Josh T. Keating
‘In conclusion, exposure to the sun can cause life threatening issues (not to mention, wrinkles) and is not recommended.’
Susan Jacobus grinned and proudly clicked save on her newest, completed article. There was nothing quite as rewarding as warning her fellow woman and occasional man of the many dangers that planet earth dishes out. She briskly sent her article, ripe for publication, to the magazine’s email and got up to make a cup of green tea.
One Month Later
‘Thank you so much Susan! Your advice to kick bread to the curb has lost me at least 300 pounds! You’re the best!’
Warmest regards, Melanie
Susan beamed at her monitor. Another satisfied reader. She clicked the next email.
‘Susan, ever since you said no to drugs, I stopped smoking literally everything I could get my hands on. Added years to my life! Best advice I’ve ever gotten!’
Forever in your debt, Stella
Susan wiped a tear from her eye. Alright, one more and it was time to make dinner.
‘I listened to you, Susan! I trusted you! I was your biggest fan! But that “advice” about the sun’s rays being harmful??? I have vitamin D deficiency because of you!!! You’d better respond with some actual advice to correct this, or I’ll sue!!!’
Furiously yours, Dianne >: (
Susan stared back at the monitor in open-mouthed horror. Her, Susan Jacobus, queen of the column, give bad advice? How could it be? She had to write back, or her career was in danger!
“Mom! What’s for supper?” Monteray shouted from outside her home office.
She closed her email and shakily got up. She would send it later.
“Not hungry tonight, honey?” Alan asked.
Susan stopped poking at her caprice zoodles and gazed at her family around the table. Her husband with his wild ginger hair, dinner being one of the rare times he wasn’t in his Blue Jay’s hat, and her three kids, all watching her while they chewed. “No, it’s nothing, it’s—” She took a swig of wine, scolded Monteray to not feed Goudog at the table, and told them about the email.
“Give me a break,” said Alan, cutting through a piece of steak. “She has no case. She can’t prove anything. If it were that simple to sue people, I’d get sued alllll the – time.”
“Yeah, she sounds like a total space case,” her teen daughter Kristine agreed, twirling zoodles around her fork.
Susan sighed. “I need to help her. Dianne wrote to me more than anyone and it’s my fault that she’s vitamin D deficient. But how can I possibly trust myself after that flub-up?”
“I saw that oysters have lots of vitamin D on a food chart at school,” said Scarlett, her youngest.
“But it’s also filled with mercury, right mom?” Monteray asked in the chair between his sisters, dipping a piece of steak in cheese whiz.
Susan smiled. “Right. But…it’s also one of the seafoods with the least amount of it.”
“Really?” Monteray froze with his fork in the air. “Well, I know someone with an oyster farm! And he owes me big. Long story. Anyway, I could get him to send her a shipment of oysters and it wouldn’t cost us a loonie!”
“Eureeka, Monteray!” Alan cried. He turned to Susan, setting down his self-extending Forkulator 5000. “Yeah, that should get that crazy woman off your back.”
“Yep, she’d feel pretty dumb about suing after getting a bunch of free oysters,” Monteray agreed.
“Well, okay,” said Susan. “Thank you, Monty.”
“So…howsabout dessert?” Monteray grinned. “Cheeeesecake?”
Susan rolled her eyes. She should’ve known. One of the fattiest desserts of all. And the same day she had written about cutting dessert out entirely, no less…
* * *
A week later, Susan noticed a new email from Dianne in her inbox. Bracing herself, she opened it.
‘Well, I ate the oysters you sent. And I completely regret giving you my address. You’ll never guess why. Let’s see – oh yes, it’s because NOW MY MERCURY LEVELS ARE OFF THE CHARTS! My doctor gave me the bad news on my morning check-up!
So, I’m experiencing muscle weakness and a lack of coordination now, thanks. You’re just lucky I remember your advice from your September article that eating fiber brings mercury levels down, since the body gets rid of mercury through feces.’
Susan let out a huge sigh of relief.
‘But – if you can’t give me the fastest way to replenish my vitamin D, you’re finished! I already sued that oyster farm, and you’re next!’
As furious as ever, Dianne
Susan nearly screamed.
* * *
At dinner that night, she gave her family the bad news.
“Well, how did that happen?” Alan asked. “I thought you said oysters have low mercury for seafood?”
Monteray groaned. “He must have sent her way too much,” he said slowly. “When it comes to shellfish, he can get…rather carried away. Sorry aboot that…”
Alan shook his head and took a swig from his self-refilling Wine Glass-O-Tron.
They ate in silence.
“Wait, I know!” said Monteray, looking wide-eyed at the lasagna on his fork. “Cheese! Cheese has lots of vitamin D, too!”
“Let me guess, a cheese farmer owes you a favour?” Kristine asked irritably.
“I wish,” said Monteray, shoving the piece of lasagna into his mouth.
“She can get her own,” Alan muttered.
“Okay,” Susan said. “I’ll recommend cheese…I guess…”
* * *
‘Wow, cheese, what a great idea! Wait, never mind, now I’m constipated! Your career is finished, Susan! Finished, do you hear me?
You know what…because of my good nature, I’ll give you one more chance! And don’t you dare recommend the sun, I’m not stupid, I already know that one. It’s not refilling my vitamin D quick enough. I need the quickest possible solution!’
Your merciful reader, Dianne
Susan’s heart nearly leapt out of her chest as a scream escaped her.
* * *
She didn’t wait for dinner before bringing this new development up to her family. She stomped right down the spiral stairs to the living room where they were watching the Leafs game. “She’s constipated.”
Scarlett burst out laughing.
“Oh,” Monteray muttered, turning toward his mother with a look of guilt. “Whoops. Well…that can happen.”
Susan covered her face with her hands. “She’s giving me one more chance before she sues…”
“Sunlight,” Alan said, fiddling with the controls on the side of his Recline-O-Matic as it began making loud shredding noises from out of nowhere. “Just tell the woman to get some darn sunlight!”
“She said suggesting the sun doesn’t count.”
“Honey, I’m telling you, she has no case!” Alan angrily insisted as the Ducks scored a goal. “She doesn’t need to turn to you for everything!”
“It doesn’t matter!” Susan snapped. “If she starts sending her angry emails straight to Health in a Breadbasket, or tries to sue, my entire image is in jeopardy!”
“Yeah, Dad, you know how these women are,” said Monteray at the TV. His eyes widened. “Wait! I know!”
They others all shushed him at once.
“No more ideas outta you, Cheese Head,” Scarlett said.
Monteray frowned and turned towards her from the other side of the couch. “Hey, that first idea was your fault—”
“Nuh-uh! It was you and that oyster guy, Monteray–”
“UV ray!” Kristine cried, looking up from her device between them. “That’s it! A tanning bed!”
Susan shrieked. “Kristine! Haven’t I taught you anything? The risks of a tanning bed far outweigh—”
“Tanning is like a vitamin D magnet, Mom, trust me,” Kristine got up and held her hands on her sides, showing off her newly tanned, slim midriff under her tank top.
Monteray snorted. “A tanned outie belly button is still an outie belly button.”
“There’s nothing wrong with outie belly buttons!” Kristine snapped, stomping her foot. “Daa-aaaad!”
“Be nice to your sister’s belly button, Monteray,” Alan said, looking straight ahead at the game.
“I can’t – I can’t recommend a tanning bed,” Susan muttered, dropping back to lean against the corner of the wall.
“Mom, she won’t even let you say sunlight,” said Scarlett.
“Nothing absorbs vitamin D faster than tanning,” Kristine insisted.
Susan remembered Dianne’s demand for the fastest possible solution. “Fine…fine. I’ll do it.”
* * *
Susan’s hand shook on her mouse as she clicked the newest email in her inbox. Her stomach tightened.
‘Wow, that was great advice Susan, you really know your stuff!’
Her stomach unclenched in relief, but then —
‘NOT!!! My doctor has given me 5 days to live! You recommended that death trap! It’s your fault! Consider this the end, Susan! Say goodbye to your health career!’
Susan just stared at the words, unable to take it all in. What had she done? Why would she take health advice from her children? Her daughter made so many bad decisions, it was staggering, yet she actually took her advice??
This woman was going from a tanning bed to a death bed and it was all her fault!
Wait – Alan’s crazy experiments! Her husband was, (as she normally would not like to admit), practically a mad scientist!
With shaking hands, Susan hit reply and tapped the keys like wildfire. ‘My address is 664 Queer Street, Scarborough Village, Toronto, please, come visit. My husband is a scientist. And the things he has done – you wouldn’t believe me if I told you. He can save you; I know he can!’
See you soon I hope, Susan
* * *
It was two days later, and Dianne hadn’t responded.
Susan was behind on her article quota, but she hadn’t been able to stop cleaning the house since she had sent that email. It was like she was in another dimension.
The feather duster dropped from Susan’s hand and she rushed downstairs.
A very angry and very tanned woman was at the door. “Well?” Dianne demanded, bright red and nearly shaking with rage. “What’s the solution this time, Susan?”
“I – I’m so sorry,” Susan stammered. “I just – my confidence was shot after you sent that first email, and—”
“Save me the sob story,” Dianne snapped. “I’m the one with three days to live.”
Susan didn’t know what to say. She gulped. “Please, follow me.”
* * *
Susan led Dianne out to the garage and opened the door for her. Alan had his back turned to them in his white lab coat and blue jeans, busy at work, mixing chemicals in beakers at his table. “Alan?”
He continued working.
“Alan!” Susan repeated.
He whipped around and looked straight at Dianne. “Greetings! Okay, Susan has told me all about the situation. It’s your skin that is the current problem, correct?”
“Yes, and you’d better fix it, or you can say goodbye to all of this!” Dianne motioned with a burnt outstretched arm to all of Alan’s lab equipment.
Alan gulped, making eye contact with his wife. “It will work. I know it will. I recently conducted a test on a subject, and it worked like a charm.” He motioned to a cage on the other side of the long table.
The skeleton of a large rat was inside – and it was moving.
It gnawed on the cage’s steel bars with long yellow teeth, gaping black holes for eyes, skeleton tail whipping around, its long white skull looking as if it were grinning at them.
“Tell me – how would you feel about becoming a skeleton?” Alan asked eagerly.
“Come now, don’t be silly! You’d still be able to walk and talk thanks to my newest invention – the Skellulator 2000 is quite harmless, I assure you!”
“Alan, you’ve got to be kidding me,” Susan muttered, pressing her fingers against her temple.
“Walk and talk, you say?” Dianne asked with chattering lips, staring at the rat. “But – how? How is this possible?”
“With lots and lots of research,” Alan answered, with a tired-looking grin.
“Incredible…” Dianne breathed.
Alan beamed. “I sure wish my wife was so supportive of my work—”
“Alan – not now!” Susan snapped.
Alan tilted his Jays hat to scratch his head and quickly said to Dianne, “Skin is overrated anyway. Think aboot it. You won’t need to eat! Talk aboot saving money. And you’ll be the thinnest human alive by default. Say goodbye to worrying about health, am I right? No more magazine subscription!”
Susan frowned but Dianne’s eyes widened. “The thinnest woman alive…so, no guts, no mess? Just a nice, clean skeleton? Like that mouse?”
“Absolutely,” said Alan, nodding excitedly. He walked over to his machine and patted it with his black, rubber-gloved hand. “A bolt of contained lightning will zap everything but your bones out of thin air and a second bolt’ll follow as quick as thunder which’ll re-animate your skeletal frame. Quick and painless.”
Dianne stared at the machine, scratching at the front of her severely burnt neck. “Alright. I’ll do it.” She looked him directly in the eyes. “But this better work, or believe you me, you’ll be out on the street, begging for funds for your little experiments.”
“Okay, step right in here,” Alan said a bit shakily, pressing a button on the side. A door on the front raised upward with a click followed by a sound akin to the big garage door opening.
Dianne took a deep breath and stepped in.
Alan closed the door with the same button, took a deep breath, stared nervously back at his wife — and pulled a lever.
A flash of bright light came and went in the front, circular window.
Susan’s heart pounded against her chest. Please work, please work, please work…
Alan opened the door. A dark cloud of smoke enveloped all around them. It smelt like burnt toast. Susan coughed as Alan clicked a large fan on, and the smoke was sent whirling into a vent.
The smoke cleared to reveal a skeleton, sitting limply against the inside of the machine.
Susan gasped. She felt like she was going to faint. Every second of the skeleton not moving a single bone in its body was more painful than the last. “For heaven’s sake Alan, you’ve killed her!”
“No, wait,” Alan frowned determinedly at the skeleton. “Just wait. It worked. I’m sure of it.”
Then, the skull tilted slightly.
Susan gasped again.
And then skeleton Dianne raised a bony hand to her skull, as if somehow looking at it through empty, black sockets. “Well, I’ll be darned,” her skull’s teeth-filled mouth opened four times to say. Shakily, she picked herself up and rattled to her feet.
“IT’S ALIIIIVE!” Alan roared victoriously, thrusting his fists into the air.
Stepping out of the machine, Skeleton Dianne whipped her skull in his direction. “Who are you calling ‘it?’” she demanded. “I’m still a she. Not only that, I’m the thinnest woman in the world!” She did a skeleton dance straight out of a cartoon.
“Well, I’m off to be the cover girl for Health in a Breadbasket! My dream is finally coming true!” She walked forward, almost casually. “Much better than being some hackneyed article writer,” she added as she rattled past Susan.
Susan frowned. Well, that wasn’t a very nice thing to say.
She turned to see Dianne stop in her tracks, starting to shake and rattle in place.
“What – what’s going on?” Dianne demanded. She suddenly seemed to be struggling with staying upright on her skeletal feet.
“I don’t – I don’t know!” Alan cried.
“Wait a minute,” Dianne muttered, bending her neck bone to look down at her shaking legs. “Weak bones!” They rattled and shook more violently than ever. “Osteoporosis!”
Susan stepped back as Dianne spun towards her.
“From the vitamin D deficiency!” Dianne shrieked. This is all your fault! Again!” Her skull’s gaping chasms of eyes stared holes through Susan’s. “I’ll sue! No…I’ll – I’ll KILL YOU!” The skeleton took quick, shaking strides toward Susan and latched bony fingers around her neck.
Susan screamed while Alan gave a roar of anguish.
Dianne yanked Susan’s neck forward, then let go with a shriek.
Goudog had chomped onto her leg bone and dragged the screaming skeleton out of the garage door that Monteray was standing beside in horrified silence with his mouth hanging open.
“Goudog, no!” Susan cried.
“Bad, Goudog!” Alan shouted. “Bad, bad, Goudog!”
They rushed outside, but Goudog was already dropping the weak bones into a deep hole, piece by piece.
“I’ll sue! I’ll sue! And then I’ll kill you all!” the skull, now detached from its body threatened maniacally. Goudog responded by nudging it into the hole with his wet nose. He turned around and began to bury the evidence.
“What’s goin’ on?” Scarlett was heading over to them from across the yard with her whiffle bat. “Who’s yelling? Why do you look so nervous? Why are there bones sticking out of the ground?”
Susan panicked in protective mother-mode and rushed over to her little girl to guide her into the house. “Goudog’s just playing, sweetie, let’s go inside and – and get you a Flintstones vitamin…”