Sid’s filthy hand pushed the key’s jagged teeth into the lock. He paused. Can I do this? I mean, maybe she is sick? From behind the door, bells rang on TV as people screamed “Jackpot!” He grimaced and twisted the key, opening the basement apartment door. “Mom?”

“Living room.”

He walked inside. At the opposite end of the apartment, against the far kitchen wall, stood the black doorframe to the living room. The flicker-light of the TV upset its darkness, like a bug-light zapping an army of mosquitoes at night.

He walked in the kitchen and took a deep breath, savoring the smell. As lemony fresh as he’d left it this morning. The dishes now dry in the rack, the counter still free of crud. He stepped toward the table in the centre, hit the light, and a roach bolted toward the living room.

“Did you pick up groceries for us?” she hollered. He could hear her huffing as if she’d just run a mile.

He closed his eyes. “Tomorrow.” He put the card he’d bought on the table. “Mom” scrawled on the envelope’s cover. Inside was everything a trash-picking teen could earn at the city’s worst amusement park. Exactly two months rent, minus the cost of a one way ticket to Dad.

That was fair, he told himself. But it didn’t feel fair, standing in the fresh and clean kitchen. He prayed the guilt would pass when he headed out west to find Dad, somewhere in Calgary, the address on the last postcard he sent.

“I guess that means leftovers,” she said, bitter.

He shook his head. “Ok.”

He’d tried to write a note, too, something to soften the blow. All he could manage was “Sorry, Mom.”

He headed to his room, near the black entrance to the living room, to grab his bag. The ticket said to be there an hour before the train and he was already running late. He hadn’t even washed off the stink of Wonderville Park, or the stink of Hooch Conners breath when he harassed him from the games booth: “Hey, Stinky. Try your luck at my spinning wheel and leave with some custom Conners’ Family Tonic.” He’d told Hooch to shove this dart and his stupid tonics up his rear. He still heard Hooch’s nicotine laugh. “Fine, Stinky. But you’re missing out…this is the last of my original family batch, made with only the best Belladonna and Iroquois blood!” That laugh trailed him out on to the midway and all the way home.

Sid listened to the TV’s roar.

“Big money, no Whammies!”

He would not miss the Game Show Network. He entered his room.

“You’ll be proud of your mother, Sidney,” she said. “I got some new medicine today.”

His jaw clenched. He hated when she called it that. You’re not sick.

“It’s in the fridge.”


“This one’s full proof, doctor guaranteed. Not like that thing where I couldn’t eat cheese or fruit. This one is fast acting. Only a week and you’ll see results, baby. Then your Mom can get back out and start living again. Can you grab me the bottle and a spoon? They’re a time-release formula, and there’s no time like the present to get well.”

He closed his eyes. She sounded just like those stupid ads.

“Sidney?” She huffed. “Did you hear me?”

“Sure. Coming.” One last time. That would make things even. Fair.

“Yes sir,” she said, still huffing. “Kinda…put a dent in my Visa this month. Those overnight postal charges are murder. Might have to help your mother out a bit, baby. Disability wouldn’t cover it. I begged them, but you know how cheap the government is.”

He bit his lip, but the words escaped. “How much?”

“Can’t put a price on getting better, Sidney.”

His eyes hurt. “I meant for making the next deposit. How much do you want me to put on the Visa?”

“Oh, well, let’s do it in parts, ok? Make it easy on you. Cut it in half. Takes twice as long but it’s half as tough. You work too hard at that fun-park as it is, making it so clean for everyone and they mess it all up again.”

He rubbed his eyes. “Mom? How much?”

After a thunder of TV applause, she said, “About what we had in reserve. A month’s rent. Maybe more.” His empty gut chewed itself. “But that means it’s top of the line, and full proof. A little hurt now means a big payoff later. We’ll make it through, though. That’s what family’s all about. Sticking together, thick and thin.”

Numb, Sid went to the fridge. Inside was the land of frozen leftovers: four large pizza boxes packed on the bottom rack, six two-liter bottles of diet cola at different levels of consumption on top, and a hodge-podge of Asian take-out dishes in varying states of mutation scattered throughout.

In the middle, between some condiment jars and two half-eaten tray-cakes, sat a single, little brown bottle that made his stomach squirm. “The Shornhucks Free Radical Fat-Burn Program: As Seen on TV!”

One goddamn bottle? he thought to himself, then shook his sore head. Like it matters how many she bought. What am I, retarded? He grimaced at the bottle. Frost trailed his words.

“Goddamn snake oil in my fridge.”

The TV blared. “Big money, big money…”


“…big money, no Whammies!”

He looked at the envelope with all his summer money, head crackling with rage.

“Please hurry, baby. These are time-release sensitive.”

Sid removed the cold bottle carefully, and then slammed the fridge door with his elbow. The fridge-magnets snapped off and a legion of take-out menus drifted to the floor.


He launched the bottle against the sparkling oven. Its whiteness shattered in a spray of jagged shards and purple liquid.


The TV went mute. There was a rumble. The couch in the living room squeaked and groaned. Her grunting and huffing got louder until he heard the thump of her oak cane planting itself in the ground. A mild tremor snapped across the concrete foundation of the house. She was up.

Sid’s whole body froze as she emerged in the doorway, his hands at his sides like an unarmed gunfighter.

She stood before him, wheezing. She still wore her massive, wretched, and stretched housecoat, the colour of dry roses. Flesh pulsed out between her sandal’s straps. He couldn’t remember when she’d even had ankles instead of the solid stumps of pastry sludge that had become her log-like legs. Her torso and chest stuck out like medicine balls stacked on each other. Every inch of her body was stained with the sour and moldy remains of a thousand shitty meals. The inflamed sausage-fingers of her right hand gripped her father’s old oak cane, and even that sturdy support bent slightly with her steps. Her presence reeked of rancid cheese, old sweat, and urine.

But Sid had to will himself to view her face. Her thin hair was turd brown with flecks of white, and dusted with stale crumbs. Her jowls hung off her face on opposite sides of her neck rolls. Her eyes tiny blue dots, her nose two small black holes, her mouth a brown, smudged “O”. There was a chocolate turtle stuck to her forearm and a few roaches at her feet.

“What did you do?” she said, weakly.

Sid said nothing. Somewhere beneath this creature was his real mom; the one who always made fried bacon sandwiches for his birthday breakfast; the one who patiently sat with him as he struggled to learn the multiplication table; the one who held him hard no matter how much he cried for Dad to come back. She was never thin, Sid knew, but by the time he started working, this thing from the living room had consumed the old Mom. She twisted sideways to squeeze through the door and stared at the splatter.

“It’s junk,” Sid said, coolly, his hands locked fists. “Stupid, fucking, junk. You wasted our savings on bullshit in a bottle. What the hell is wrong with you?”

“I’ve got to…” she muttered.

“What?” Sid snapped at her. “Get better?”


“You’re not sick, Mom, you’re fat and that’s it. Admit it!” She watched the liquid drip to the floor. “You ate until you got disability, but that doesn’t mean you’re crippled.”

She leaned against the doorframe, breathing hard.

“Even,” she muttered, jowls shaking.

He looked at the bag in his room. “Even what, Mom? Spit it out.”

“Even my son,” Her eyes closed and her face shook side to side as the tears ran down her in thick drops. “You hate me.”

Sid’s fists opened.

“You’ll leave, too. I know you will. I’m.” She covered her mouth with her meaty hand until she could draw breath. “You don’t need a mother now, I know that.” She covered her eyes. “You need a father, and lord knows yours ain’t coming back. Not with me here like this.” Sid bit his lip.

She snorted. “I can find you a father, Sidney, but I’ve got to get well. I’m trying, God knows I’m trying so hard for you!” She was snorting and wheezing and every ounce of Sid’s blood was turning to sand. “I keep looking, I keep trying, and all I do is fail you.”

Blood ran in his mouth from his lip. He looked at the bag in his bedroom, then her. She’ll never snap out, he knew. She’s lost. “Mom?”

She kept her hand on her face.

“Mom, you got conned. I’ve got an eye for that kinda stuff.”

She shook her head.

“But I can find something that works. I can help you. For real.” He bit his raw lip, grabbed the card from the table, and shoved it in his pocket. “Trust me.”

In the glow of Wonderville’s evening lights, Hooch’s grin looked malicious. He pulled the pipe from his scruffy face. “Pardon?”

Sid took the bandana from his mouth and let it sit around his neck. “I want a crate of real snake oil.”

Hooch laughed. “Maybe you need some brain tonic, Stinky, because you’ve gone apeshit. Why should I help the only member of the Wonderville family who never even so much as smiled in my direction?”

Sid tossed a role of cash. Hooch’s right hand snatched it like a viper. “That’s a hundred bucks.” Hooch flicked off the rubber band and counted. His grin stretched high and wide. “There’s more than that, if you’re interested.”

Hooch put the cash in his flannel shirt’s front pocket. “Keep talking.”

“I want a crate of weight loss snake oil, two months worth. But it has to look professional, like it came out of a lab and not your booth. Two hundred bucks for one crate. I need it by the end of the summer.”

Hooch shook his head, smiling. “Nah. One grand. No less.”

Sid’s guts twisted. “Huh? That’s not fair.”

Hooch cackled. “Stinky, if they hung me for being fair they’d be killing an innocent man.” Blood ran out of Sid’s face. “Before you pass out, listen up. You ran, not walked, to see the one jape in the park on your shit list. I also heard you put in your papers, and then dashed back and said you wanted to work the rest of the summer. That tells me all I need to know. You’re desperate.” He crossed his arms. “I just made a hundred bucks in two minutes because you’re so anxious for my services. Which lets me set the price. One grand. Take it or split.”

Sid chewed his bloody bandana, stripped off a handful of bills, and handed it to Hooch. I’ll barely make up the nest egg now, Sid thought, even if I work double shifts.

Hooch raised an eyebrow. “That’s only five hundred.”

“You get the rest when I get the crates. Five of them.”

Hooch clapped. “Now you’re learning, Stinky. Good on ya!” Sid gave Hooch the address. “I’ll make it special, being that we’re colleagues. First thing my great grandpappy ever made was fat killing sucker-sauce. Hasn’t been made in two hundred years! Maybe have a bit of the real stuff kicking around. Even that sacred ingredient—”

“Whatever,” Sid said. “As long as it’s true snake oil.”

His grin turned rictus sharp, his eyes dancing with carnival lights. “Trust me, Stinky.”

Sid sweated out the month, saved every penny, and recouped Mom’s losses after buying another train ticket. In all that time, Mom had said nothing.

Sitting on the curb in late August, Sid’s jaw dropped when a cherry red convertible pulled up to his house at midnight. Hooch, in a dress shirt and with his hair neatly combed, dropped off the crates with a smile.

Sid demanded to see a bottle before Hooch got his cash. They were the size of beer bottles with a stubby neck and a brownish-clear liquid inside. The white label had black letters typed and official. “Conners Official Weight Loss Punch and Appetite Tonic™. Original Patton Number: 1801. Directions: Drink a bottle before every meal. Weight loss will be imminent. Satisfaction Guaranteed or Your Money Back.”

They looked at least as legit as the bottle that had stained the oven. Sid handed over the cash and Hooch winked. “Any interest in a Conner’s aromatic cologne, Stinky?”

“Fuck off,” Sid whispered. Hooch laughed, jogged to his corvette, and sped off. Sid took one of the bottles, turned the cap, and took a swig. It tasted like flat root beer and dust. He drank the whole bottle, just to make sure it was ok. The only side effect was a brown tongue and a near-violent fart. He tossed the bottle into the neighbours’ knee-high lawn and carried the crates inside, one by one. He tossed out the tray-cakes and shoved the bottles in the fridge. Mom’s thick, sad breathing and the theme to The Price is Right reverberated from the dark living room.


Rod the announcer screamed about a trip to Puerto Rico!

“Mom?” he said, louder. “The medicine I ordered arrived.”

Bob Barker asked for the contestants’ bid for each fabulous showcase.

“It’s in the fridge. It’s.” He chewed on his bandana and then pulled it from his mouth. “It’s a sure thing. Very strict regiment, though. Gotta drink three bottles a day, like the label says, one after every meal. Real expensive, too, more than the last one, so you know it’s legit. Results are almost instant. Might wanna start tonight. No time like the present to get well, right?”

Bob Barker congratulated the winner and wished them the best for their vacation to the sunny Cayman Islands!

She said nothing.

“I’ll see you in the morning. Night.” He closed the door and rechecked his bag. The ticket was for the first train out. Sid felt bad, but this was it. Two months rent and enough snake oil to keep her happy for a long time. He hit the light and fell into a thick, syrupy sleep.

Thunder destroyed his enticing dream of girls with asscrack tattoos. He gulped air and sat up in his bed, listening.

The night was silent. A gunshot? His heart shook. There was a clicking of bottles behind his door, in the kitchen. She was up.


Silence, then her voice. “I’m fine, Sidney. Just fine. Go back to bed, baby.” Listening hard, he heard her rustling in the kitchen, followed by wet slaps on the floor. Is she cleaning? he wondered. I left the kitchen spotless. He lay back down, trying to conjure back the hip-hugger gals, but something tugged at his mind, just as sleep grabbed him. She hadn’t been wheezing.

Sizzling bacon woke him. He shot out of his bed and yanked open his door. The smell deepened into a greasy stink.

A bald, rail-thin woman, dressed in ruby red robe, stood with her back to him at the fridge. A frying pan sizzled away on the stove. The room was covered in a speckled pink sheen.

“Who?” he said, and she spun on wet heels. His heart caught in his throat.

“Morning, baby.”

Dark muscles flexed beneath the thin robe. She kept blinking away the slime from her blue eyes. Sid’s bowels tensed.

Sizzling in the frying pan was a pasty mask with two tiny eye slits and a little ‘o’ mouth. He put the bandana over his mouth and clenched his teeth.

“I hope you don’t mind, baby” she said, then sucked on her finger until it was just flexing muscle and white bone. “I started without you. I just keep eating and eating but I don’t gain it back. It’s wonderful.” The fridge door hung open. It was empty. Not even boxes remained.

He held his breath. Every bottle of Hooch’s snake oil was empty and scattered across the entire floor like a sea of glass. She patted her pink skull. “What do you think, Sidney? Maybe your Mom should get one of those classy wigs the stars wear! Turn a few heads, eh?”

His jaw locked.

She clapped her wet hands together. “God, you were right, Sidney. My boy is so smart! This stuff was a bottled miracle. Look at me, baby!” She spun on wet heels.

She was all glistening meat and bone and bright red drippings. Her eyes were huge, and gristle and skin hung from her teeth.

She went to the pan and flipped over the face with a spatula. “Don’t want this to burn, I know how you loved fried sandwiches! Gotta get back in the swing of things, get back in the game. I hope you’re not mad, Sidney, I just couldn’t wait a whole day to see the effects, not after all you did for me. I’m so sorry I gave you the silent treatment, baby. I never should have doubted you.”

“Ok,” he whispered, pushing a bottle away with his bare foot.

“I knew I had to make it up to you and quick. So I said, Claire, you got to get well and soon so you can get your son a father. So I just kept chugging and chugging and then I popped out, healthy as a newborn. I’m so sorry I woke you. Did you get back to sleep ok?”

“Sure.” He swallowed the puke taste in his mouth.

“Now wash up and I’ll have this good and ready. I saved you the best part.” The face began to burn. “Oh, rats!”

He ran, tripped, and felt glass cracking under his weight.


He got up and ran as the shards tore into his feet, legs and arms like barbed wire.

“Sidney! You’re…dripping.” The door was a thousand slippery miles away. He slid on his blood and shards.

“Let your Mom help you up, baby.”

Talons of bone gripped through him. “God, Sidney, you’re all flabby! Can’t have that for my baby.”

He screamed as she helped him lose five pounds in one bite.

# # #

Suckerpunch by Jason Ridler
originally published January 27, 2010



Jason Ridler has published over 30 short stories in venues such as Brain Harvest, Not One of Us, Crossed Genres, Chilling Tales, Tesseracts Thirteen, as well as Big Pulp and many other venues. His non-fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, Dark Scribe, and the Internet Review of Science Fiction. A former punk rock musician and cemetery groundskeeper, Mr. Ridler is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and holds a Ph.D. in War Studies from the Royal Military College of Canada. Visit him at his writing blog, Ridlerville, Facebook, and on Twitter.

For more of Jason's work,
visit his Big Pulp author page


Purchase books and subscriptions
in the Big Pulp book store!


Store ø Blog ø Authors ø Supporters ø Submissions ø About ø Exter Press ø Home
Art gallery ø Movies ø Fantasy ø Mystery ø Adventure ø Horror ø Science Fiction ø Romance

All fiction, poems and artwork © the authors. Big Pulp © 2012 Exter Press