Dr. Hurley’s Digest: Vol. II, Week 6

More this week in our First Ever Short Story Contest, plus fiction from editor DLR, poetry from a new contributor, and more photography from award-winning 15-year-old photographer Eleanor Leonne Bennett.

Short Story Contest





More fiction coming up this week in our contest, and other goodies for you to read and feast your eyes on!

None to Shoot With

This story is part of Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure’s First Ever Short Story Contest.


o here I am with this strange creature, in this cave, and what can I do, shrug her off? She helped me out against a Dog. The Dogs are still functional, but lost and confused. No, make that: they’re functional, but short-circuited and for those of us who have stayed behind, it becomes our main occupation, it seems, to trick them or to disable them somehow. Well, our main occupation apart from organizing food and sometimes a place to sleep if you’re physically inclined to do that, but there are not many of us left around these parts now. I guess many made it into shelters. Most probably died. The Dogs take care of those. But this – woman? – she hasn’t talked much, but I assume she also has a reason for staying.


I was dodging Dogs. I was in a store with no roof, between the aisles, and the Dog was hovering just above the shelves, which were mostly raided or smashed up. I could see the Dog’s little red drone eye zoom in and out of focus. The warm parts of me would register with it. I hid in the freezers, which were beginning to thaw but were still cold enough to hide me from at least its temperature sensors. The Dog descended and landed with that sucking sound, right in front of the freezer I stood in. It scanned me. It reached out its tentacle and opened the door when this woman took the the thing out with a clean shot. She was on it in a split second, and I could see her yank out its main board.

She opened the freezer door and pointed her gun at me. She was dressed in some sort of armor suit. All I could see were her eyes.

“Weapons?” she asked.

“None to shoot with,” I replied which was sort of the truth.

“Human?” she asked.

50-50 chance.


She let go of the door and put her gun away. Right answer.

“I know where we can go. If you’re looking for a place. It’ll be dark before you know it,” she said.


Now we’re in the opening of this cave and are safe for the moment. It’s becoming ridiculous to leave full gear on.  She’s built a fire and put a can of beans in it to warm it up. She has all kinds of stuff in her backpack. Weapons. I didn’t manage to snatch anything when the attack sirens went off days ago. I’m unarmed. She has tasers. She has things that can disrupt circuits. She can disrupt circuits. I saw her do it to the Dog. She reached her hand right in the cracks in its titanium shell and tore out the processor. Better not take chances. I doubt there’s anyone around who could fix me. I doubt there’s anyone around.


“What were you doing in the supermarket?” she asks and takes the can of beans out of the fire.

“Hiding from the Dog,” I reply. She has taken her helmet off. She has short fluffy blond hair. It’s hard to look at her face. Unenhanced eyes are kind of gross. Like squishy balls. Hers are especially large. Not that I’ve seen that many this close. “I was looking for some food when I heard it.”

“What are you still doing here?” she asks. I can see the gun sticking out of her waistband.

“I was looking for someone.”

She stares at me for a moment.

“Food?” she asks me, offering some.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “My name’s Ez.”

Maybe if she knows my name it won’t be as easy for her to kill me because I lied.

“Laurie,” she says. “Well? Food? I have enough for now. You can have some.”

I’m starving.

“I would love some,” I say.

“Well, here it is!” She’s getting impatient.

I take a breath in. I reach back and slowly undo the latch in the nape of my neck.

“Air’s ok to breathe!” she mocks me and demonstrates by taking a deep breath in and out.

“Thanks for helping me out earlier,” I say.

Maybe if she knows my name and I thank her she won’t kill me.

“You’re welcome. Like, we’re the only people here. There’s even enough food. So, why wouldn’t I, right?”

“I’m unarmed,” I repeat “And I’m sorry I lied to you earlier.”

I pull the helmet from my head. She stops breathing. That’s her reaction. Then she lets out a sharp puff of air, looks away, but still holds out the can of beans into my direction.

“I guess the rules are not in effect here anyway,” she mumbles. And doesn’t shoot me.

“Who were you looking for?” she asks me, sitting down on the sandy ground, still staring ahead.

“Someone I am supposed to look after,” I reply. Way too long a story. “What were you doing?” I try to ask very carefully, but apart from her refusal to look into my direction, she seems to have digested it well. She doesn’t appear to have a hard time overlooking the former rules and the former differences, that are – she is right – not in effect right now, with nobody there to enforce them. At least the two of us, despite all differences, are dependent on the same things: air, water, food, sleep, not catching infections.

She reaches into her backpack and lifts out a handful of micro chips, then drops them back in.  “I was making a living.” She still stares ahead. “These sell well.”

“You’re a raider…” I thought they were a rumor.

“I have guns,” she says, neutrally, not threatening at all. “I know how you work. I know which connections to sever. If you, in any way, become a threat to me, I’ll dismantle you and sell your parts and leave your poor pink human guts to rot in the poisonous sun.”

I get a surge of sadness. It’s a deep feeling. One that originates somewhere in my poor pink human guts and grasps my heart.

“I won’t tell on you. I wouldn’t know who to tell,” I say.

“Sit down already! You’re driving me crazy standing there!”

I guess she does watch me from her peripheral vision, if she has that. Maybe it’s as hard for her to look at me as it is for me to look at her. Odd that it should go both ways.

I sit down about three feet away from her. She winces.

“You have friends?” she asks, suspiciously.

“Yes! Yes, of course.”

“I didn’t know that about you.”

If I told her now that the person I stayed behind for was a human, that’d push her over the edge. It’s too confusing even for me. Those feelings. So I don’t say anything. I start eating the beans. I really have been starving.

“Thanks for the food,” I say to her.

“You’re welcome.”


It’s mostly dark. The fire makes a quaint glow. It’s warm. It’s a good place to spend the night. It were, if I weren’t about to spend it with a human. She’s been going through the things in her backpack. Laying them out in front of her, arranging them, turning them. Sometimes she mumbled something or let out a little laugh, finally packed everything up, meticulously.

She has not dared to look at me again. I have lain down in the sand.

We won’t sleep. We don’t trust each other.


“Hey Ez ” she says, after shuffling about a little.


“What kind are you?” she asks and sounds so shy inside her armor suit, with the guns all over the place.

“That’s a really personal question,” I reply.

“Really? Why?” she asks on.

“Hey Laurie, how did your parents die?” I ask back, to demonstrate the personal nature of the question she asked me. She’s fast for a human. She throws a handful of sand into my face. It gets into my eyes. I release them and try to clean them.

“Holy crap! Put them back!” she screeches. I’m absolutely unprepared for that reaction. She scares me a little bit.

“I’m sorry, but you made them sandy,” I explain to her. “Hand me that canteen?” She kicks it into my general direction, with her back to me. I pour a splash on my eyes, one by one, then put them back.

“It’s ok. They’re in again,” I say quietly. Humans are more outrageous than I thought. Or maybe just she is. There is absolute silence for about an hour.


“Hey Ez,” she says, “my parents died in a bombing. I was cut out of my dead mother’s belly. By a human. Humans trawl the wards after bombings to do just that, to get their numbers up. There you go. Shit happens.”

“Don’t throw sand now,” I say quietly. “Were your parents Enhanced?”

She tosses a handful of sand into my direction, but it’s a joke. She has a cute sense of humor.

“Yes,” she says between clenched teeth.

“I’m sorry,” I say.

“It’s ok. I’m not into the pro human movement, you know. People know it was bad luck that I am one. But I get along.”

It’s my turn now.

“I’m an EAL,” I tell her. “Eyes, arms, legs.”

“I know what an EAL is!” she hisses. “One of your feet could keep me alive for a month!”

I’m not brain enhanced, but my reaction time has been trained well. My reaction takes me into standing position and out of the cave onto the little plateau, overlooking the cremated remains of the bombed out Area below. I pump air into my lungs. I can’t stay here with that crazy, bitter human.


“Hey Ez,” she says, suddenly right next to me on the edge of the plateau. She’s moved so quietly. Maybe I envy her that. “Don’t worry. I have enough to sell for this time around. I won’t disconnect your feet.”

I lean against the rock and try to calm my breathing.

“Are you crying?” she asks. Suddenly, she is right in front of me, looking at me full on, with her big unenhanced eyes. Curiosity must have beaten her disgust. “Sucks to be emotional, huh? Sometimes wish you were an ESH instead of an EAL?” Emotions, senses, heart. Yes.

“I’m thankful for what I am. Emotions are important to what I do. Used to do.”

“What do you do?”

“I was a Racer. If you don’t emote joy, disappointment, or pain, you don’t sell well.”

“I used to like watching the races. So I guess you’re unemployed now,” she says slowly. “You must be a fine piece of machinery.”

She did it again. Little stabs.

“I am not,” I explain to her as patiently as I can, “a piece of machinery. Like you’re not a lump of meat.”

“Whatever,” she says, and walks back into the cave. She sits down with her back to the wall and puts another dry twig into the fire.

I join her and sit down opposite her, my back to the other cave wall.

“You’re kind of disgusting,” she says, and stares at me.

“I’m sorry,” I say, and cover my eyes.

“Not you as a machine. You as this emotional, sensitive being with all those disgusting condescending pretend-ethics. I’m not a lump of meat to you? Are you kidding me? I am nothing more than that to you and the only thing that makes you not see me as your absolute subordinate is the fact that I have guns and access to black markets that would gladly take a part of you.”

“You know nothing about me. Or us, if you insist on generalizing.”


I don’t know where to go, but any place seems better than this cave. So I get up again and decide to go find another sleeping place, although this has been cozy and safe – except for maybe the human.

“Laurie, thanks for the food. I’d better go.”

“And where are you gonna go?”

“Elsewhere. You’re scary.” I walk out of the cave and down the rocky path that leads up to the plateau from the scorched Area.

“What if a Dog spots you? What are you gonna do then?” she shouts after me. “Run?”

She turns into a little spot of light bobbing down the hill after me. Poor thing. Can’t see in the dark.

“At least take a gun!” she shouts, and tries to pull one out of her bag with the hand that’s not holding the flashlight. She takes a gun by the barrel and holds it out to me. She is so confusing.

“Aren’t you scared, giving me that?” I ask.

She laughs.

“Of you? There’s no way you could ever pull that thing’s trigger on me. You started crying when I talked about your black market value. You’re raiding a Dog-infested Area for food. You have no equipment other than your Suit on you. You’ve lost someone you were supposed to look after. You’re so not ready for this.”

“I never knew her!” I say back, but it comes out like a cough, something I couldn’t have suppressed.

I don’t move. Neither does she. She holds out the gun halfway between us.

“This is heavy,” she points out after a few seconds.

So I take the gun. Its weight seems to pull me down.

She sighs.

Then my heart stutters, because she takes my hand. She has reached out and is now touching my hand. The left one that’s not holding the gun. Her hand is touching mine. There’s nothing between our hands. I get hot, then very fast very cold. I get dizzy. My optical units produce little sparks in front of my eyes.

“Come on, I’ll show you how to shoot it,” she says and pulls me back up the rocky path by my hand.


I’m not meant to touch an unenhanced hand. It’s revolting, but it’s unlike anything I’ve ever felt before and when we’re back at the entrance to our cave, I couldn’t possibly learn how to shoot a gun. I need to just sit down and breathe.

“Guess I’ve found your weak spot, O mighty machine!” she mocks. “Want me to poke you some more?”

“No, please, no.”

I feel sick.

“Poke!” she says, but doesn’t actually touch me, although just that word has made me jump.

“Why can you touch me just like that and I’m like this?”

She squats on her haunches next to me. She looks at me and there’s something on her forehead, between her eyebrows. Something her skin does. Like little creases.

“Do your kind need sleep?” she asks and there’s something in her voice that reminds me of childhood.

“Yes,” I say.

“How often?”

“Every few days.”

“Do you need sleep right now?”


“Is that why you’re behaving funny?”

“I don’t know.”

“I can tell you why I can touch you and then you can sleep and I’ll watch out for you.”

There are a few stars out now. It’s cool out here.

“I have raided EALs before. Dead ones. You’re the easiest and fastest to dismantle. You feel a little different when you’re alive, though.”

I am very tired. I can’t take anymore.

“And now I am supposed to trust you?”

“Yes, because I’m not a killer. I just take stuff that’s lying around.”

“But, Laurie, that’s exactly what I would be if I were to sleep. Stuff lying around. If I’m just a machine to you, I’d just be stuff lying around.”

Then I have an idea. Maybe now I’ve reacted too quickly and too close to her. She has pulled the gun on me almost the same instant I have grabbed her wrist – not touching skin, just sleeve. For a minute, we’re frozen. My right hand around her left wrist, her right hand pointing the gun at me. Then she starts panting.

“What are you doing? I’m going to shoot, I really am!” she says and sounds more irrational than I’ve ever heard her, and I’m afraid she’s actually going to shoot. So I act fast. I unhook my chest cover and put her hand on my heart. I hope I haven’t hurt her. I have no idea how much or how little it takes to hurt an unenhanced wrist. It’s pounding, my heart.

“There!” I tell her. “It’s not any different! That’s still the basic version. Just like yours. It’s racing because you creep me out, and it will stop one day, just like yours.”

She twists and struggles and tries to pull her hand away. I keep it there for just another few seconds, then let go. She stumbles backwards and falls into the sand, thrown off balance. She starts shaking her hand then wiping it on her pants frantically. I leave her to whatever little cleaning ritual she thinks she is accomplishing, and go back into the cave. The fire from earlier is still glowing. I curl up to keep warm and arrive immediately in that zone just before the unconsciousness of sleep.

* * * * *

Frauke Uhlenbruch, aka the Small Fish, lives (and works) in England (among others). Her current research interests include the writings of Dr Seamus Hurley, the resurrection of the dead, utopian social description, superhero comics, and remarkable modes of divine-human communication. Things that make her toenails curl up include people bumping into her backpack on a crowded subway train. Great music, road trips, and dancing on tiptoe on the other hand, warm her heart. Sometimes she gets bored with the contemporary world.

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

Wrestling with Jacob

This story is part of Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure’s First Ever Short Story Contest.

ou gave birth to my country and my people. You know this? Birthed them into this world, Rebecca. All of them.”

The microwave read 2:45 AM. Five minutes fast. The man from the store sat at the kitchen table, his back facing the bedroom. The apartment door was bent and twisted behind him.

“I didn’t mean to wake you, Rebecca. I’m sorry. I just could not sleep. There are so many words in my dreams. So cluttered. You know this word? Cluttered?”

Becca Crawford was familiar with this word. Her apartment was strewn with Darla’s toys and clothing. Unfolded laundry and empty detergent bottles filled the living room. Her husband Terry had left all his baseball stuff behind jammed into the closets. All his old clothes smelled like dust and chalk. The shower drain was still clogged with his hair.

“What are you doing here Michael? You should—”

“Go home?” Michael said. His voice was wet. “Home where? Russia? Israel? No place.”

Becca noticed the broken phone before him on the table. Moonlight from the window caught the frayed wires, the empty plastic sheath and number keys scattered across a place mat.

“I don’t go home, Becca. There is no home. That is a stupid word. I have a room, yes. Apartment, whatever. Not a home. You make a home though. You always have.”

Becca had told the others at the bakery that Michael just needed a friend. He had no driver’s license, no personal I.D. Just a flimsy passport from Russia, filled with half-completed travels. Always leaving, he had told her while trying to select a loaf of bread. Never returning. He had shown her the passport, filled with exit stamps, but no entries. His teeth were false and they clacked when he spoke. No returns.

“You were the mother of Jacob, did you know that Rebecca? All of us with these names, names from the Bible. You were the one who birthed Jacob and Esau. You know Jacob? Father of all the tribes? The one the angel renamed Israel after their fight. They wrestled for an entire night; Jacob and the angel battling with one another. Neither side could gain the upper hand. Always in the struggle. I should have been named Jacob, no? I should have been one.”

Each morning he arrived with new purchases to display. Jim and Alicia tried to avoid the young man with the false teeth. He stared at your eyes when he spokes to you; he stared until you looked away and then he laughed. He brought all his purchases to the bakery to show them to Rebecca. New shoes and cellphones and TVs and the tattoo riding across the ridges of his back.

“Michael. You can’t be here. You need to leave. We can talk about this later. Darla is still asleep and she has school tomorrow and I have to work. Don’t you have to get up early?”

Becca didn’t know what Michael did exactly. He never explained it very well. He paid in cash. His pockets were always filled with ticket stubs and receipts. He kept track of everything.

“For what? To see the sun? It will be the same as before. It is the one thing that does not change. Even the moon changes sometimes. Even the stars do. I should have been named Jacob.”

Michael bought something from the bakery every day. Sometimes Becca saw him toss his sweet purchases in the trash as soon as he stepped outside the store. Jim told her it wasn’t healthy, this fixation the man had. He looked young, still had pimples on his cheeks, but what was with the teeth? What was with that tattoo on his back, the dragons and the whores stamped onto his skin? Becca told Jim to mind his own goddamn business and stop touching her arm.

“Names can change. They aren’t like the sun. You should not change yours though. We should all keep our Biblical names. Even in Israel, in the army, I kept mine. Rebecca, you should promise me you won’t change your name. You should do this. Tell me you will not change.”

Michael’s thick fingers flicked a piece of the phone onto the tiles. Becca stood behind him. She could hear her daughter sleeping in the other room. A lonely picture magnet hung on the steel refrigerator with Terry’s face staring out at the two figures in the kitchen. She forgot to take that one down after he moved back to South Carolina. She forgot to burn his clothes as well.

“Your daughter though, maybe you should change that name. What kind of name is Darla? Sounds like a whore’s name, no? Sounds like it came from the Terry man. The baseball man.”

It was Terry’s aunt’s name. The aunt who’d raised him after his mother got lymphoma and went on disability. Becca wanted to name their daughter Rachel, but Terry told her all about his years growing up with Aunt Darla. She drove him to all the tryouts, picked him up during rain delays and always had something to drink in the trunk of her car. At the funeral after her drunk driving accident, Terry had threatened to choke the pastor if he mentioned Darla’s fondness for the bottle. That was a warning sign Becca decided to ignore; she stacked it beside all the others.

“Sometimes I think it was Michael who fought with Jacob. Do you know that story? I think I told you of their battle. Jacob was all alone. His mother Rebecca had died many years before. He was to become the next leader of the chosen people, to return his people to their land. He waited behind with his flocks and sent his family ahead one night. Before he lay down to sleep, he was faced with an unnamed opponent. A man with no name, like in a Western. Like your Eastwood. They wrestled against one another from dusk until the morning came. Each fought for the upper hand, each struggled to gain a foothold. I think of this on nights when I do not sleep. Some people claim it was a demon, of course, and not an angel. And maybe that makes more sense.”

Another piece of the phone was tossed onto the floor. Becca leaned against the table and tried not to shake. Her heart rattled against her lungs. She should have listened to Jim and Alicia. Michael would not look her in the eye. Terry couldn’t either once he told her he had to leave. She didn’t stop him. She was tired of cleaning up his messes, filling out the forms for bail and paying the bar tabs down by the train station. Darla wouldn’t even look him in the face. Terry was a third stringer for a minor league team; a bit of tangled hair circling the drain. He was hospital bills and dust and three beers ahead of everyone else in her life. He was baggage.

When she dropped him off at the bus station, Terry told her he would send money. He would send a cheque when he arrived and finally got settled coaching for some high school team. He had connections back home, people who owed his Aunt Darla a favour. Becca was still waiting for something to arrive in the mail. She still got his credit card statements. Bulk purchases at liquor warehouses and cigar shops. She ran them through the garbage disposal at the bakery. Becca didn’t want to chance those fragments getting caught in the drains at home.

“And that makes sense, fighting with the demons. I do not sleep because I still see some faces. The ones we saw when they were blowing up roads. The ones who were children with grenades in their hands. I wrestle with their ghosts sometimes. I wrestle with children who have no eyes and who cannot speak. They hold my teeth, the ones their fathers knocked from my mouth in an alley. They hold all the fragments of their brothers that we left to rot in holes and pits and dark places. I wrestle with them because they have no souls. And they want mine.”

Michael showed her his dog tags once. They said his last name was Luppa. He told her he survived the nights in rehab while his face was rebuilt by reading the Bible front to back. It was more exciting than he thought it would be. It was filled with battles and murders and children of children, a lineage stretching back to the beginning of time. It didn’t all make sense of course. Michael did not understand why Samson’s hair was so magical, or how Noah could build a boat so big. Michael said the New Testament was boring. Just the same story told four times and if Jesus could really raise the dead, he could have taken over the world without the Romans’ help.

“But maybe it was an angel instead, yes? A test for Jacob to prove himself. I wish to have such a test, but there are no angels here. And so maybe it was the archangel Michael who wrestled him. The one from Revelations, the one who will lead heaven’s forces against all the whores and dragons we have spawned from our cities and our dreams. I showed you the tattoo, yes? When it is finished, I want to believe all of this will make sense. They send me here to be alone, to escape. I have done my service, but they still own something in my head, Rebecca.”

“Michael, we can talk about this another time, okay? Please. I won’t call the police.”

“Why would you call the police?”

“Michael, look at my door. I can’t go to bed with my door like that.”

“Then I will stay. I will stay and watch the door. I am used to the night watch.”

Michael’s heavy hand wrapped itself around Becca’s waist. She tried to pull away as he stood up from the table. Outside, the world was beginning to rupture around the edges. Pink bits of light bit away at the darkness. Michael’s breath pushed itself into Becca’s face.

“I showed you everything, didn’t I? Do you think it’s a coincidence we both spring from the Bible? You, a creator of nations, a mother to the father of the chosen people. And me, I could be that angel. I could be the one who gave Jacob his limp. The touch of my hand against his thigh ruined his leg forever. Did you know this? They taught us how to break a knee in training. How to break it firmly, how to break a leg so they will never be able to run from you again.”

Up close, Becca could see the scars running down Michael’s chin. That was where the shrapnel hit him, he had told her at the bakery. He took her hand and made her feel his skin.

“I know how to break a bone.”

“I know you do, Michael. You told me. You told me.”

He released her arm and sat back down at the kitchen table. Becca wanted to run, but she remembered Darla’s chest rising and falling in the other room. The neighbours here were all asleep or working the night shift. This was a building where the elevator always smelt like piss and dogs were tied up on balconies. Terry was gone and no one from work could call this place.

“Why did you take apart the phone?”

Michael flicked at the numbers. He didn’t answer her. Becca stepped back behind the counter toward her bedroom. She was too nice. Terry had barely paid rent during the five years they were together. Becca always gave the regulars extra frosting on their Danishes; she never argued with a work schedule that saw her rising at 5 AM to board a bus across the city while Jim and Alicia slept in until seven. She did not jaywalk at empty intersections until the light decided to change. The world was already chaotic enough, filled with Michaels and Terrys and all that revelation. She didn’t want a hand in the chaos. She was afraid she might lose it in the process.

“They use phones to make us die. You know this though. Like I told you. They will not face you like the angel. They will wait until you are in range, and they will blow off half your face so you can’t recognize yourself. They will make sure you are not the same. If you cannot touch them, you cannot assert your dominance. They will take your teeth and cast their spells and you will be left on that strip shuddering. I shuddered. That word. I did that until someone dragged me away. A phone is for those who can’t stare their enemies in the face, for those who want to listen, to speak without betraying their face.

“You can lie over a phone. You can tell me this makes sense. You can tell me I should go home. A Christian in Israel, still a Jew in Russia. I am no one in a nation; I am homeless like all those sick and dying dogs in Moscow. The ones who ride the subway as if they are people because they do not know themselves. I am a young man wearing the mouth of an ancient. I clatter around my own tongue.”

Becca continued to back toward her bedroom. She watched Michael remove his shirt, the black lines of his tattoo rippling with the effort. He tossed it onto the floor beside the fragments of the phone. His voice continued speaking. Becca paused before stepping into her bedroom.

“You gave birth to all of this, and I wrestle with the demons you left behind. I find them lurking everywhere, even in your bakery. I see them snickering behind us and I know you cannot hold a secret. I thought maybe you could help me rebuild things. They could only help me with my face. You told me of your Terry and your Darla, and I knew you could do better. I knew you could find better names. We are all wrestling through the night, and in the morning, some of us lose. Some of us awaken without a friend on a mattress in the dark. And it is always so dark.”

Terry was the religious one, if you could call it that. He called it the last resort. He sat where Michael was now one night and told Becca he could never be a true believer, but the science was just too depressing. Terry did not like to check his stats, his on base percentage or his fielding numbers. He despised the breakdown of his sport into columns and lines and algorithms. Not because they were wrong or misguided; they were all too accurate in fact. Terry couldn’t bear to see all of it laid out before him. He could not watch his thoughts, his dreams, all of it, reduced to chemical reactions. Terry told Becca he did not want a world where every cell was just slowly unspooling toward its own end. This biological pre-destination was just as bad as all those evangelicals preaching their guaranteed promises of redemption. All this decay was purchased in advance and Terry was tired of being confronted with the best before date.

“I followed you here, but I did not think I would come in. I am not usually such a rude house guest. But I am tired of this haunting, Rebecca. I am tired of trying to make all my friends from scratch. They want me to go back to Israel. They want me to sneak off with them in the night, to use my new face, the one no one will recognize. I am wires and wet work now.  I am reformed in all the wrong ways. I read those words about wrestling with Jacob, and I am always that angel who is losing. I am the one who must rename him, who must surrender part of myself. I am that demon or whatever it was that found him alone amongst the sheep. I need you to make me new.”

Becca disagreed with Terry. She watched his career spiral ever downward, his numbers declining while his waistband expanded. She watched his confidence crumble, the easy grounders slipping through his legs, the fly balls lost to the sun or to his hangover. She could not allow for some grand mystery to conceal the facts, to deny the reality she faced every day. The science inside the bakery was not a mystery, the science was sound and it was repeated daily. It was not all death and destruction. It was new and well-crafted and reusable. Terry told her all things had to end and he preferred not to see them coming. He left her at the bus station with a cross hanging around her neck. Bits of his chest hair clung to the chain.

“You need me here, Rebecca. You can help me create something new, just like your Darla.”

Darla did not talk much about her father. She was only four. She liked to play with the pieces he left behind. The well-worn baseballs and chipped bats he kept in the closets. They did not fit into his luggage. Becca stepped back into her bedroom and fumbled through the dark.

“We will have to start the world over, Rebecca. This is what I realized today. I realized it when you told me you didn’t know where to turn anymore. You told me you did not want things to stay the same. I can change all these things. Do not think anything of these problems though. Even the whores in the Bible, they are all eventually redeemed. Even Mary Magdalene.”

The bat was chipped at its tip. It was heavy in her hands. Michael still sat facing the busted door. His hands covered his face as if he were weeping, but there was no sound. A knife lay beside the phone on the table. The apartment was filled with pink and brackish light, glancing off the steel. The tattoo on his back featured a seven headed dragon with a woman on its back. It rippled as Michael spoke through false teeth and stitched lips. It seemed to enunciate his words.

“You gave birth to a nation, to all the tribes, and I know you can do it again, Rebecca. We can do it again. I just need to show you how it is done. I will show you one way or another.”

Becca crossed herself and swung. She still believed in physics.

* * * * *

Andrew F. Sullivan was born in Peterborough, Ontario. He has an MA in English in the Field of Creative Writing from the University of Toronto, where his thesis WASTE: a novel was awarded the Adam Penn Gilders’ Scholarship in Creative Writing. Sullivan’s fiction has recently been published by Little Fiction, Joyland, The Cleveland Review and Riddle Fence. Sullivan no longer works in a warehouse. You can find him at: http://afsullivan.blogspot.com/. This is his first contribution to Snake-Oil Cure.

Dr. Hurley’s Digest: Vol. II, Week 5

We continued our First Ever Short Story Contest this week, with entries from some new authors and a previous contributor. Check out the entries below, and stay tuned for more this week.

Short Story Contest




More photos, fiction, and short story entries this week!

Danny’s Blood

This story is part of Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure’s First Ever Short Story Contest.


t must have been summer. There weren’t any clouds, or not many anyway. We were young, just kids. Danny’s front garden had a tall tree in it, the sort that has a long curved stem and leaves right at the top, splaying out all over the place. Like a palm tree, I suppose, right in the middle of the lawn.

I remember he had called to my house and we’d gone out onto the road. It didn’t take much to convince me to go out. It never did, then. By the time we got to the McAvinues’ house, Danny decided that we needed to inject a little urgency. I remember him smiling at me and then he set off running very fast into his driveway and diagonally across the front lawn, his hand raking along the palm tree as he headed towards the side passage of the house. I started running as fast as I could, but he had a good head start and the total distance to be covered was so short I knew I would never catch him, but if I could just keep him in my sights it might not be so bad. Then he disappeared around the corner of the house as I jumped over the flowerbed onto the grass. I could hear him giggling as he ran, that mix of breathing hard and laughing I heard so many times in those days.

By the time I got to the corner of the house the laughing had stopped. Danny was standing by the back door, hunched over, breathing hard. As my run slowed I wondered why he didn’t go inside. What was he waiting for? I stopped at the bin when I saw the blood. Danny was wheezing and I was scared then, confused. I couldn’t see where the blood was coming from, but it must have been coming from him, it must have been coming from Danny. Something had happened in those seconds between him disappearing around the corner and me reaching the side of the house.

I saw him reach up and put his hand on the handle of the back door. His fingers were stained with his own blood, but they didn’t tremble. The opening of the door seemed to break a spell and I could move again. I slowly made my way to the steps leading into the kitchen. Danny was standing framed in the doorway, just starting to sniffle. His mother and father were sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes and reading newspapers. I suppose they didn’t look up immediately because it was just one of their children coming through the back door, as probably happened every ten minutes during the holidays.

From where I was standing it was hard to see where the blood was coming from, but I could see it dripping onto the kitchen floor. I was mesmerised by the red fluid that was flowing out from some hole in my best friend. It seemed – or it seems now, the memory of it – like everything was in black and white except for that stream of vivid colour pouring onto the floor. His father glanced up from the paper and seemed to freeze for a moment, as if he too was transfixed by the brilliant red liquid his son was spouting. Then both parents shouted different things and leaped up, grabbing Danny, dabbing carefully at the source of the blood. His father made an effort to gently but hurriedly wipe his face, wrapping him in a rug, bundling him up like he was a toddler. They asked me questions – what happened? how long ago? – but  I couldn’t answer them. I just stood there watching as they carried him out the front door, shouting to me or anybody else that might have been in the house, put him into the car with urgent tenderness and drove away.

I wasn’t sure what to do then. I was standing in front of the two steps that led up to the open back door. They had blood on them. There was blood on the concrete where the wall joins the doorway; that must have been where the impact happened. I didn’t know whether or not I should close the door or leave it open. I was still standing there wondering what to do when Brendan, Danny’s older brother, came into the kitchen to see what all the fuss was about. He looked a little confused at first by the empty room with the open exterior door. Then he saw the blood and then he saw me. I could tell he assumed the two were connected somehow. I must have been the cause of this bloodletting on his kitchen floor. He asked me what had happened, but I still seemed unable to speak, as if Danny’s head injury had affected my power of speech. I remember feeling cold. It must have been getting late in the afternoon.

Brendan stood in the kitchen looking at me, standing out in the passageway. We were separated by his brother’s blood. I wasn’t looking directly at him, but I knew he was looking at me. He wanted details I couldn’t give him because I had been struck dumb. He started to get angry with me because of my silence. I felt the tears coming before they started streaming from my eyes. He was still shouting when I turned and ran away, back the same way I had run in with Danny only a few minutes before, when it was still summer, when there was no blood.

My father’s dirty green Land Rover was parked inside the gate and I had to step onto the lawn to get past it. He didn’t like me or my sister walking on the lawn, but when his big car was in the way, there wasn’t any choice. I hoped he wouldn’t see me, but even if he was watching and getting that brittle look he used to get on his face, it didn’t matter. All I really wanted to do then was get inside to my own room and try to breathe without rasping.

My mother was in the kitchen, sweeping the floor, I think, when I came in the back door. The same sort of back door that Danny had staggered through earlier. I was not dripping blood all over the lino, but I was probably more anxious than Danny had been bleeding in his kitchen. My mother looked up and asked me to mind the pile of dust on the floor – I think it was the pile of dust she mentioned – but I kept walking through the kitchen doorway into the hall. I was at the bottom of the stairs when I vomited.

I don’t know how long I was there for. I never worked it out. I remember my father looking worried as he dragged me by the hand up the stairs to the bathroom, but I didn’t know if he was worried about me or the carpet. I could smell the puke on my face and my clothes. The smell made me dizzy and I thought I might vomit again, but I managed to keep my mouth closed against the wave that pushed up into my throat from my stomach. My arm where he held me got sorer as we crested the top of the stairs and burst into the bathroom.

My father held my head down, in case I spewed anywhere but in the bowl. This made my neck sore, but the vomit didn’t last long. He let me go and I sat on the toilet floor briefly, feeling sore inside and out. I wanted water. My father pulled me over to the sink and threw water on my face. Then he told me to brush my teeth and get out of my clothes. I wanted to tell him that I needed a drink of water, but he was already walking away. I was shaking a little bit, as I started taking off my clothes. And I didn’t know whether I should put the clothes straight into the laundry basket or if they needed to be rinsed first. I didn’t do much rinsing of clothes then. Not like now.

My mother came into the bathroom as I was running water on the pukey clothes. She wasn’t happy. She told me that I shouldn’t be standing in my underpants in the bathroom because I’d get cold. I shouldn’t be rinsing dirty clothes in the bath. She didn’t touch me, though. She took the last stitch of clothes off me and put me in the shower and scrubbed me with an un-soaped facecloth. I didn’t cry, I don’t think. Or if I did, I suppose she didn’t notice because of the shower running.

Her drying was pretty aggressive. She told me my father would talk to me before I went to bed. Then she told me to get into my pyjamas. I wanted to protest that it was too early to go to bed and how come my sister didn’t have to go too, but instead I told her that I didn’t want my father to come and talk to me, I didn’t feel well. She stopped drying me and told me to get into my pyjamas right away.

I was trembling as I put on my pjs. My father would talk to me and my sister – but mostly me – whenever he or my mother decided we needed to be spoken to. I was always jealous of Danny because when his parents said they wanted to talk to him, they actually meant talk. Even if they were cross, it was still better, better than the wordless talking that my father was on his way up the stairs to do with me.

I thought about Danny. I wondered if he was in the hospital or back at home. All that blood, even my parents might be worried. When he was finished with me, my father had that look in his eye, that crestfallen look he always had right after. I suppose now it might have meant he felt guilty or a little bit sorry, but he never said anything. He just walked out of the room slowly without looking back.

I dreamed that Danny was being buried in a little white box. I still had some blood, but all of his had spilled out on the ground, the kitchen floor, the car. While the coffin was being lowered into the hole, the lid opened and inside I didn’t see Danny, I saw my father, all twisted up to fit into such a small space. He had that look on his face. I was smiling.

I woke up and saw my sister asleep in the bed across from me. She was smiling too. We must have both been having the same dream. I walked out into the bathroom. I didn’t need to turn the light on, I knew where my father kept his razor. I tried to climb into the bath to keep the blood off the floor, but my arms hurt. Then I started crying and wishing that I had just stayed in bed. I went down stairs, trying to catch the blood dripping from my arm.

The road was lit by the two streetlights between our house and Danny’s. I walked slowly, probably leaving little drops of blood and tears behind me, until I got to the back door of Danny’s house. It was hard to tell in the dark, but I think his blood had been cleaned up from the steps. I sat down, feeling sorry that I was spilling more blood and wondering what I should do. The door opened and Danny’s father was standing there with a big black bin bag in his hand. He nearly stepped on me.

* * * * *

Niall Ó Sioradáin is from Dublin, Ireland. He has written for the stage, radio and television. In 2011 he was short listed for the Over the Edge New Writer of the Year Award. Recently he was long listed for the Fish Publishing International Short Story Contest and was awarded third place in the Doire Press International Fiction & Poetry Chapbook Competition. This is his first contribution to Snake-Oil Cure.

Pigs, Chickens

This story is part of Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure’s First Ever Short Story Contest.


e were only eighty miles outside of Tulsa, our destination, when my pregnant cousin demanded that we stop at the next restaurant, gas station or rest stop. It was 3:30 and she was hungry, never mind we had just had lunch less than two hours ago. My mother, who was driving this shift, crinkled up her face and looked in the rearview.

“We just had lunch, Marianna.”

“That was like five hours ago,” my cousin whined.

Aunt Lelia leaned forward and joined us staring into the openness of I-40. “Just a quick bite, Charlotte. She’s pregnant.”

As she reclined back into the seat, Aunt Lelia lifted Marianna’s shaggy bangs away from her forehead with her tanned pinky finger.

“Next place we see, okay?”

The words were still hanging in the air when Marianna bolted forward and pointed at a billboard we were fast approaching.

“Look! There’s one! Next exit, Aunt Charlotte,” she yelped.

My mother squinted at the sign. The blue and white paint was chipping and the words were barely readable. I could make out a plump, pink pig dancing around a chicken holding a banjo. Did that say…

“Pick-N-Chickens? Oh, honey I don’t know if that place is going to be open,” my mother said.

Here comes the temper tantrum, I thought. Marianna is one of those clichéd tragedies, a stat you hear about on 20/20, the story entitled “Babies Having Babies.” She’s sixteen and her boyfriend Tommy “got her” pregnant. (I love this saying, ‘got her’ pregnant, like he wiped his cooties on her lunch box or sneezed in her direction). One would think she was carrying the Christ Child in there, and it was only August–we had four more months to go. Whenever she didn’t get her way, she reverted to being three years old. Yep, babies having babies is about right. I’m only a few years behind her and if I had a dime for every time my mother said to me, ‘Don’t you dare end up like Marianna!’ I’d be filthy rich. There’s another one: ‘End up’ pregnant. How can the female race ever get the respect it deserves as long as there’s males around to ‘get us’ pregnant, so we’ll tragically ‘end up’ with a pack of kids we had nothing to do with?

Although I was nowhere near hungry, I decided to nip the tantrum in the bud.

“That looks good. Exit 65,” I said as my mother shot me a glance that could have impressed Medusa. Marianna had already heaved her fat self between the seats in anticipation of a fight but my bud-nipping worked. She kept quiet and eased herself back down into the seat as Aunt Lelia started rummaging through her purse.

“It doesn’t look like the kind of place that takes Visa. I’ve only got…seven dollars and some change. What have you got, Charlotte?”

“Oh I never carry cash, never,” my mother said with robust surety. I fished through her bag and found three twenties in her billfold. I fanned them out in my lap and shot her a sideways glance.

“Shit,” she murmured as she looked down at the money. She reached for her cigarettes which had spilled out onto the floorboard. Exit 65 was now visible and as she steered the caravan onto the ramp, she punched in the cigarette lighter.

“Charlotte, we haven’t been smoking around Marianna,” Aunt Lelia said.

“Well, we’re almost out of the car. Just relax.”

Pick-N-Chickens was not closed and as we turned into the dusty parking lot, Aunt Lelia sat upright and said what we were all thinking.


“What?” Marianna asked.

“Well, unless it’s a glass of boiling water, I don’t know if you want to be eating here–might get tuberculosis or something.”

“Hep C, more likely,” I chimed in.

“Shut up, Ruth,” Marianna said.

“You want me to keep going, hon?” my mother asked as the van slowed and she lit her dangling cigarette.

“No, no! I’m just about to throw up back here and all I need is something on my stomach. Y’all don’t know what it’s like!”

As the van came to a stop, Aunt Lelia opened the sliding door on her side but then slammed it shut when she heard her daughter’s lament.

“Who doesn’t know what what’s like, Marianna Hope McCall?”

Silence. I could tell Marianna was deciding between a temper tantrum or a few crocodile tears. Her breathing was loud and exaggerated. She blinked at all of us, one by one, and settled on the tears. As they welled up and distorted her face, she began twisting a stray curl. Aunt Lelia had seen this act before and although she stood up for Marianna about ninety-five percent of the time, that five percent when she didn’t was brutal.

“Because there’s two women in this here car who’s been pregnant–more than once, and given birth, more than once. And we’re still standing! The world didn’t come to end ‘cause we got pregnant. Now, if you’re saying ‘we don’t know what it’s like’ because we weren’t stupid enough to get ourselves pregnant at sixteen years old, well yes, you’re right sugar, we don’t know what that’s like. Why don’t you tell us all about it? Tell us how you worked in getting laid between going to the mall, downloading music to your i-pod, and playing beer pong with your friends? Because Aunt Charlotte, Ruth and I have no idea how hard that must have been!”

I looked over at my mother smoking her cigarette. She took a deep, slow draw and shot out a plume of smoke like a jazz musician. Was she grinning? You could hear a fly fart, and I wanted to say something to break the silence. Marianna finally asked for a tissue. I scrambled through the glove box and pulled out two or three, stretching my arm back to her.

“Let’s just go in. I’ll get a cup of soup or something and it’ll be real quick. Thanks Ruth,” she said as she took the tissues and blew her nose.

My mother threw her half-smoked cigarette out the slit in the window and my aunt jerked the sliding door open again. I took a deep breath and apparently let out an audible sigh because my mother turned to me and patted my knee.

“It’s alright. Tiger’s still in the cage. Did you take your vitamin C this morning?” she asked.

“I took the whole alphabet, thanks for asking,” I said to the cadence of all four doors slamming shut.


ords cannot do justice
to the roadside attraction of the Pick-N-Chickens. In fact, justice may have left this stretch of I-40 and Oklahoma to its own devices long ago. The eight Harley Davidsons were all parked at forty-five degree angles to one another, the scorching sun shining down upon them, their chrome blinding. Galileo himself could not have made a straighter line.

We strode single-file into the building, my mother leading the pack. From the side, I’d like to say we looked that one Beatles album, all long-legged strides crossing a street, the happy sun on our shoulders, but think of the opposite of that image and that’s more like it.

As we got closer, I felt my stomach dance a bit, in a reaction similar to that of a rabbit who’s just seen a wolf cross into her terrain—a frozen worry. I peered in as the door opened and a blast of country music smacked the air around us. Since it was August, none of us had a whole lot of clothes on. I am a full-fledged tomboy anyway and never cared much what I looked like but felt the need as we stepped into the Pick-N-Chickens to run back to the car and grab my Clemson sweatshirt–a wearable foxhole. My mother rolled in to this den of grease with her own defense: 5’11” and willow-like, she bunched her blonde hair up in a scrunchie on the top of her head, making a hair fountain and poof! Her 5’11” frame transformed into 6’2″. Aunt Lelia brought up the rear and was probably timing how long we should stay. Three and a half minutes if we could get something to go, ten at the very most if we had to sit. She exaggerated her yell to my mother as soon as we were all inside, no doubt to announce that is was her opinion that their jukebox was too damn loud.


I snickered, then turned to Marianna, whose regret at not holding out for a Hardee’s or rest stop vending machine was clearly evident. She glared back at me and let out one of her pregnant sighs, which was always accompanied by her left hand falling to her belly.

“Y’all can wait in the car, I’ll just get something to go, alright? Jesus!”

“Oh, no, shug. We ain’t leaving you in here by yourself,” Aunt Lelia said as she moved further into the seating area.

From the outside, the Pick-N-Chickens looked much bigger than the diner we were standing in: a modest counter with five or six stools reminiscent of an ice cream parlor, six or seven shoddy tables with menus stuck next to the paper napkin dispensers, and a tray of hot sauces—a sign you were still in the South. The smell of fried food was only slightly more pungent than the smell of cigarette smoke, and the mix of both only slightly less nauseating than the stench of a mop pail hiding some place out of sight.

The entire room of customers–three leather-clad bikers, an elderly farmer and his wife, and a single man at the counter wearing way too many layers of clothes for summer–looked up as our entourage fumbled in. A cook wearing a waitress uniform stood over a grill where two hamburger patties sizzled in harmony. She motioned with her spatula toward the tables, instructing us to sit anywhere and as she did the grease from her spatula dribbled a semi-circle around her.

Aunt Lelia moved closer to the register and scanned the room for any other employees.

“Excuse me, but we’d just like to get something to go?”

The waitress-cook had turned her back to us and was smacking the burgers. She began chopping some onions that were on the grill with the side of her versatile spatula. As Mariana shifted from foot to foot, I noticed my mother had attracted the attention of one of the bikers.

Aunt Lelia’s question got as far as her throat, as the waitress-cook ignored us. We gagged in the air and the heat of the place, and watched the biker walk toward us. It was as if he forged a telepathic contract with my mother, not taking his eyes off of her. I guessed it said, ‘I would throw you on the back of my motorcycle right now if you didn’t have those trolls with you.’

As he brushed past us he said, “Scuse me, m’am,” to which my mother sassed out, “No problem, sir.” At that point the waitress-cook whipped around, clutching the ever-handy spatula.

“Y’all gonna sit down or whistle Dixie out yer pie holes? ‘Cause we ain’t seen that one in a while. Don’t make no difference to me, hmnf, Eddie?” she winked at the single man sitting at the counter.

Aunt Lelia turned back to us and shoved a menu into Marianna’s hand.

“I guess we’re sitting, unless of course, you’re in the mood for whistling out your pie hole. Make it quick. I’ll be right back.”

She went in the same direction the big biker had gone, and my mother steered us over to the counter, where Eddie—as the waitress-cook had called him—was bobbing up and down. A half-drunk strawberry milkshake with two straws poking out of it and a huge plate of Tater Tots sat in front of him–not home fries, not french fries, Tater Tots.

I surveyed the seating. There were only three stools beyond Eddie, then the wall. There was a single stool on the other side of Eddie however the stools were stationary. Unless my mother planned on one of us standing, somebody was going to have to ask Eddie to move down one, and then sit next to him. I figured that somebody would probably be me so before my mother could say, ‘Do me a favor, Ruthie,’ I tapped Eddie on the shoulder.

“Sir? Would it be too much trouble to ask you to move down one? There’s four of us.”

Eddie gave me the once-over, sucked his teeth then turned back to his milkshake. He stared straight ahead, as if waiting for some guidance from the waitress-cook. Then I’ll be damned if she didn’t look over her shoulder, sling that spatula in the direction of the vacant seat beside him and say, ‘Go on, it’s okay’ to which Eddie moved his bottom and his plate of Tater Tots all in one fell swoop. He faked-smiled at me as I slid him his milkshake. Marianna was next while my mother took the safety seat next to the wall leaving the remaining stool for Aunt Lelia, who was returning from wherever she went.

“Why aren’t you eating yet?” she barked at Marianna.

“Mama, we just sat down. I need to go to the bathroom first anyway. Where is it?”

“You’re gonna have to wait, sweet pea.”

“What for? Is there a line?”

“No, just wait, Marianna Hope. I thought you were hungry!”

“Jesus Christ I never seen such fussing! Come on, I’ll go with her,” my mother said as she bounced off of her stool and grabbed Marianna’s arm.

“Charlotte, wait! I wouldn’t do that,” Aunt Lelia said. Then, to me, “Do not use the bathroom here, Ruth. Do you hear me?”

I nodded yes while picking up the vibe of Eddie’s bobbing which had started up again as my mother and Marianna marched past him. The waitress-cook turned to face us, welding her ever-loving spatula and fishing deep into her apron pocket. Kool 100’s. Of course. She lit one and leaned against the grill.

“What’s it going to be, ladies?”

Neither Aunt Lelia nor myself were looking at menus; I figured I should get something just to give this woman something to do. Aunt Lelia was not so generous, and squinted at the waitress-cook as if she had just witnessed her pick her ass.

“We’re not eating. My daughter’s the one who wanted to stop here. She’ll be right out.”

“I’ll have a milkshake,” I blurted out as I gazed over at Eddie’s. “Do you have chocolate?”

Aunt Lelia’s jaw dropped as she turned to me, followed by the same expression she had used on the waitress-cook.

“Hep C, Ruth, Hep C…” she sang.

I rolled my eyes at her, pretending to forget it was my idea originally.

“Eddie, make this little ginger a chocolate milkshake, will ya?” the waitress-cook said as she stacked the burgers onto their toasty buns, ashed her cigarette into her apron pocket with a jerk of her head, and finally lined the plates up her left arm, leaving her right hand free to grab the bottles of ketchup and mustard. Off she went to the farmer and his wife.

Bobbing Eddie slunk off behind the other side of the counter. He spun a shiny, silver cup on his elbow then planted it down in front of me. It tinged and I could hear my Aunt Lelia say, “Oh, lord” over my right shoulder. He bent down behind the counter then popped up again, plopping several scoops of vanilla ice cream into the silver cup. He pulled a vat of chocolate sauce up from below the counter.

“You like it real chocolatey, or just average?” he asked.

His voice didn’t sound as hill-billyish as I’d imagined, and now that I was his audience of one, he looked kind of cute, despite the Oklahoma clothing emergency. His tanned, veiny hands held the ice cream scooper and the silver cup, giving off some sort of milkshake confidence, like he was a master. The Master of Milkshakes.

“Um, pretty chocolatey, but not overboard,” I suggested.

“Um hmm. Almost deluxe chocolatey but pull back a little bit, right?”

“Yes! That sounds good.”

My mother and Marianna returned from the bathroom as Eddie started his creation. Marianna’s wicked laugh was interrupted by her number one mantra, ‘Oh my God/Oh my God,’ and my mother’s face was beet-red as she kept telling Marianna to hush. They sat down, my mother as if she had ants in her pants, Marianna in her slow, pregnant descent.

I looked at her with keen curiosity. I hadn’t seen Marianna laugh in a very long time. Cry, yes. Whine, yes. Bitch, yes. But laugh?

“What is so funny?”

“Marianna, shut up. Ruth, don’t worry about it,” my mother said. Aunt Lelia was smiling her big pie face at my mother while Marianna continued her ‘Oh my God’ line ad infinitum.

“Is it really gross or something?” I asked, still enraptured by Eddie’s handiwork with what I knew was going to be the best milkshake I’d ever had.

The waitress-cook returned to her post in front of the grill not saying a word but awaiting Marianna’s order. She seemed a bit aggravated since Aunt Lelia had mentioned hepatitis. Eddie had gone around the corner with the silver cup, and as I craned my neck, I saw the makings of my milkshake starting to spin on the milkshake caddy. The noise of the machine forced the waitress-cook to yell at Marianna.

“What’s it gonna be, barefoot?”

Marianna settled down and blinked at the menu.

“Let’s see. Well, what’s the doctor order?” Marianna asked.

My mother, Aunt Lelia and Marianna howled once more, my mother slapping her hand on the Formica like she was in a jug-band. My aunt stammered, “Stop! I’m gonna pee my pants!”

Eddie returned with the silver cup. He pulled a fancy soda-fountain type glass from below the counter and set it in front of me. He carefully poured the chocolatey-deluxe-but-pulled- back-a-little milkshake into it.

“Whipped cream?” His eyebrows shot up quizzically as he took in my family.

“Yes, please. And excuse the laughing hyenas,” I said.

The waitress-cook who was nodding her head, lit another cigarette and rested her gray eyes on Marianna.

“I know what you need,” she said with a thin smile.

Eddie, considerate thing that he was, tore off all but the tip of the paper on a straw and stuck it in the center of my creation.

“Enjoy,” he said then returned to his seat beside me.

I took a healthy slurp and mixed the whipped cream a bit with the straw. I was right: that was the best goddamn milkshake I had ever had.

“So, where y’all headed?” Eddie asked.

“Tulsa. To see my sister. This is really delicious, thank you.”

“Your sister? She ain’t your sister?” He twirled his almost-gone milkshake in Marianna’s direction.

“No. She’s my cousin. But she’s really good friends with my sister Angie, on top of being her cousin too. That’s why she’s got to come with us–they’re real close,” I said.

“Off to Tulsa, huh?” Eddie grunted.

“We’re having an intervention. My sister’s in a bad situation,” I said, as if I knew how interventions worked. I looked up to see the waitress-cook shaking out a mess of fried circles into a paper bag. She shook it gently, threw in some salt, poured them out on a plate, then placed it in front of Marianna.

“Thousand Islands, Ranch or both?”

“Are these fried pickles?” Marianna squealed.

“Just what the doctor ordered, darlin,’” the waitress-cook said as she turned back to the cooler and brought out the two containers of Thousand Island and Ranch. Marianna asked if she could please have a decaffeinated soda.

As Aunt Lelia and my mother adjusted the time frame of arriving in Tulsa and Marianna scarfed down her pickles, I contented myself with my milkshake and Eddie’s company.

“Do you work here?” I asked, knowing he must.


“Is there something funny about your bathrooms?”

“No. Not that I can think of,” he said.

“‘Cause for some reason, my mother and my aunt do not want me to use them.”

Eddie sniffed, sucked up the rest of his milkshake and wiped his mouth on his sleeve.

“Makes you want to go to the bathroom, don’t it?” he asked, not a tinge of malice or smart aleck in his voice. He was right.

“Yeah, I kind of do, even though you know, I don’t have to go,” I confessed.

“Well, this here’s a small operation. And the bathrooms are shared by the bar. This is a roadhouse, did you know that? We get all kinds of good bands in here Friday and Saturday nights. I mean, this? This is just to keep the drunks a skosh soberer by feeding ‘em.”

I looked around. That’s why it looked so big from the outside, because it was–it was a Road House. With some vast dance floor somewhere, probably a riding bull too. And pigs and chickens playing banjos and God knows what else. I looked over at Marianna in her pickle heaven and then to my mother and Aunt Lelia. They had invited the waitress-cook into their calculations, all three with consternated looks on their faces. My mother was smoking one of the waitress-cook’s Kool 100’s.

“I’ll be right back,” I whispered to Eddie, leaving my state champion of a milkshake on the counter.

I ran through the tight maze of tables and down a darkened hallway. There were two doors. On one door, there were three cartoon cats: a gray one, a pink one, and an orange one. They were fluffy and curvaceous with eyes at half-mast. A cartoon bubble hung over the mouth of the orange cat and painted inside was the word, ‘purrrr.’ On this door read the word ‘Pussys.’ On the other door, there was a black cat equally frisky-looking sitting on her haunches. Standing above her was a cartoon boy-cat wearing a white lab coat and glasses. A stethoscope ran from his rascally ears down to the black cat’s chest, his cat lips pursed in a whistle.

On this door read the words, ‘Pussy Doctors.’

“What the?”

This was what was so funny? Bizarre, yes. A bit disgusting. But they made out like it was the funniest thing they had ever seen, something that might make Aunt Lelia pee her pants. As my hand touched the door to push it open, a figure appeared at the opposite end of the hallway. I tried to make out who it was but before my eyes could fully adjust, Eddie was standing right in front of me.

“Hey. I see you found the bathroom alright,” he blurted out and with one hasty push of his arms, he and I were stumbling through the ‘Pussys’ door.

“So what do you think of the bathroom, Ruth?” Eddie’s strawberry breath was hot in my face. I blinked at him, my palms starting their ancient flight-or-fight sweat. He was close enough to count freckles and then, out of my peripheral vision, I noticed the walls of the bathroom. They were plastered floor to ceiling with pictures of naked women and men doing all kinds of stuff. And not drawings or paintings but magazine pages.

I looked back into Eddie’s face, knowing that in a matter of minutes, seconds perhaps, my mother would be storming through the door.

“How’d you know my name?”

“I heard the laughing hyenas talking about you.” Eddie’s face inched ever closer but his hands hung safely by his side.

“Did you like the milkshake?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said, my voice cracking.

“What other kinds of things do you like, Ruth?”

I laughed nervously and stepped back into the wall, a photo of a purple-veined penis inches from my nose.

“You’re not gonna want to be in here when my mama comes in,” I said, finding it hard not to smile. Eddie pushed himself against me. Was it all those clothes? Or did I feel something sprouting in Eddie’s pants?

“How old are you?” he asked without making it a serious question.

“Any minute now. I mean, she’s skinny as a twig but she’s mighty. She’ll kick your ass, man.”

“Is that right.” Eddie pinned me against the porn wallpaper. His strawberry tongue shot into my mouth, almost touched my tonsils. My lips stung a little from the force. Our eyeballs locked when we heard my mother’s voice.

“Ruth? Are you down here?”

“Shit. I told you! Quick, get in one of the stalls,” I said pushing him off of me with a power that surprised us both. He closed the stall door with a snap and I heard him trying to latch it.

“Get up on the toilet seat! Haven’t you ever hid before?” I gasped. The commotion of my mother’s fury masked the sound of Eddie’s bumbling onto the toilet seat.

“Ruth! There you are. I thought we told you not to go to these nasty-ass bathrooms?”

“This? Nothing I ain’t never seen before. The cats on the door are a little weird,” I huffed, crossing my arms over my chest to keep her from seeing my shaking hands.

“There’s PG-13 ha-ha funny,” my mother said, “and there’s R-rated tasteless funny and these here bathrooms–well, they’re in the latter category. Not really appropriate for my fourteen- year-old daughter. Now come on. We’ll never get there in time if we want to catch Angie before her shift.”

“Well, I really do have to pee,” I said.

“You ain’t peed yet? Well go on. Marianna and Lelia are already in the car,” she said, not moving.

I stood there, staring down at my sneakers. Eddie was as quiet as a dead dog.

“Are you going to watch me?” I asked.


“I don’t need a babysitter.”


“Well, I’m watched like a hawk twenty-four hours a day! You’re so scared I’m going to end up like Angie or Marianna, you can’t let me be me—even a good me or a so-so me. You won’t let me just be me!”

“Ruth, I declare! What in the world!”

“And you know what? I think you might be scared I’m going to end up like you. No, you weren’t sixteen like Marianna but you weren’t far off.”

For that, I should have gotten my mouth slapped but she just stood there, her skinny chest heaving up and down.

“Mama, please. Go on out to the car and let me take a piss in private. I promise you I will not be corrupted between here and there.”

She turned the spigot on full blast, and splashed some water on her face. She stared at herself in the mirror a full minute as I watched the errant spray of water wet the floor. She left the water running and turned to face me.

“Nothing you ain’t seen before, huh?”

I shrugged my shoulders, listening for Eddie.

“That supposed to make me feel better?” she asked, glancing around at the four walls. I walked towards her and hugged her around the middle, pressing my ear against her chest.

“I know I’m your winning ticket, your sure thing,” I said, listening to the wild thump of her heart. “But I am fourteen. I still might be a tomboy but I’m not a baby tomboy.”

My mother started to laugh, then tousled my hair and said, “If you aren’t in that caravan in five minutes…”

“Yeah, okay. Can I have a little privacy?”

“You’ll always be my baby, Ruth,” she said and walked out.

I stood there, trying to figure out how I wanted to spend the next five minutes, since

I knew my mother would be back as sure as my name is Ruth Anne Lancaster. Eddie opened the stall door, walked to the sink and rinsed his mouth out, sticking his whole head in the stream of water. He turned it off, then looked at me in the mirror, as if he knew me but forgot my name, like he was trying to place me. He walked over to me and cradled my neck in his big hands.

“Too bad you’re just passing through.”

“Yeah. We’ve got to, you know, go see my sister,” I said, thinking that must have taken at least two of the minutes.

“Well, maybe y’all will stop in on the way back. If it’s a Saturday night, you can even see my band.”

“Band? What instrument do you play?”


Three minutes. I looked at the door behind him. I wished he would kiss me again, before I got summoned to the caravan. Eddie must have read my mind, because he did kiss me again, but this time he was careful, like he was trying to pour sand through the eye of a needle. His strawberry tongue, now watered down, moved slowly around the inside of my mouth. Before I could say ‘I gotta go,’ Eddie offered to walk me out to the parking lot.

“Better not,” I said.

“How about to the end of the hall?”

“Um, okay.”

As he opened the door for me, a swoosh of cool air swirled into the bathroom. He grabbed my hand, and we walked down the hallway in silence to the door which led out to the parking lot and the brilliant, hot sun.

* * * * *

M.K. SPAIN is a writer living in South Portland, Maine. Cures for tedium include writing, acting, sword-fighting and spontaneous singing (which, by the way, cures more than tedium). She has a degree in Creative Writing from Colorado State University, and will have a play produced in this year’s Maine Playwrights Festival in Portland. This is her first contribution to Snake-Oil Cure.

Two Weeks in Spain

This story was originally published on July 16, 2011. The author nominated it for Snake-Oil Cure’s First Short Story Contest.


erence, what’s on your mind? You seem a little preoccupied.”

“Nothing.” Everything. Your mother! “I was just running through everything in my head, making sure we’d left nothing behind or forgotten to do anything. Don’t want any upsets for our fortnight away.”

Terence hoped the reassuring smile he offered Jenette was both reassuring and a smile. He glanced at the time.

Another hour and a half.

The motorway. At least in name. The long series of roadworks strung together with brief stretches of road served a slow route to the airport. Terence had, of course, accounted for the extra time it would take. But he found little comfort in his planning. The contingency gave him longer to mull and stew.

He did not consider himself awkward or shy, just particular. Particular about social situations and particularly about physical contact. Intimacy wasn’t public and it didn’t come in degrees.

They crawled past traffic cones and through contraflows. Jenette leafed through a holiday guide. Janie slept in the back in her car seat. Scenarios and evasive manoeuvres raced through Terence’s mind. Roadworks only gave him more time at the wheel to contemplate the possibility of having to hug — and perhaps kiss — his mother-in-law goodbye at the airport.

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Confession and Sacrifice

This story was originally published on December 21, 2011. The author nominated it for Snake-Oil Cure’s First Short Story Contest.


here was a day I opened my eyes and found the sheer fog usually blocking me from the world had faded. Even knowing this meant I would again be called upon to use my gift was not enough to obscure the satisfaction I felt as the trembling in my fingers turning to tendrils of sensation traveling up my arms. I pulled in a tentative breath, inhaling the too strong perfume and a whiff of smoky aftershave, sensing I knew why tonight I was finally able to see and hear the world of the auction house when so many other nights had come and gone without notice. I tried to concentrate on remaining motionless as person after person walked past my painting.

“Confession and Sacrifice? Seriously, Geoffrey, who names these things? All I see is a little girl in a carriage with a horse.”

Geoffrey gave my painting a ghost of a smile before turning to the woman standing next to him.

“This piece was finished in 1914 but was named by the original owner. There’s been a lot of speculation over the years about the identity of the girl in the painting. The artist would never reveal details, though a reporter once coaxed out of the artist’s nephew that the little girl named the painting herself.” He winked and continued. “You know, Lily, about a week after he gave the painting to his nephew the artist died quite unexpectedly under questionable circumstances.” Geoffrey paused for a moment before continuing, voice sounding almost wistful, “I met the nephew once, many years ago. In his words, the girl in the painting absorbs secrets and channels their power. He also told me that she saved his life, but I don’t know about that one.”

I watched him carefully, thinking that the twinkle in his eye meant he actually did know quite a lot about me but he just wasn’t telling. I felt my fingers tingle with an unfamiliar excitement, wondering how much more this old man knew as I felt a buzz continue to travel over my skin.

“Well, I think it’s creepy to use the words confession and sacrifice together in a title to describe that little angel in the painting.” She gave my painting one last inquisitive look before walking over to examine some of the other auction items on display.

A woman wearing a whole company of foxes leaned close to me and said in a booze- soaked whisper, “my husband doesn’t know that I’m in love with the gardener.” She blinked several times and stood straighter, looking around her as if to ensure she was still alone, before giving me a quizzical glance and walking away.

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Miss Cora’s Strangest Night

This story was originally published on November 4, 2011. The author nominated it for Snake-Oil Cure’s First Short Story Contest.

ne day Miss Cora came home
to find everyone else had gone. At first she thought it was just her fiance. She knew he wasn’t there as soon as she opened the door. Not because of the stuff (a shirt, a half-eaten bag of chips) lying around – though this would prove to be additional evidence. No, Miss Cora had a most particular sense of smell and she immediately noticed the absence of Frank’s typical blend of aftershave, tobacco, detergent and a hard day’s sweat.

She wasn’t surprised. They had been engaged for over two years and in no hurry to move on. While postponing the not-so-inevitable, their relationship deteriorated to the kind of daily trouble you don’t bother with much. Being of a practical and serene nature, Miss Cora appreciated Frank had done them both a favor by leaving. What did put her off though was the mess. Ever since moving in with her, Frank had been awfully neat. They had agreed that in her house, her rules applied and he abided by them. Until now. The dishes were still on the counter. The bin with dirty clothes had been emptied out on the bathroom floor, as if he needed to find that special shirt, and quick.

Miss Cora decided to walk over to her neighbor, Mrs. Gideon. Officially to see if Frank had left a forwarding address, but mostly to avoid the bouts of self-pity she often endured when a relationship ended, no matter how much relief she felt at the man in question having disappeared from her life.

Apart from Oddball, Mrs. Gideon’s goofy dog, she found the porch empty. Luckily, they had exchanged keys, just in case, so she let herself in through the kitchen door. From the looks of it, Mrs. Gideon had been preparing for a barbeque. The kitchen was filled with every imaginable meat (steaks, sausages, hamburgers, chicken legs soaked in a garlicky marinade). But from Mrs. Gideon, neither sight nor sound.

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Asymptotes: A Love Story

This story was originally published on June 2, 2011. The author nominated it for Snake-Oil Cure’s First Short Story Contest.

hen Mark and Julie’s wedding
rolled around, no one could remember how long they had been unhappy. While the blissful couple was being toasted and cheered, guests at the front tables whispered about the minefield between the grimacing groomsman and bored bridesmaid across the dining room.

The wedding was only the most recent in a string of disasters. That night, Sally slept on the loveseat in an elaborate origami of limbs and throw pillows, the emerald bridesmaid’s dress in a satiny pool underneath the cat. Tim rubbed his face and shuffled into the bedroom. He stubbed his toe on a box of shoes blocking the path to his side of the room. For a woman who was constantly on the verge of moving out, Sally occupied an absurd amount of space.

Tim sighed and sagged into bed. He kicked his shoes off against the closet door, leaving a black scuffmark on the white paint. His pants and shirt were tossed over the side of the bed; Sally had been wearing his jacket on the drive home; the cat was merrily rolling around the crumpled sleeves, leaving behind a trail of tabby fluff in his wake. The dry cleaners could revive the tuxedo in the morning. Tim studied the framed photos on the nightstand – the trip to Greece when Sally hid behind her favorite Hollywood-sized sunglasses; the New Year’s Eve party when she could taste the resentment in his midnight kiss. His favorite was the one he taped to the underside of his alarm clock. Sally’s 21st birthday dinner, her face lit up by a flock of candles; he swore that if he looked at the photo long enough, he could figure out what she wished for that year. In the decade since that photo was taken, he blew out his own candles wishing for a time machine to go back and make it all right.

The boxes still occupied the bedroom when Tim woke up the next morning. He had heard Sally fishing around for an outfit and squeezed his pillow around his head to block the noise. Vanilla steam seeped around the edges of the bathroom door. Sally emerged from her sugary shower and pounced on the bed, her hair dripping onto Tim’s bare shoulder. He could still catch the faintest boozy vapors in the cloud of perfume. She planted a row of tiny toothpaste kisses up his neck and along his jaw until she reached his lips, where she nibbled gently.

“Baby, wake up.” She cringed at the whiny intonation; it had sounded sexier, coyer, in her head.

Tim rolled over to face her but kept his eyes closed.

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