cold because it’s November and New Hampshire, but Kyle doesn’t mind because the bedroom was way too hot and stuffy.  He doesn’t want to go skiing today.

The house is dark and dingy.  It was built in the ‘60s and there are still some of the original carpets there, the kind that creep up into your feet and up past your ankles when you walk on them, or maybe your feet sink into them.  Either way, you shrink a little bit, and for some reason it’s always wet.  Every surface is laced with a layer of dew, at all times of the year.  Kyle reaches down from the counter and feels the wetness of the table and the wetness of the floor, his feet bare and getting wet against the cold tan kitchen tiles.

Jessica wants him to sleep with her on the kitchen floor.  She’s said this before, and he knows it, but he’s been waiting for the right moment for it to happen.

“Like in When Harry Met Sally,” she’d said, “how she says they never have sex on the kitchen floor, even though they’re able to and have no kids, because the floor tiles are so cold.  I want to do that, one day.  Like your elevator fantasy,” she winked, “my kitchen floor fantasy.”

Kyle pulls his pajama pants looser around his stomach and puts a bucket of flowers on the counter.  He picked them the day before but didn’t put them in water yet, forgot them on the counter. They’re daisies because that’s what Jessica likes and because that’s what’s left in the field outside their house, for some reason, even though it’s November.  He wants to make it special for her. The bucket is the blue one they got when they went to Hampton Beach last year, some shitty yellow handle that almost broke off right after Kyle won it at one of the boardwalk games.

She comes downstairs with her hair curly and frizzy.  He told her once that her hair looked like Robert Plant’s in the morning, but she didn’t like that, so he’d grabbed her hair and twisted it in her fingers, kissing her hard and long.

“It’s a compliment,” he’d said in between breaths, “I love your hair.”

When she comes into the kitchen, she pulls her hair back into the elastic she’s taken to keeping around her wrist while she sleeps, but she misses a strand and it stays stuck to her cheek in a frozen red curl.

Kyle puts down his granola bar and wipes a piece of chocolate off the corners of his mouth, thinks he probably should have brushed his teeth if he really wanted to make this perfect, but he wraps his arms around her waist, just a little low on her hips so he can feel the bulge of her butt underneath his fingers, and leans down to kiss her, tasting her mouth of Listerine and Chinese food from last night, but he doesn’t care, not really.

He pushes her against the counter and then thinks that this will be difficult, to get down onto the kitchen floor gracefully without dropping her, so he sort of slides her down, pushing her back against the cabinets to keep his balance, feeling the bumping of her body as they glide over the doorknobs of each cabinet.

“Ow,” she says, pulling away and rubbing her back, but he just smiles and puts his hands behind her back to cushion the cabinet doorknobs and to warm the cold, wet floor tiles.

“What is this?” she mumbles between moments, and he doesn’t think that he needs to answer because she should already know, she should know that this was coming, that he’d been planning it since she mentioned it three months and two days ago, like he plans everything, with her, because he loves her.

* * * * *


hen Kyle thinks those things about smothering Jessica with the pillow or cutting her with her own knife, he feels terrible, because he knows that he’d never do it, yet for some reason, he wonders what it would be like to watch her die.  He wonders if it would feel like he was dying, too, because that’s what it always seems like in the movies.

Jessica looks over at him driving. She smiles, her hair straightened and tamed for the day.  She squeezes his thigh and he remembers why he could never smother her with a pillow.  But he thinks of driving off the road, like in Thelma and Louise, one of many chick flicks that Jessica’s made him watch.  He wonders if she knows that these chick flicks stay with him because they’re all tragic; but nothing in their relationship is tragic, he tells himself. He knows.

“You okay?” she asks, and squeezes a little tighter.  She loves him but she shouldn’t; if she knew what he was thinking, she wouldn’t.

“Yeah,” he says, and stops at a stop sign half covered in snow.  It’s barely winter but up here there’s snow almost all the time, and he can feel the wheels trying on the ice.  He’s used to it.

Jessica’s ski gear takes up most of the backseat, but Kyle doesn’t take much with him to go skiing.  Just a hat and gloves, sometimes a helmet.  Jessica takes two pairs of ski pants and two jackets, just in case, and a hat and earmuffs and toe warmers.

She smells like the mac and cheese they had for lunch as she leans over and whispers in his ear, “I love you,” and she’s so close he can feel the moisture from her words.

“I’m thinking bad things,” he says in return, staring ahead at the windy, salt-covered road and trying not to think about what it would be like if her heat wasn’t next to him in the passenger seat.

“Stop,” she says, pulling back and squinting at him, used to him saying this, now. She knows everything.  “Just don’t think them.”

“I can’t help it.”

“You don’t actually want them though, right?” she asks.

He shakes his head.  “No,” he says.  But then that’s lying, because sometimes he does want them.  Sometimes he does want to know what it would be like to feel her loss, to feel her slipping and slipped away, just to see how people would react to him.  Sometimes he does want to see her dog get sick, just to be able to show her how much she means to him by making her feel better.  To show her how much he’d be there.  Sometimes he wants her sister to get in a car accident, so he can show up at the hospital faster than anyone else.

“Yes,” he says instead, “I don’t know.  Sometimes I do, but not really,” he says quickly.

She takes her hand from his thigh and puts it in her lap, staring at him with wet eyes.

“I don’t,” he says, “not when I really think about it.  Just when I sort of do, in the hypothetical.”  But she’s not listening because she’s heard what he said and what he’s said before, many times, now.  “I love you,” he says, softly, because that’s all that’s left, and she either believes him or she doesn’t.

“You need to stop,” she says in reply this time, her mascara running but her eyes not red, clear white.

“I know,” he says.  He tells her these things not to hurt her, but because he thinks that if she knew what was going through his mind, she wouldn’t love him back, and maybe he should tell her so that she knows everything, absolutely everything, about him.  That way she can decide for herself if she loves him, all of him, even the bad, horrible parts of him. That’s why he always tells her these things.

“It’s going to make me love you less,” she says, and he expects her to speak softly, or whisper, but she doesn’t.  She says it loudly, almost too loud for the small car, almost too loud for this road and this state and these ski mountains.

* * * * *


he ski path gets more crowded as Kyle tries to think of ways that he can make it up to her, because he does love her, so much that it hurts.  Kyle hates skiing.  He hates the coldness on his face and how the snow gets everywhere, inside ski boots and hats.  Jessica told him once that if he brought more gear, like she did, he’d be warmer and then maybe he’d like it more.

She’s ahead of him, and he can see her below him on the trail.  She’s beautiful.  He can’t see her face but he can see her hair, red and curly underneath her blue helmet, her blue ski pants, blue jacket.  She skis faster than some of the little kids but always lets them go first anyways, because she knows how much they love that.

Kyle tries to call to her, but she can’t hear him over the kids’ yelling and the wind on the mountain.  It’s cold and he can see all of the trees below, and almost the lodge, but not quite because it’s so far down.  There’s a string on the inside of his right glove that he can feel loosening, and he tries to pull it but it won’t come out.  He fiddles with it, twirling it around in a tiny knot inside his glove’s fingertips, back and forth, feeling the smooth strong crease of the string against his fingers.

“Jessica,” he yells again, but she still doesn’t hear him.  She waves him on, waiting for him halfway down the mountain, after the fork in the paths.  This fork is why people come to this mountain; you can ski down one way with one person and one way with the other, but all of the forks end up in the same place at the bottom of the hill.  She’s chosen the middle one, like she always does, because it’s the easiest for Kyle.

He thinks about what would happen if a snow groomer plowed into her, right in front of him, as she waved him down.

He tries not to think about what would happen, but he can’t.  He gets hot beneath his ski jacket and begins to get dizzy, fuzzy, and he knows he needs to tell her, has to tell her what he’s thinking because what if he doesn’t tell her, and then she feels the same about him, but if he chooses to tell her, and after hearing, she feels differently?  It’s not fair to her to have to love most of him and not know the other horrible parts of him, those thoughts that come into his head and he can’t seem to shake.

Jessica’s hat is a lighter blue than her ski coat, and she stands out against the white of the mountain and the myriad of red and black ski coats darting past her.  She tilts her head a little bit, gesturing harder this time, come down, I’m waiting.

All he can picture is her own scene from Final Destination, or Thelma and Louise, or The Shining, Jessica dying in a million different ways right in front of him on the ski slope, trapped in coldness and ski gear and snow, wet and freezing beneath his fingers.

* * * * *

Alessandra Siraco recently graduated Trinity College and is currently an M.F.A. student at Emerson College.  She is working on her writing while employed in the insurance industry.  She most enjoys writing short stories, reading anything, shopping, and drinking coffee.  Alessandra is from Boston and, although she doesn’t sport a Boston accent, she loves everything about the city. 

Impression № 039: Aarg!

Gaetan Vanparijs brings us this fantasy of a gruesome squashing death. What a way to go!

* * * * *

A native of Brussels, Gaëtan Vanparijs is a young independent illustrator. He frequently exhibits and enters competitions to spread to share his universe.  He has finished work on a book of illustrated Monsters’ Biographies,”Monstrueusement vôtre”. He is influenced by movies and the Belgian surrealism that surrounds him. More of his work can be seen at Flickr. His other contributions at Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure can be found here.

Before Someone Else Screamed


he last humans take too long to die at the cross.

It’s not easy. I don´t derive any special pleasure from doing this. I didn´t ask to be the deliverer.

But something had to be done.

I supervise personally all the crucifixions.

Some of the men and women nailed to the crosses scream, some moan, some have no more breath left in their lungs even to gasp. Some are dying, some are dead, most of them are already rotting. I watch them closely as my armored car leads the silent motorcade along the otherwise empty avenue.

I don’t wear armor. Not even a uniform. And donning any kind of special costume would simply be ridiculous. I´m not a whining six-year old bourgeois kid whose rich parents were killed in a dark alley (what were they were doing they in the first place after all?) and years later dons a hood and a cape in order to arrest criminals. Anyone who keeps focused in revenge after so much time is a sociopath, and as such should be treated.

On the other hand, being a run-of-the-mill dictator wouldn´t do either. Hitler redux? No. Milosevic? Definitely not. This is not about hate nor ethnic cleansing. This isn’t even about revenge.

This is about results. This is about getting things done.

When the limited nuclear and biowarfare conflagrations started all over the world, there wasn’t a single place where we could hide. Humankind was doomed. It was just a matter of time: in a few generations, mutations, cancers, every DNA-related disease would wipe it out of the face of the Earth.

Humankind was doomed. But there was still a chance for us post-humans.

We were so few then. But young and full of hope. We want fix everything that was wrong with the world. All we wanted was peace.

But then things changed.

And people started dying.

In the middle of the chaos that ensued, I saw a chance and took it. With a group of my peers, I managed to take control of a small country’s arsenal and made good use of it.

But, even eradicating a few more major cities out of the globe, the example I wished to set couldn’t be attained by surgical bombings or by game-like distance shootings.

My first edict after making myself Ruler Supreme of the World was to ban all guns and firearms.

Many complained. I arrested the most vocal for life.

I executed the most violent.

I resurrected old instruments of execution. Gallows, guillotine, and, finally, the only time-honored, proved, one-hundred percent execution foolproof method.

The crucifixion.

It took a long time for the remnants of humankind to accept it. But they eventually did. They accepted the awful truth.

Someone had to do it.


hy me?

I had a dream.

In this dream, I was being chased by a beast in a jungle. I ran, ran like crazy, ran like my feet never touched the ground. I felt my heart thumping wildly, almost as if I was going to have a heart attack.

I never saw the beast.

A psychotherapist once told me that I was the beast in the jungle. It could be. I stopped seeing the shrink anyway. I still didn´t know how to deal effectively with things which bothered me then.

Now, after much pain and suffering, I learned. If it had happened today, I would have shot her the moment she told me those words.

The most important lesson I learned in all those years: at some point in a chaotic situation, someone is going to scream. It doesn´t matter who the scream is aimed at – it may be a person being robbed, a victim of a car crash, an eviscerated victim of a shot in a trench in the middle of a war.

It may even be a patient in a psychiatric ward.

But someone will scream. And everything will run out of control.

So I did what it had to be done. I screamed. Through my actions, I screamed louder than anyone else in the room, and the room was the world. Before someone else screamed.

* * * * *

Fabio Fernandes is a writer based in São Paulo, Brazil. Also a journalist and translator, he is responsible for the Brazilian translations of several prominent SF novels including Neuromancer, Snow Crash, and A Clockwork Orange. His short stories have been published in Brazil, Portugal, Romania, England, and the USA, and in Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded. Another story is forthcoming in The Apex Book of World SF, Vol. II, ed. by Lavie Tidhar, later this year. Fabio blogs here and tweets here.

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

The Import of Gravity


S I’VE GOTTEN OLDER it happens less and less, but mostly I still dream of my Mother falling.

I don’t know if that is the whole dream, or just the part that I remember but that is the image I wake with in the mornings, burnt into my brain; my Mother, black hair billowing out from her head as the rushing air takes it, falling into darkness. She wears a red dress (not that I have a specific memory of her wearing one – but that is what my mind puts her in) and no shoes. The part about her wearing no shoes as she fell is one aspect of her death that I do remember clearly.

After she’d jumped from the old Niffeneger building on the corner of Church Street they found her shoes left behind on the roof; simple blue slip-ons, flat and worn-in. They were left neatly on the ledge. The thought of her removing them just before leaping off haunted me then, and does still to this day. Whenever I dream of her, seeing her in her never-ending descent down into the unfathomable darkness that awaits each and every one of us, she is always barefoot because I know even subconsciously… even in dreamland… that she jumped without them.

I always remember the same details too.

She has her right arm slack to one side – just there if you know what I mean. The left arm is flailing in slow motion, almost reaching for something. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve thought about that arm, and the hand grasping slowly in the darkness. I’ve wondered whether she is just having a reflex reaction to the sensation of falling backwards, or if she is about to reach back toward the ledge.

As if, at the very last moment, she has changed her mind and wishes she hadn’t jumped.

And there is her face. Of everything, it is her face that haunts me the most. Wihtout fail I wake from the dream, sobbing. I never scream out in horror, as you might think I would experiencing this dream.

I only cry. The years that have flurried past since my Mother’s death have glued the cracks in my heart, but it is a weak glue. Nothing more than a tentative making-good of something irreparably broken.It doesn’t hold up to much. When I have this dream, the glue gives out, and what is left in my chest aches with so much longing and devastation. When I see her face, dropping through the abyss of death, my heart breaks over and over. She looks frightened, scared, upset. She does not wear the expression of someone consigned to what they’ve done, to the final act they have chosen for themselves – not at that moment as she falls.

If she didn’t look so frightened, I wouldn’t want to reach out and pull her back. But I do.

As I dream, I want to raise my hands and try to get to her but I can’t raise my arms. I can’t move. I am powerless to help my own Mother as she falls to death like a downed pigeon.


once had a friend tell me about a recurring dream he has in which he is laying on a train track and is unable to move as a big old locomotive rolls in towards him. It’s a form of sleep paralysis, I think – or what some cultures refer to as ‘the devil riding your back’. I think it’s this that I experience, nearly every night as I try to reach out but find that I can’t.

More than anything the dream leaves me feeling guilty. It’s the same guilt that I have carried with me since childhood. When she died, I felt that I could have done something to stop her climbing the stairs to the top of that building and launching herself off the edge. I was nine at the time and perhaps, I thought, it had been me who had driven her to do it. Even if I could reach out and hold her hand, my fingers touching hers, so that she is not alone on her way towards death, it would be some consolation.

But I am destined to see her falling, forever, for as long as I live. I am not to blame for her death – who knows why she did it? – but I am powerless to prevent it, even after the fact, even in my dreams.

I consider gravity sometimes, and everything that followed from that apple falling on Newton’s head, to the flight of the first airplane, to the first man in space, and all the people who have fallen to their deaths. I think of my Mother, sucked back towards the Earth at incredible speed as she jumped. Gravity is an unforgiving Master. It gives us life, it keeps the Earth spinning, it holds onto the air that we breathe, but it also tries it’s very best to keep us. We are as much slaves to this world we inhabit as we are its ruler. We were not meant for ascension, free of our entanglements.

Sometimes I get to thinking that perhaps my Mother was just a bird wanting to fly. I experience my Mother’s death almost every night and I can tell you, there is no freedom from gravity’s vacuum.

We mortals can only truly experience flight in that heartbeat between leaping from the ledge of an eight story building and gravity tugging at our feet. In that split-second we are free; we are unbound and only then can we fly.

I know my Mother was scared as she fell, because I see it in her face. But I sometimes wonder if she might have been smiling as she leapt… as she flew. If for only a beat.

Help Desk Dream


he cars cover the sky in a riot of color and rust, their auras glowing blue to show they’re running well. I keep a close eye on the auras as I buzz around in my jetpack, watching for problems. Vans and SUVs drift sedately by, econo boxes flutter about like butterflies, tossed by the breeze. Trucks and buses plow along inches above the ground.

A Civic drifts earthward, its aura darkening toward the violet. I jet towards the glow, dodging the other cars. New plugs, a healthy blue aura, and the Civic resumes its course.

More cars fail, so I get busier. Auras start to drift into the red before I can get to them. I rush from one car to another, but they keep getting lower, slower, and redder. I can’t go faster, but I try, and bump into healthy vehicles, slowing me more, making things worse.

A truck’s aura flares bright red, then the truck crashes into the ground and its aura goes black as it tumbles along, tossing parts in the air, shrapnel that collides with other vehicles, creating more red in the sky. Soon vehicles are plummeting out of the sky all around, black auras and grinding metal everywhere. An engine block hits my jetpack, and I fall from the sky, tumbling towards the enormous black aura cast by a ruined oil tanker…