Fiction: Pain Relief

I still owe a recap of Borderlands Bootcamp and I will get that up this week. One of the results of that weekend of intense writer training was the following story.

We were each given the first line of an iconic book on the first night. I received a line from Jack Ketchum’s Girl Next Door. Given that he had just passed away days earlier, I felt like I was treading hallowed ground.

Saturday night we had just a few hours to wrestle a story from our exhausted, over caffeinated brains based on the first line we were given. It was writing taken to an extreme. This is the first draft of the story I came up with. I promise full details of the camp experience later this week.

Pain Relief

Written by Angela Yuriko Smith

   “You think you know about pain? I know about pain.”

   He held up his palms. They were lined with dirt and chapped. His nails were framed in flakes of dead skin, ending in black crescents.

   “You have dirty hands, but that isn’t the same thing as pain. Just take a bath. You don’t need my help for that.” I took my time unscrewing the cap off the bottle and let it drop to the ground. His mouth twisted as he sucked his bottom lip, thinking.

   “It’s because of it. People who don’t know pain don’t be dirty like this.”

   I didn’t respond and took a drink from the bottle. His hands dropped back to his lap.

   “Why do you want to know about my pain anyways? You ain’t gonna do anything about it.” His eyes fixated on the Jack and I let the light catch it so it shone amber.

   “I can’t help you if I don’t believe you.” I tipped the bottle again, letting a trickle run down my chin. I liked the desperate look in his eyes as his world narrowed and licked my lips before wiping the drops away with the back of my hand. “Good stuff.”

   He licked his own lips in subconscious pantomime and pushed layers of a tattered sleeve up, exposing a forearm latticed in scars. The skin was less grimy there.

   “Here’s some pain for you. Every time I lose something, I keep the memory in my flesh. I cut myself,” he said. “That’s a lot of memories.” He ran his fingers across one of the bigger lines.

   “Lots of people cut themselves. It doesn’t mean your pain is worse.” I pulled my phone out and checked the time. “What do you cut yourself with?”

   “I got a knife. You gotta have a knife ‘round here. I’ll show you.” He pawed at his neck with stiff fingers and pulled at a string tied at his neck. A decent sized hunting knife in a worn black sheath was dangling at the end of it. I held my hand out, letting the liquid slosh against the glass as I did.

   “Can I see it?”

   He sucked his lip in again, thinking, before he pulled the string over his head and placed it in my hand.

   “Now you give me the bottle like you said.”

   “I didn’t say I was giving you anything. I said I would help you with your pain.”

   “A drink sure goes a long way to help. I got arthritis from the cold nights and a good drink is all that makes it go.”

   I cradled the Jack in the crook of my arm and slid the knife free. The blade was hash marked with scratches. The tip was snapped off.

   “So what did you lose to make so many scars?”

   “Everything! I lost everything I ever had. Shitty parents, shitty wife took the kids, shitty friends… I tried to make something with my life but I got backstabbed every time. Nothing left to do but cut reminders and try to get on.”

   Sitting on the greasy back step of a restaurant and smelling like piss, he didn’t look like he was getting on.

   “And cutting yourself helps?”

   He looked at the blade in my hand.

   “Not like the booze does.”

   I held the bottle out and swished the contents before I handed it over to him.

   “I knew you weren’t gonna just tease me. I knew you were gonna help.” He took a deep swig, sloshing it around in his mouth before swallowing it.

   I dropped the sheath and it landed at his feet, the string spreading serpentine on the stained pavement. He took another swig and bent over to pick it up. I bent over too, above him, close enough for his body stink to invade my nose.

   The knife pushed in to the small hollow that hid where his shoulder and neck connected. It slid in, already familiar with this flesh–a final memory that would never scar. He fell forward on one knee, propped up by the bottle, before he collapsed. Blood and booze mingled into the cracks beneath him.

   “You were doing it wrong,” she said.

About Angela Yuriko Smith

Angela Yuriko Smith is an American poet, publisher and author. Her first collection of poetry, In Favor of Pain, was nominated for an 2017 Elgin Award. Her latest novella, Bitter Suites, is a 2018 Bram Stoker Awards® Finalist. Currently, she publishes Space and Time magazine, a 53 year old publication dedicated to fantasy, horror and science fiction. For more information visit or
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  1. Pingback: And finally… my Bootcamp Update |

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