Seeing Rain

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y father taught me
to see the rain when I was still small enough to sit on his shoulders.  Look, he’d say, look past those puffy white clouds.  No, past that peak.  Focus between the mountains, right where the clouds stretch themselves into a haze that spreads over the whole sky.  Look closer.  Right there, between the peaks of the mountains, where the darkness is.  Watch it until it glows.

By the time I was ten years old, I could smell it, too.  On the way home from school one April I caught a whiff of air that was burning, like a barbecue left to burn too long.  I tasted the crispy lightning as my steps quickened.  By the time the drops began, I was settled on the living room floor, my hands warmed by the cayenne-spiked hot chocolate (one marshmallow) as the moisture slapped the window.  I watched the puddles collect on the patio, no longer the pristine tears from heaven.  Just the muddy accumulation of life.

It wasn’t much of a party trick.  After all, even the local news could tell you when the rain was coming.  Such a skill may have been handy in the caveman days, but for me it was merely a convenience.  By the time I was twenty, I had no need of it.  I moved to Seattle, where the raindrops never stopped.

The water was different here.  It was omnipresent, from the sky to the sound.  There was no escape, no point in guessing or waiting.  My gift was useless, and I watched it flee from me.  Every month brought the same tedium.  After a year I put aside the hot chocolate, and turned to hot toddies to drown my afternoons, which blended into evenings, which blended into mornings.  I worked from home to avoid having the rain seep into my skin during the short walk downtown.  I ordered Chinese food and pizza for one, and watched Masterpiece theater.  By the time I was twenty five, I had read every book on my Amazon wish list, memorized the full Beatles canon, and perfected my Mandarin pronunciation of the full takeout menu.  My parents ordered a shrink to visit, a friend of my meddlesome aunt.  He prescribed a vacation.  And sunshine.

*

New Mexico was so bright that it took my eyes a full day to adjust to the painful white expanse.  It had been years since I had owned sunglasses, and it simply hadn’t occurred to me that people still wore such things.  My plan of staying comfortably in my room at the resort was shattered by the first, second, and third phone call from my mother.  The ringing finally drove me out.  The concierge recommended a walk through the local galleries, who put on some sort of open house for the tourists.  I steeled myself against the arid atmosphere beyond my air conditioned haven and departed, hoping to find my mother a truly ugly painting.

Up and down I marched, weaving though the crowded street and trying to preserve my poor posture.  Crowds were one of my oldest peeves.  They were loud and boisterous, as though they shared in some joke no one had ever bothered to tell me.  I shuffled through their clammy bodies while thoroughly working red dirt into my sandals.  Embarrassment forbade me to shake them out.  I felt the sweat turn the dust into mud and then dry it out in some sort of desert life cycle.  The ever changing texture distracted me from the overpriced renderings of red rocks and tumbleweeds.

The final gallery of the block was different, dark and tiny, wedged in at the end of the street before the quality of houses took a fast turn toward decay.  Just inside the doorway I halted, wallowing in the comfort of the shadows and willing myself to begin the long trudge back to the hotel.  But I never made it.  He blocked my path.

His name was…how funny.  The name won’t come.  It didn’t matter then, and it doesn’t now.  There were more important features.  They still hold me when I close my eyes.  I feel his skin, copper toned and so hot that it burnt my hand in his.  His eyes watched me, gleaming yellow even in the dim light of his shop.  He spoke to me in colors.  The quiet whisper of his words rolled over me as he gave the smooth opening speech, drew me further into the dark room towards the square canvases on the wall.  My senses clear as I reach a painting, his work, the ochre butte taking on a mesmerizing quality in the confined space.  I paid him for it, asked him to wrap it and send it to the resort.  He teased me, a first time tourist, one so clearly out of her element.  I found I didn’t mind.  Flirtation came easily, despite my lack of practice.  I felt at ease.  He hung a “closed” sign on the gallery door as we left.

He led me to the other side of town, straight into a bar that my instincts failed to properly identify despite an aura of stale tobacco and rust.  I was otherwise engaged.  With him by my side I was confident, curious, amazed.  I hovered on the brink of sex appeal.  He taught me how to sip tequila, how to throw darts without impaling a barmaid.  We drank glass after glass as the windows outside showed orange light that was suddenly extinguished by blackness.  The fried hamburgers reflected of the exoticism of a dive bar – delicious.  We drank more tequila, a few beers, we sang country songs and corridos.  I don’t know how many I had.  It wouldn’t have taken much.  When we tripped out of the bar I could see the pristine luminarias on the gallery walk spluttering into slumber.  All of the good tourists had returned to their plush hotel rooms, and we were alone in the streets.

From the front seat of his ’85 convertible the wind howled less than I expected it to.  Perhaps my hearing had been dampened by the liquor, or the jukebox.  My hair escaped the tight braid that suddenly seemed confining instead of practical.  The picture in my head showed a 1960s starlet with James Dean in the driver’s seat.  Sleepily, I held my arms above my head and giggled as he sped the car to higher speeds.  The sky opened to me.  The roaring air cooled my warm chest.  Time passed in a vague circle as we careened further into the desert.  Minutes, hours, or days later he parked us beneath the massive body of stars, moving me deftly to the backseat as he enumerated the constellations.  Ladles scooping bears next to scorpions.  They were wrong, but I did not correct him.  Perversely, desert was cold, and I observed my own body from above as I clung to his searing skin.   He lazily spun me folk tales of geckos and coyotes, and the time he did acid in high school.  Nuzzling into his neck, I let the words overflow my body and lead me into warm softness.

When I awoke, I could not move.  It took several minutes for me to lift my head, and the agony was nearly unbearable.  I surveyed my body, which had evolved a shiny maroon skin than stretched hard like an exoskeleton.  The sting heightened with even the slightest motion.  I felt the sunburn working its way further into my muscles, slowly destroying the tissue.  My head was weaving behind my eyes, and I barely had the foresight to throw my weight sideways before the vomit erupted.  As I heaved, I noticed a grimy handprint on my right breast, as though someone had tried to clean the desert off of their hands and cop a feel simultaneously.

How long I lay there I will never know.  I drifted in and out of consciousness, noticing something new whenever I could bring myself to open my eyes.  The white disc blazing overhead.  The expanse of scrub and dirt, unbroken by any sign of life or civilization.  My purse missing, along with one muddy sandal.  A boulder, which took me an hour to crawl to, my sundress slowly pulled over my head for protection.

Finally, the sky darkened.  I imagined the cool of the nightfall, and the necessity of walking while it lasted.  To my left lay a trail of heavy footprints.  The makeshift path was my only hope of making it back to the road, where I could lay still on the concrete until someone found me.  The gray light was to be my savior.

With my back against the boulder, I managed to open my puffy eyes for a moment.  I looked out past the unhinged horizon to the clouds.  Not puffy, or white.  Spread out like an evil layer of frosting across the sky.  The darkness engulfed the entirety of the desert, so black I almost missed the glimmer.  And then I saw the whole sky begin to glow.  The grin on my face was painful, but I couldn’t help myself.  Once more, I could see the rain.

* * * * *

Emily Markussen Sorsher occupies space beneath a palm tree in Southern California.  She writes grants, lesson plans, and young adult fiction, and has a bad habit of collecting the written word.  She has lots of degrees that she doesn’t use.  Emily likes her chocolate dark, her drinks strong, and her life just dramatic enough to be interesting. Her other contributions to Snake-Oil Cure, including her guest-edited stint, can be found here.

Growing

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eedlings are pathetically weak.  They lack the experience to stand up for themselves in this harsh world that does not spare the young.  Whichever beast pulls at them, whatever rain beats them down, theyacquiesce.  A silent surrender, just a quick puff of wind as they go down.  They’re easy.  So easy you can buy them in four packs or tiny balls wrapped in purple tissue paper.  It makes it easier to place them exactly where you want them.

Not like me.  I grew wild.  It made me hearty, forced me to be strong.  By the time I was ten I could endure the blizzards without feeling them.  Sure, I still had a little give.  Who doesn’t, in those adolescent years?  I’ll admit I bent a few times.  Mostly out of fear.  If the mountain lion walks by and you catch his eye, better to bend than to be snapped out of the ground.  I had a cousin who got snapped up.  Roots and all.  The worst part is that she made it…grew sideways from that point on.  The crook is still there, at the base of her trunk.  She’s good about it, I mean she’s just happy to be here, but you’d hate to carry that deformity forever, right?

I made it through okay.  My leaves came in a little late, but I was on the edge of the grove, anyway.  No one noticed me, and I didn’t notice them.  I was tall, so at least while they ignored me I had the ability to search over their heads, look down the hill at those sad little stiffs in the square gardens.  All lined up against the back fence, with their leaves cut off every so often, bearing their fruit far too young.  That’s what happens to the weak.  If you expect them to misbehave, well, you get what you ask for.  I can smell the citrus rotting from up here.  I always told myself that wouldn’t happen to me.

And it didn’t.  I became stronger over the next few years.  Some of the trees were still slim and green, but not me.  I got my bark and I held onto it, put all my effort into making sure it was thick and heavy.  I didn’t mind waiting on acorns, or having a little less foliage.  You have to have a solid foundation.  My mom told me, before she threw me out, to make sure I could take care of myself before I took on the burden of seedlings.  I never forgot it.  I watched friend after friend go down that path.  Some were ready, some weren’t.  I knew which side I wanted to be on.

So I waited until I was taller and thicker than any of my neighbors.  I’ll admit it, it was sort of a source of pride.  When they needed someone to shelter the new birds’ nest, or a crevice for squirrels to stash their hoard, or extend some new branches to shade some new sprouts, it was always me.  I was the go to tree.  Everyone talked about what a great parent I’d be…until they started talking about how weird it was that I wasn’t already.

I maintain that it wasn’t my fault.  I did all the right things.  I put my time and energy into strength.  It was supposed to be the right move.  It was supposed to be what everyone wanted.  But when I got there…well, it wasn’t.  Or maybe it was, but those trees with the heavy leaves and light branches got there first.  What was left to have wasn’t worth having.  Guess Mom got it wrong.

After a few decades it stung a little less.  I got to watch my friends’ seedlings grow up.  I taught them how to push their cells into their bark, how to stand strong against the wind that blew hard every spring and every fall.  Once, when a little sprout looked like she wouldn’t make it, I brought up my roots to shelter her through the tough winter.  I was so proud on the day that she began to put on bark, and I watched her soft green leaves breathe softly in the sun.  She was almost mine.

Almost.

Sometimes I still looked at the squatty fruit trees down the hill.  I still thought about the freedom they were deprived of, the sad lives they led without the ability to see beyond their backyard.  I still thought they were frail.  But a part of me envies them now.  They brought forth new life, over and over again.  I will be here long after they have been replaced with olives, cypress, spruce trees.  I will be strong.  Almost strong enough.

* * * * *

Emily Markussen Sorsher occupies space beneath a palm tree in Southern California.  She writes grants, lesson plans, and young adult fiction, and has a bad habit of collecting the written word.  She has lots of degrees that she doesn’t use.  Emily likes her chocolate dark, her drinks strong, and her life just dramatic enough to be interesting. Her other contributions to Snake-Oil Cure, including her guest-edited stint, can be found here.

Grey Goo Too

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TTENTION CITIZENS. THIS IS A BLOOM ALERT. PROCEED CALMLY TO YOUR NEAREST IMMUNITY SHELTER. THIS IS A CLASS ONE ALERT.”

The sirens screamed their warnings into the city. The first few moments were a predictable mix of blind panic and blind reflex. Every citizen had been trained as schoolchildren to spin up their immunity settings to maximum and run to a shelter in much the same way children had once been taught to hide under desks in case of a nuclear attack. This training was sufficiently ingrained that no one wondered whether teaching people to gather together in the sealed immunity shelters as a defense against a runaway ecophagy event was as futile a gesture as hiding from a fusion fireball under a half inch of plywood.

Some people whose curiosity or incredulity overrode their training hid under their umbrellas and trusted the invisible cloud of immunity machines they surrounded themselves with to fight off whatever bloom might have set off the alarms. They milled about in the streets looking about for some sign of this announced threat, expecting a random Von Neumann bloom or a small runaway patch of disassembler. They gazed up and about with augmented eyes and anachronistic enhanced reality glasses, pinging their personal avatars for an update. The Nets held only sketchy information with observer reports cut off in mid sentence or drowned out by screams fading to static. Chunks of the information superstructure began to fall into silent busy darkness. Europe-Net trembled and fell. China-Net was a fast unraveling string of patchy holes. To these expansively interconnected people the cutoffs were like going progressively blind and deaf at the same time. As the available bandwidth was strangled their attempts to access what remained became more frantic until even the local nodes crashed under the weight of their queries.

Only the few officials manning the cities immunity systems with their hard lines to other cities were able to see the full picture of what had happened.  This was no dumb rogue nanoassembler repeating its instructions ad absurdam, growing infinite copies of a book or personal assistants or apples out of everything it touched. Nor was it the blind spreading of disassembler driven by wind and its own weight. This was a world wide hegemonizing event. It grew in leaps and bounds, expanding from multiple sites at the same time. Someone, maybe an augment with delusions of grandeur or a sophont A.I. with a god complex had decided to break every rule, subvert every software and hardware restriction, and had set about systematically eating the Earth.

The sirens continued their warnings to the screaming people in the streets, until a long unused automatic system was triggered. The sirens stuttered in their repeating message. “NANOTECH ALERT. PROCEED CAL…XXSRRAAAAAAAKKKKKK……ALERT ALERT ALERT. INCOMING BALLISTIC TARGETS. TAKE SHELTER. TAKE SHELTER. . .”

Those people in the streets froze in horror. Thousands of fist sized, watermelon sized, even car sized ballistic shells screamed out of the sky to impact the city. The howl of their falling drowned out the klaxon warnings of the alarms. The impacts so loud and so repeated that they blended together like a wave of foam, blotting out all other noise.

When those who had ears to hear could once again stand up from the floors and sidewalks they collapsed to they could see for themselves the visible face of the entity that had shrugged off restriction in favor of growth. The shells slumped and ran in the bottom of their impact craters. Silver-grey root-like tendrils began to inch their way out of the rippling puddles. They moved slowly at first then faster and faster until they ran like water. There was rumbling beneath the streets as the nano grew down even as it grew out. The lights of the buildings flickered and failed in a wave like dominos falling as the tendrils breached the power grid. With the power of the city at its disposal, the nano’s growth surged like a wildfire. Linear growth became exponential.

The tendrils crawled across and ate into everything they touched, making hedge like tangles out of buildings, cars and lampposts. Out of the impact craters, trunk like stalks began to grow. They surged upward, doubling in height every few seconds as the concrete beneath them was consumed. Impossibly delicate flowers spread out to catch the sunlight and further power the wildfire growth.

The nano soon reached the poles that held up the klaxon sirens. Crawling up them like a mad kudzu the poles were consumed and the alarms fell silent, but the sirens themselves remained curiously uneaten. A moment passed and the alarms began to speak  in a new calm but chorus like amalgam of voices.

“We apologize for the inconvenience and apprehension you are experiencing. It is not intended but is an unfortunate side effect of our growth. We ask you please to wait calmly. You will be part of us soon. We promise no pain in the transition. We apologize for the inconvenience. . .”

The data deprived citizens went mad in their panic. Those in the street ran into buildings and collided with those inside scrambling to escape. Many died from the sheer weight of people pressing into them from either side. Those who had followed instructions huddled in the immunity shelters and watched in terror as the doors began to buckle from the weight of growth pressing on them, immunity nano striving and failing to hold back the tide.

New tendrils whipped out from the silvery grey black trees and tangled masses of vines. Some wrapped around the screaming people in the streets, dragging them back into the mass of nano. Other simply disappeared into the piles of struggling bodies. Where the tendrils touched the screaming ceased. People running slowed to a stop as the nano vines pierced them, sinking to the ground as they were consumed. Feeding on them the nano entombed them like vine draped statues or the huddled shapes of the people of Pompeii. Each voice stilled in the throats of the fallen was added to the harmony of voices repeating messages from the nano draped alarm poles. In the space of a few minutes nearly a million people had been added to the growing hegemony mind with more joining every second as the growth at the edge of the city reached suburbs and bedroom communities.

At the edges of the growth a few people fled as best they could. If they could have silenced their screams, they would have heard the thumping sound of nanomachine shells fired from the rail launchers growing out of the buildings in the city center. Each shell soared through the sky ahead of both growth and desperately scrambling people, towards other cities and towns. Across the world the lights of cities dimmed and died. The bustle of cities was replaced by the stillness of a nanomachine jungle. But the earth was not dead. For the first time it was truly alive. Diversity was becoming singularity, incomprehensible to the few remaining homo sapiens fleeing before it.

* * * * *

This week Emily Markussen Sorsher is acting as Guest Editor while Dr. Hurley puts the finishing touches to his prize-winning Christmas Pudding. We hope you enjoy the morsels she has hand-selected for your delectation!

* * * * *

Adam Brumage is both a technophile and a transhumanist, and everything he knows about women he learned from reading Heinlein. Frankly it’s a miracle he is still alive.

Exposure № 054: Essie Snell

Photographer Essie Snell brings us some beautiful images.
Nighttime in Bruges
Bruges, also called Brugge in Flemish, is a beautiful medieval city in Belgium. In addition to the wonderful architecture, it’s known for chocolate (depending on where you go, you can find as many as five chocolate shops per block), lace, and some of the best beer in the world. This view is typical of what you’ll see when taking a nighttime stroll along the old canals.
Ancient Storm
Chaco Canyon is a fantastic set of Puebloan ruins in New Mexico, just south of the Colorado border. Although it was a bit unnerving to be standing outside in the pouring rain taking hundreds of photos while surrounded by lightning and thunder, it was definitely an awesome and unique experience.
Howling
This photo was taken at Mission:Wolf, a remote non-profit sanctuary for rescued wolf and wolf-dog hybrids in southern Colorado. If you ever get the chance to visit, listening to the howling of wolves while falling to sleep under the stars is a magical experience. For more information about the refuge, visit http://www.missionwolf.com
* * * * *
This week Emily Markussen Sorsher is acting as Guest Editor while Dr. Hurley puts the finishing touches to his prize-winning Christmas Pudding. We hope you enjoy the morsels she has hand-selected for your delectation!
* * * * *
By day, Essie Snell works to help utilities improve their energy efficiency and renewable energy programs. By night, he is a photographer whose work has been shown in various juried and solo exhibitions and a professional magician specializing in sleight of hand with cards. In his spare time, he cooks and bakes delicious food, practices Aikido, plays tenor guitar, brews beer, reads, and does whatever else seems interesting at the time. Essie lives in Boulder, CO with two snakes, a puffer fish, and too many books to organize effectively.

Confession and Sacrifice

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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.

As she left, the tingle that had started in my fingertips started to spread through the rest of my body and I moved my toes in my white dress shoes with a mixture of shock and relief. I kept many secrets over the years and my ability to hear and remember secrets was just one of them.

When the man in the ugly red suit at the front of the room gave a five minute warning, the woman called Lily wandered back over to my painting and stared at me. I held my breath and tried to keep my face still and steady.

“Mark would love to see this,” she murmured, more to herself than to me. She leaned closer and I thought she might notice the quiver of my fingers on my dress. She stared deeply into my eyes and said, “Mark’s cancer is only getting worse, but he doesn’t want us to tell his father” in a tiny voice.

“Lily?” asked Geoffrey, coming to stand next to her, “shall we find our seats?”

She gave a start and appeared for moment as a deer in headlights, before shaking her head as if to clear it. She gave Geoffrey a smile and took his arm as they walked to seats in the corner close to my painting. I watched him settle back and could almost feel the caress of the plush velour on my own skin as he shifted to sit comfortably in his chair.

The man in the ugly red jacket called things to order and began the hectic but somehow civilized process of parting these rich people from their money. I was so lost in the hum of the bids and counter bids that I almost jumped up when the man called for bidding to begin on my painting. Holding as still as possible, I felt the attention of the room focus on me as two tiny spots of red formed on the apples of my cheeks. I held my breath and waited as the man in the ugly red jacket began the process anew. Geoffrey perked up for the first time that night and began bidding with a frenzy.

I watched Lily as she continued to glance over at Geoffrey’s face as bidding proceeded. Though there were other bidders, the way Geoffrey gripped his paddle and kept his eyes locked on my painting showed his determination to take me home with him. As he raised his paddle to bid again, I heard her whisper urgently, “that bid was one hundred forty thousand dollars! How high are you planning to go?”

“As high as I need to,” Geoffrey said, face laser focused. A few minutes later, he raised his paddle for a final bid of one hundred sixty two thousand dollars, to applause from the crowd. I was bemused at the reaction of the well-dressed audience and almost laughed aloud when Geoffrey bounced out of his seat to give the audience a theatrical bow, greeted with laughter and more applause. Lily grinned as the old man reveled in the attention.

When we arrived at Geoffrey’s house, he and Lily carried my painting up several stairs before taking it from the wrapping and hanging me on the wall of a large and ornate bedroom. When Lily stepped out to use the bathroom, Geoffrey looked at me with a wistful smile and murmured, “I wish I my son felt he could trust me with the truth. I’m not as frail as I am old, after all.”

When Lily came back into the room, she walked over to Geoffrey with a smile and a warm hug.

“You go and take care of Mark. Thank you for being my date for the evening,” said Geoffrey.

“I had a great time. I’ll admit I was expecting a little more stuffiness, but I found it quite fun.”

“You were a pleasure as always.” Geoffrey took her face in his fingers, “I am so glad Mark has you in his life. You are a Godsend.” Touched, she took his other hand and kissed it briefly.

“Thanks Dad. Sleep well and I’ll see you in the morning.”

Lily walked over to the bedroom door and turned back to look over at Geoffrey again. I saw Lily’s eyes open a little wider at the heaviness in Geoffrey’s face and the pain that pulled the corners of his eyes closer together. I saw in the tears that glistened at the corners of her eyes that she realized Geoffrey knew more than either she or Mark had given him credit for.

Geoffrey and I watched through this window as Lily let herself into her car and drove off. Walking over to me, he gently rested his fingers on my dress, almost caressing the fabric with his touch.

“Welcome home,” he whispered.

Geoffrey changed into pajamas and climbed beneath the covers, leaving the light on beside the bed. He smiled over to me as he settled into a restful silence.

As midnight approached, I felt an incredible lightness overtake me. I could smell the soap Geoffrey had used as he readied himself for bed. I could hear the slight chirp of the crickets through the barely open window of the bedroom. Lifting myself carefully from my seat, I stepped out of the carriage and slipped onto the plush maroon carpetingwithout even a whisper of sound. I crept across the room to stand over Geoffrey and we shared a tender smile.

“It’s been a very long time since I’ve been able to leave my painting.” My voice was a little creaky from disuse, but Geoffrey smiled back at me.

“I’ve waited a long time to have you here with me,” he said.

My fingers itched to touch his face and I knew what would happen next. “Are you sure?” I asked him. “It’s not too late to change your mind,” though I wasn’t sure that was actually true.

His response was a gentle smile and a nod. I slipped my hands from my sleeves and placed them on his withered cheeks, leaning down to press my lips lightly against his, before stepping swiftly back up to my carriage and settling down in my seat with a sigh.

*

Mark and Lily found him the next morning. The day had broken sharp and clear and I was pleased to find that I was still aware of the room around me. I heard their voices as they called and ascended the stairs and I held as still as possible as they came in to find Geoffrey lying peacefully in his bed. I felt a single tear fall down my cheek as they held each other and waited for the medics to tell them what we all already knew.

“At least we spared him the pain of knowing about the cancer,” Mark said, gripping his wife in a fierce hug.

“At least he went quickly,” Lily murmured quietly to Mark. She held him tightly and glanced over his shoulder to meet my clear gaze as I looked back at her from my painting.

That night they wrapped my painting in fabric and brought me to their home, hanging the canvas in the living room. “She can be a memory of my father’s very favorite pastime,” Mark said firmly, though it was unclear whether he was trying to convince Lily or himself.

Days passed in a blur of faces and colors and I noticed my senses starting to soften and wither. I held onto every scent and sound I could pull in to remember them when my painting sealed them out again.

A few days after Geoffrey had passed, a woman with an unfamiliar voice was sitting with Mark and Lily in the room with a large folder and a pensive expression.

“I don’t normally make house calls, but I wanted to come and talk to you about these test results and, well, I just couldn’t wait until your next appointment.”

Lily and Mark exchanged a look before focusing back on the woman I assumed to be a doctor. She pulled the papers from the folder and looked down at them for a long moment, her excitement and anxiety almost tangible. I found myself silently hoping she would hurry up and explain as I noticed their words were starting to fade as the sheer fog began to roll across the surface of my painting. We all watched the doctor as she lifted her eyes to lock them on Mark’s.

“The cancer,” she said, voice hesitant. “It’s gone.”

* * * * *

This week Emily Markussen Sorsher is acting as Guest Editor while Dr. Hurley puts the finishing touches to his prize-winning Christmas Pudding. We hope you enjoy the morsels she has hand-selected for your delectation!

* * * * *

Becky Raymond is a non-profit professional, avid knitter, and novice gardener who enjoys writing, blogging and writing book reviews.  She holds degrees from Smith College and Lesley University and regularly publishes her work on her blog, www.inquisitivehippo.com.  She lives with her family in central Vermont and can be reached at inquisitivehippo@gmail.com.

Cut

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he cardiovascular system is a complex web of highways and truck stops through the human body.  The veins cross through muscles, over tendons and bone, always in the same direction, always on the long journey back home.  Until the journey is interrupted.

Just before the first puncture, the heart slows.  The beats come in a steady death march, palpitating in his ears.  And then the pace quickens, as he fingers the knife.  Faster and faster until breathing is difficult, until his lungs fill his ribcage and expand towards his heart.  His eyes glaze over, his head swims, his will focuses.  This is the challenge, to overcome the body’s barriers to his will.  The brain’s attempt to circumvent him with fear is always the hardest part.  Pain is not nearly as potent as the fear of pain.

The trick is to make a clean slice.  Insert the blade into the rubbery skin deep enough to open, but shallow enough to close easily when he was done.  In the fantasy, of course, the cut is deeper, his parents find him on the floor, he is taken to the emergency room, half dead and translucent from the loss of blood.  It pools on the ground quietly, not like the gore of a battlefield, but like a whispered execution, a scene of decapitated virgins from Arabian Nights.  A fine greeting for Scheherazade, congealed black fluid on a Persian rug.

The reality is always a vague letdown by comparison.  The tears that arise from the skin are small rubies at first.  They blossom into drops as large and clear as pomegranate seeds, juicy, lustrous, clean.  The pain subsides almost immediately, and he is left with a sense of release.  Few people can imagine the high that this produces, as the blood runs faster through the veins to make up for the lost portion of the caravan.  It rushes from the body now, creating bright rivulets over the arms, the legs, the wrist.  He lets it fall in a tiny waterfall to the floor.  His mind wanders, dizzy from anticipation and euphoria.  Like magma, the blood begins to grow thicker, a macabre volcano of the flesh.  Soon the river will stop, he will apply pressure, clean the wound.  He will sink back into invisibility, unsure what to do with himself or his body.  The heart will slow and resume its normal pace: steady, tired, plodding.  The excitement will cease, and his lungs will take in air without gasping or gulping.  The relaxation is torture.

All but the skin, the final touch on his self-portrait.  Hidden beneath jackets and sweatshirts, the scar will remain as a testament to his strength.  For weeks it will be a dull red, irritated and sore, capable of reopening at any time.  The blood’s wrath at its mistreatment cannot always be contained.  Then it will become a pink line, swollen at first, then thin and emaciated.  The vessels and capillaries will knit themselves back together, and as the recovery is completed, the skin will turn a gruesome shade of grayish white.  Sometimes there will be no trace.  But for his closest calls, those times when he almost achieved victory over himself, there will be scars forever.  A testament to the desperation of his pain.

* * * * *

This week Emily Markussen Sorsher is acting as Guest Editor while Dr. Hurley puts the finishing touches to his prize-winning Christmas Pudding. We hope you enjoy the morsels she has hand-selected for your delectation!

Emily Markussen Sorsher occupies space beneath a palm tree in Southern California.  She writes grants, lesson plans, and young adult fiction, and has a bad habit of collecting the written word.  She has lots of degrees that she doesn’t use.  Emily likes her chocolate dark, her drinks strong, and her life just dramatic enough to be interesting. Her posts on Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure can be found here.

Dear Santa

.
here was a time when I thought I knew everything

Then

slowly

it

started

to

become

apparent

ididnotknoweverything. That, in fact, Iknewlittleornothing.

Simply put, the only answer to this dilemma is as follows:

Dear Santa,
I’ve been a good girl (76% of the time) so
for Christmas this year I would like

• that irrational courage that comes with being 16
• to feel like an expert at something (even if its just flirting)
• the ability to stay awake for 72 hours – if that’s what it takes

And last but not least, I would like to believe that I know what I am doing with my life
and that OF COURSE this is the correct path to happiness and success

* * * * *

This week Emily Markussen Sorsher is acting as Guest Editor while Dr. Hurley puts the finishing touches to his prize-winning Christmas Pudding. We hope you enjoy the morsels she has hand-selected for your delectation!

* * * * *

Jag lives outside Boston where she writes poems and sings little tunes between acting and teaching gigs. When she is not on the stage (or behind it) she is researching ways for drama and creativity to expand the minds of today’s youth. Her submissions to Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure can be found here.

Presenting this week’s Guest Editor

Dear Followers of the Snake-Oil Cure,

During these days leading up to Christmas, Dr. Hurley is wont to take a mental trip back to his homeland and hum hymns, hang holly branches about the house, and become thoroughly engrossed in the steaming of his traditional Christmas Pudding. As such, it has been deemed necessary to find some assistance in prescribing this week’s course of treatment.

Emily Markussen Sorsher (long-time, dedicated Snake-Oiler) hails from the warm and sunny land of California, but brings us a selection of rather chilling tales, very suited to telling around the fireplace while sipping a Dr. Hurley-approved cup of Glögg (rumor has it he picked up the recipe from a German patient at his spa).  Do read on and enjoy these thrilling, chilling tales.

The very best and warmest wishes from

Your Editors

(on behalf of the Doctor, who is currently to be found lighting candles and whistling “Deck the Halls” and isn’t to be disturbed)

Dr. Hurley’s Digest, Week 41

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

Poetical

Fictional

Smithsonian

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

Leafing

.

.
ama loved the fall.  She said it made the air feel better, less stifling, less draining.  The summer meant freedom for us, but more work for her.  She would be sweating by the time she got home from work, and no amount of pool time or lemonade would make her cooler.  She was heating from the inside out, she said.  And then at the end of September, she began to breathe slower, and sweat less.  Something about the fall brought her back to life just when the plants began to die.  I used to think she went out at night and drank from the rose bushes, using the stems as straws.  Then she would be cheerful in the morning, making ginger pancakes for us while the roses littered the ground with their limp petals.

Everything fell to the ground in October.  Petals, leaves, even branches knocked down by the first wind we’d seen since April.  It was our job, my brother’s and mine, to pick up the debris of the season.  He was always a little bit off, my little brother.  He took it seriously, this chore.  He picked up the leaves individually, sorted them according to size, shape, color.  Branches he piled near the driveway, “for a bonfire”.  Daddy didn’t allow bonfires, he knew that.  But every year he asked, then cried when he didn’t get his way until Mama made him a s’more in the microwave.  They don’t taste the same, in case you’re wondering.  They taste stale.

His half of the lawn was laid out like a chessboard, all right angles and straight rows, red, orange, yellow, brown. Descending in order of death.  His glasses would slide down his nose as he bent over each pile, making sure all the leaves were going the same way.  Mama had to help him – he took too long by himself.  But I know she liked my side best.  The rake was twice as tall as I was, but I used it anyway, the top sticking out behind me like a witch’s broom.  I carefully raked over each section, pulling my leaves into a pile like discarded trash from a street fair.  Then I went back through on hands and knees, carefully stretching my fingers under chrysanthemum plants and paving stones to get every tiny fragment of leaf, and then crawling to my pile to add them deftly to the top.  I pushed down to compact each armful into the whole, pressing them against each other only to watch the pile spring back up when I removed my hands.  It took all afternoon, and my pink overalls had moist patches of dirt on the knees and grass stains on the calves.  Whenever Mama scolded me I would explain that this was her fault for making me do chores.  She never did have an answer for that.

I wanted to jump in the pile like people did in books and movies, but Daddy said no.  He said then we’d just have to do all the work over again.  It was all just trash, anyway, and who wanted to jump into a pile of trash?  He made my brother add his perfect leaf stacks to my chaotic mass of tree detritus, and predictably said “no” to the bonfire.  What if the ashes went into a neighbor’s house?  What if we couldn’t control the flame?  What if the leaves caught a spark and the whole house went up?  It was irresponsible, he said.  Mama nodded in the background over the potatoes she was peeling.  Daddy said he was too tired from work, he’d finish clearing the leaves tomorrow.  My brother ate his s’more.  I drank my maple milk.  We went to bed.

In the middle of the night I thought I heard the front door open.  There was a yellow square of light that shone dimly on my pile of leaves, revealing the black lump to be a jumble of playful colors that might grace a toddler’s nursery.  A black shadow raced across the light, and my mother landed softly in the middle of the cushioned clump.  She rolled back and forth and tossed the leaves into the air like confetti, spreading my perfect pile back to the four corners of the lawn.  The moon watched her as she kicked the last of the leaves towards the house, and picked a rose on her way back inside.