Always Crashing in the Same Car

August 27th, 10.03am

Tires were screeching around the coastal roads of Sarnia, roads that from above formed a right-angled triangle floating in the deep azure of the English Channel. Several passengers peered from the windows of an airplane descending into the island’s tiny airport and saw the husk of a car, its exhaust puffing like an aged smoker, make a sharp right turn below them before disappearing behind a swathe of trees. The old Volkswagen now heading along the longest straight on the island – the hypotenuse of the triangle – was slowly gathering speed.

The coast and its cresting waves blurred into a wash of blue as John’s foot pressed down on the accelerator. Finally, at sixty miles per hour – far too fast for the narrow street ahead of him – his hand twitched and the car squealed left across the pavement and through a wooden barrier that separated him from the water and the rocks below.

In John’s mind, he flew gloriously off the edge of the cliff, plastic, metal and flesh caught in the air simultaneously, sailing away from the ground. In reality, the VW thumped with a scrap-metal crash into a ditch, and his head thudded with a dull snap against the driver-side window.

August 10th, 12.21pm

The geometry of shadows gathered around Gillian’s feet was on the move. High above her, the noon sun cast a strange kaleidoscope of lines on the sand, and John watched as she reached the water and stepped, tentatively at first, into the English Channel. Even during the summers, the salty, thick waves were cold to the touch, and he imagined the goose bumps now peppering her arms.

She hopped forward, her body tensing into right angles. The bathing suit still fitted snugly, the same one she’d taken on their honeymoon. John smiled and leaned back onto the sand as she disappeared into the water.

Gillian waded in and, in a moment of quotidian bravura, finally dipped her shoulders under the water’s surface. The salty sting of the sea slipped past her skin as she swam further out, and eventually her body temperature equalized and she was comfortable. The goose bumps had disappeared.

She stopped and turned over onto her back, her hair, tied in a loose bun, weighing her down like an anchor. The sky wasn’t cloudless – Sarnian skies rarely were – but it was bright, with sheer spots of sunlight pounding at the sand. Leaning her head forward, she could still see John’s feet, his white chest, and his eyes, closed to the sky above them.

“Why don’t you fuck off back to England?” The voice woke John, clear above the sound of the sea brushing the sand. He propped himself up on his elbows and watched a teenage girl in ankle-high Converse shoes and a miniskirt trying her hardest to stomp across the sand and away from a boy wearing nothing but swimming trunks and a dumbfounded expression.

“What was that all about?” he asked. Gillian had returned and the goose bumps on her legs had mutated into tiny grains of sand.

“Dunno.” She lay on the towel next to him. “Not much to do on a Sunday if you’re a teenager.”

August 21st, 5.34pm

John left Town and drove toward home. The movements were familiar, the turns of the road second nature. The rocks, grass, sand, and glass houses moved past him barely noticed. It never took more than fifteen minutes to drive anywhere on the island.

Along the coastal road, he sped up and passed Fort Grey, a coastline fortification that, like all the others, stood defunct at the water’s edge. Concrete and cylindrical, atop it a flagpole flapped a Sarnian flag wildly in the breeze. Retrieving his phone from the passenger seat, he dialed home. No answer. He tried Gillan’s mobile, leaving it to ring several times before hanging up at the sound of her voicemail message.

Gillian had settled into the back of the Duke of Normandy pub. She let her phone buzz futilely against the table. A glass of beer stood waiting for her just beyond it, and she took a hearty swig. Before they were married, she only ordered wine or, in an emergency, gin and tonic. But now, beer had become a staple – cheaper and longer-lasting – and the low wooden beams and dark corners of the Duke of Normandy had become welcoming in a way that their home was not. The cold glass sides and summer skylights that John had installed two years ago were impersonal and cold to the touch.

Her phone chirped and she picked it up. A text message read: Where are you? See you at home!          John parked and went in through the conservatory door. The sun was low enough to cut diagonally across the room, leaving a slice of orange light leading from the floor up to the interior door that led to the kitchen.

Gillian arrived half an hour later, the sun setting through the trees, and the sound of waves bristling against the distant coast. Her old Volkswagen fit neatly between the garage and John’s slovenly parked Audi. John was asleep on the couch, today’s copy of the Sarnia Herald folded open and balanced on his chest.

August 27th, 7.17am

The sun climbed higher that morning as Gillian rose. John lay still, asleep between the waves of their bedsheets.

She left the note in the kitchen beneath a stone figurine that they had received as a wedding gift. The note was short, could be read as brusque, but she didn’t want to run to more than half a page.

Snores percolated like coffee as she slipped her maroon travel bag out of its usual place in their walk-in closet and grabbed handfuls of clothes from the dresser drawer. Stuffing socks, underwear, then t-shirts and pants into the bag, she paused for a moment. If she had been expecting one last roll, a twist of limbs that signaled a disturbance in John’s sleep, she would have been disappointed.

August 27th, 10.12am

Tires were screeching around the coastal roads of Sarnia, roads that were just the ragged edge to the Sarnian soil. Gillian was high above. From this distance, the island always seemed so idyllic, a misty antique, something to be preserved for the future. She lay her head against the airplane window and she sensed a gust of air colliding in a spiral with the plane’s propellers. The island shrank away from her, a patchwork of fields interrupted by the reflections of greenhouse roofs.

The airplane tilted left and into the clouds. Gillian stared out, glimpsing between the white wisps a congregation of cars and people on a coastal road, blue lights and more piercing red ones flashing at the scene of some accident or crime. Who said nothing ever happened in Sarnia? she said to herself.

Her stomach lurched, the clouds enveloped the airplane, and suddenly the island disappeared.

* * * * *

DLR likes writing for fun, and writing for money. He likes his dogs to have beards, and his bourbon to have poise. He is editor and cofounder of Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure, and his other Snake-Oil can be found here.

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Dr. Hurley’s Digest, Vol. III, Issue 4

Great new fiction, photography, and poetry from some classy Snake-Oilers this week. Check out what you missed below.

 

Monday – Photography

Wednesday – Fiction

Friday – Poetry

 

More to come soon! Watch this space.

Dr. Hurley’s Digest, Vol. III, Issue 2

Many thanks to Michael Fitzgerald-Clarke for guest editing three whole weeks of Snake-Oil goodies. Here’s what you  missed this week:

 


Monday – Fiction

Wednesday – Poetry

Friday – Poetry

 

We’re back to our regularly scheduled programming as of Monday.

Cindy Anne

Jenny BraswellThis is not my life. This is not my home. I am not really here. In my heart, I am far away, across the plains.

The white woman with blue eyes runs into the clearing among the pines. Her blue checkered dress dulls her brown hair. Her neat blue bow fights against the ecstatic expression of her face. Her desperate flight from the cabin winds her slightly, but her stamina is still nearly as good as it had been and much better than that of the people she flees.

Here, I cannot see the sky. Just small patches of blue that only hint at the majesty of the Sky Father. I am trapped, confined, burdened until I feel like I will die. I will die here.  Miserable.  Alone.

She finds a soft spot in the dirt of the clearing and crouches down to gather twigs. Her breath slows to the soothing of the wind as she snuggles cross-legged into the leaves, heedless of dirt and damp, and begins to make a fire.

I began here, or in a place very like this. A fort, manned by farmers, all family…all blood.

A small girl creeps to the edge of the clearing and watches as the woman begins her ritual. The woman chants a Comanche medicine chant, nearly wailing as she undulates, eyes closed, head tilted towards heaven.

And one day the Comanches came. They swept out of nowhere. My uncle assured us that they only wanted to trade. He spoke to them, and then they killed him. They killed almost all of us. But a few they spared….a few they took with them. I was one. They kidnapped me, and they made me freer than I ever would have been, and freer than I will ever be again.

The girl has heard the stories many times, in the language she shares with the woman in the clearing. Never in English, or they will be overheard. The images crowd her mind in her sleep – flashes of violence, of blood, of babies torn from the fleeing mothers, of scalps, or swirling horses. Of Cindy Anne, swept up by a warrior along with her brother, and carried off. The girl’s dreams always end with the vision of her mother’s face, watching the fires as she resigns herself to death.

The woman remains crouched in the dirt, praying. A hawk approaches and lands on a branch above her. The child sees it, but the woman does not.

There is no peace here. No medicine. My sons are lost to me, my husband dead at the hands of these white men.  For what?  For land. I am the prodigal one, lost and returned, but I yearn still for the one I was – Naduah, who carries herself with grace – the White Squaw.

The woman suddenly turns as if she expects that the hawk will be there. She reaches out, beseeching it. The hawk hops down a branch, closer, watching her. Then down another branch as the girl holds her breath, eyes widening with wonder.

“Cynthia Anne! Cynthia! Mrs. Parker!” The peace of the pines is shattered as the voices twist among the trees. A mix of men and women enter the clearing as the hawk drops nearly within reach. Cindy Anne reaches further, yearning, just as a man grabs her shoulder. The hawk dives and then retreats, unnoticed by anyone else but the blue-eyed woman and the girl.

The largest woman is panting. Her voice is strident, unpleasant to the little girl. She points at Cindy Anne and says, “I told you! She’s doing that Indian devilry again. Can’t keep her in the house, for the sake of her soul!”

The man shakes her arm. “Cindy, Cindy what are you doing? God save you, Cindy Anne, you can’t do that here. Get back to the house!”

Cindy Anne sags for a brief second, before collecting herself and lifting her chin. The joy on her face has now fallen into a sullen pout, and to the little girl she seems a completely new person, worn down, lost.

“And just look at her dress,” this largest woman squawks, “as dirty as any heathen savage. I’m not washing it for you, Cynthia Anne. You have to do it yourself, understand?”

They drag her back towards the cabin, fussing the whole way. The little girl steps out and kicks dirt over the fire. Then she looks up and sees the hawk, far above, watching her. The little girl smiles.

All I have left is my little Topsanna, my Prairie Flower. What will she have, a half-white, half-Indian girl growing up in Texas? What good man will have her, when good men are so few here on the frontier? I am forbidden from teaching her my medicine, of the spirits. What will she become, raised in the white way, the white religion, but not accepted as white?

Where will she go?

A gunshot rings out across the clearing, and the hawk falls dead at Prairie Flower’s feet. A new man steps into the clearing, sternly ignoring the little girl’s horror.

“Vermin, girl. That’s all they are. Vermin who swoop in silently and steal from us. Never miss a chance to destroy one. It’ll save you trouble later on.”  The man that Prairie Flower knows as the kindly uncle who shelters them doesn’t look at her as he nudges the dead hawk with his toe, nodding his satisfaction at the death.

The little girl glances back at the hawk as her uncle gently leads her away by the hand. In her mind she hears her mother’s chanting, fading away into the darkness of her memory.

The spirits are dead here. The white man’s – my family’s destiny is to destroy them, destroy everything that stands between them and the great sea. My spirit cries out for the plains, for the open, for the magic of life that has been trampled here. Here, I am dead. Yet my soul still rides on the endless plains.

In the barn beside the cabin, the little girl stares at her uncle’s mare. With hardly a thought, from an inner prompting she cannot sense nor deny, she leads the horse out of the barn and leaps onto her back. With only a mane for a handhold, Prairie Flower spurs the mare into a gallop across the field and into the tree line.

At the largest woman’s shout, Cindy Anne steps onto the porch and smiles the half-pained, half-serene smile that aggravates the largest woman so much. Beside the girl, on steeds of wind, Cindy Anne sees the ghosts of herself and her sons, hair whipping in freedom, laughing at the horizon.

* * * * *

Jenny Braswell is a grant writer and horseback riding instructor living in the south-eastern United States. She is constantly amazed at how life unfolds. This is her first contribution to Snake-Oil Cure.

Guest-edited by Michael Fitzgerald-Clarke

Dr. Hurley’s Digest, Vol. III, Issue 1

Welcome to Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure’s third glorious year, guest edited for this and next week by Michael Fitzgerald-Clarke. Check out what he’s brought us below.

 


Monday – Fiction

Wednesday – Poetry

Friday – Poetry

 
Stay tuned for more from MFC next week!

Of Porn Stars and Pigs

Carole MehleMen can be pigs sometimes. I like to think my friends and family are not, but sometimes I worry about the company I keep.

I was at my cousin Hannah’s wedding reception, standing near the bar with my brother Scott and two male friends, Peter and Mark. The bright yellow walls that hurt my eyes in the daylight now shone golden at night. The prim and proper bridal guests had cut loose in the moonlight.

Between sips of beer, each of the males would wager a guess at something, but they wouldn’t tell me what.

When I finally asked what they were betting on, Peter smiled at me and said, “One of the female guests at the wedding is a porn star.”

Scott hushed him. “Don’t say it so loud. I just can’t believe Hannah knows a porn star.”

I took a sip of my vodka tonic and smiled. “Well, Hannah always has been good at making friends.”

“It’s her,” Peter pointed to a perky brunette in a teal dress.

“No,” Mark said. “It’s that cute little redhead over there.”

“You’re both wrong,” I told them, gulping down the last of vodka tonic.

I looked at a buxom girl in a jade green halter dress. She exuded confidence, even though she had a rather full figure and her blond hair was a little big. “It’s her,” I said, gesturing my head toward her.

“No way,” Peter said. “She’s not pretty enough.”

“Pete, I thought looks didn’t matter in the porn industry.”

“Well, Claire, what do you think matters to men who watch porn?”

I knew one thing for sure. “No male ever gives me a straight answer when I ask that. But I don’t think it’s a pretty face, now is it?”          “Okay, we’ve got to settle this,” Peter said. “I’ve got to know who the porn star is.”

“Better yet, let’s make a bet,” Mark said. “Losers buy the winner dinner. I’m in. Pete, Scott, Claire, you in?”

Each of us nodded and stuck with our original choices.

We played “Eeny meeny miney moe” to see who would ask the bride about her porn star friend. Scott and I smiled as it ended up being Peter.

When Peter returned from his chat with Hannah, he looked at me. “How did you know, Claire?”

I smiled. “Someone told me at the bar last night after the rehearsal dinner, so I watched the way she moves.”

“What do you mean?” Scott asks.

“Watch her and tell me she doesn’t move like a porn star. She walks like she knows she’s hot and she doesn’t care if you don’t think she is.”

For the rest of the night, they watched her every move.

When she walked by and didn’t even acknowledge them, I smiled.

Later, when I was in the ladies room, she was there, applying mascara.

“I like your dress,” she told me. “That mossy green is good on you.”

“Thanks,” I answered. “I didn’t think anybody cared what I had on. I like your dress too.”

“It’s not too tight?” She shimmied her hips and her blond curls bounced.

“No,” Claire told her.“I wish I could get my dresses to fit like that. You’ve got great curves.”

“You do too. I wish I had perky little boobs like yours instead of these big melons.” She looked down at her breasts and continued applying mascara. “Those guys you’re with haven’t noticed your dress?”

I just shook my head.

“Men can be such pigs sometimes,” she said, powdering her nose.

“Indeed they can,” I answered.

“So, why are you here with three guys who aren’t paying any attention to you?”

“Well, one of them is my brother. Peter and Mark like flashier women.”

“Is that why they’ve been staring at me? They think I’m flashy? Tell them to come over and talk to me. It’s weird. They’re all cute, but one of them likes you.”

“Which one?” Claire asked.

“The mid-height guy, short hair. Gorgeous eyes. That Burberry tie has a stripe the color of his eyes. Tell the other two to come talk to me.”

“I don’t think they know what to say to you.”

The porn star applied her lipstick and said, blotting her lips, “Most guys start off with either ‘Don’t I know you from somewhere?’ or ‘Did you really make porn?’”

“That sounds like something Peter would say to you! Peter has on a blue tie. I think my brother, the one fiddling with the camera, would probably ask you how you know our cousin.”

“Bride or groom?”

“Bride.”

“That’s why her dad gave you that big bear hug. Wait. I’ve seen your picture. She told me you two were like sibs to her. Claire, right? I’m Jade.”

With one last look in the mirror, Jade said, “Listen to me. You just prance yourself out of here and remember this: It’s in the way you carry yourself. Even porn stars have bad hair days.”

When I left the bathroom, I tried to work what I had the whole way back to Peter, Mark, and Scott.

And the porn star was right. It worked.

I saw Mark watching me cross the room while Scott was messing with his digital camera.

“Hey, Claire. That dress is nice on you.”

“Thanks, Mark,” I answered, looking for my vodka tonic glass.

He leaned in and told me, “Peter went to defend your honor on the way to get refills – at least he thinks it was yours. Some guy was talking about the hot girl in the green dress. Sissy ass wouldn’t go until he was sure you were wearing a green dress.”

Scott barely looked up from the camera and said, “She is wearing a green dress.”

“If you’d look up, you’d see for yourself.”

“I’m the younger sister. I’ve been invisible since he was thirteen.”

“If you only knew, little sis,” Scott says, gazing up from the camera. “Why do you think there are three of us standing with you?”

“The porn star look-out, the beer go-fer, and the third so the other two don’t look like a couple. Guys have to stand in threes.”

“Nope,” Mark said. “I’m trying to convince your brother and Pete to go talk to the porn star so I can talk you into dinner.”

I smiled to him.

“Jade’s out on the patio. Scott, she said you were hot. Mark’s buying me dinner.”

“Hey! We came together. You’ve got the hotel room key, sis!”

I reached into my cleavage, retrieved the key, and placed it in Scott’s hand.

“That’s one lucky room key,” Mark said.

“Maybe the room key won’t be the only lucky one tonight.”

I quit worrying about Scott and Peter. I let them take care of themselves with Jade. Mark was the only company I wanted to keep.

* * * * *

Carole Mehle is a writer based in North Carolina. To support her writing habit, she teaches English and humanities at a local community college. The teaching habit though, tends to suck the life from her writing habit, leaving little time for actually writing, much less getting published. Her debut novel, Blinded by the Crowd, has been stuck in revision far too long (with all the other novels she writes) and will be released this summer.

This is her first contribution to Snake-Oil Cure.

Guest edited by Michael Fitzgerald-Clarke

Dr. Hurley’s Digest, Vol. II, Issue 52

The first of three guest-edited weeks gave us some great fiction and poetry, courtesy of guest editor Michael Fitzgerald-Clarke. Check out what you missed below.

 

Monday – Introduction

Wednesday – Fiction

Friday – Poetry

More from MFC this week and next, plus, today marks the beginning of Dr. H’s third year! Huzzah!

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

Dr. Hurley’s Digest, Vol. II, Issue 50

Check out what you missed at Snake-Oil Cure this week, with great fiction, photography, and poetry.

 

Monday – Poetry

Wednesday – Fiction

Friday – Photography

 

More to come soon!

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?”

“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.

“Josh?”

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 http://www.mollylaich.com. Her other contributions to Snake-Oil Cure can be found here.