Michael Seymour Blake 

When the third doctor told me the same thing the previous two did, that my worries were all in my head, I googled my symptoms—drowsiness, depression, anxiety, stomach discomfort, trouble sleeping, general fatigue—and found out a fungus called candida had infected my blood. I closed my eyes and concentrated, felt the stuff swimming around inside me. Eventually, I came across a website selling apricot kernels. These things were supposed to be real candida killers. I paid extra to overnight a large bag to my office.

When it arrived I took the box to my desk and tore it open. I removed the bag, which had a little apricot tree hanging over the words “Sherman’s Apricot Kernels, Have a Healthy Snack!” on it.

I wolfed down two bitter, chalky handfuls, then shoveled in some more before noticing a warning on the back of the bag: Do not eat more than 5 kernels in a day. I searched for answers. “Well, what happens if you eat more than five?” I asked. The bag didn’t say anything.

Google told me that apricot kernels create arsenic in your body. Arsenic is toxic shit.

“Christ, what a dumb way to die,” I said.

I called my doctor.

“You ate what?” he said.

“Kernels! Apricot kernels!”

“Why would you do something like that?”

“To kill my candida.”

“Candida again? Michael…”

I didn’t have time for his bullshit so I hung up and called my mom. She works at a medical facility. She asked me why the hell I was eating apricot kernels. I told her there was no time to explain, that my life was on the damn line.

She put me on hold.

A nurse named Agatha got on the phone, said I needed to vomit—the sooner the better—

so I ran into the bathroom with the phone pressed against my ear, passing a group of confused coworkers. I kicked open the stall door, bent over the toilet, and jammed a few fingers down my throat. A little gag. Nothing.

“NOT HAPPENING!” I yelled.

I felt the arsenic forming inside me. In about five minutes I’d be dead. Poisoned. What a life. I wondered if I had enough time to scribble something on the wall before I went. I checked my pockets. No pen, no pencil.

Then I heard Agatha yell, “MUSTARD!”

“Mustard!” I yelled back. “Yeah! Mustard!”

I didn’t know why we were so excited about mustard, but Agatha’s enthusiasm was contagious.

“Put some mustard in hot water and drink it,” she said. “Mustard tea! You know, for nausea!”

I ran to my desk and rummaged through the drawers, tossing memos, plastic forks, and napkins everywhere.

“Everything all right, Michael?” my manager asked.

I slammed the drawers shut. “I need mustard! MUSTARD GODDAMMIT!”

We found five packets of old mustard stashed around the office.

In the kitchen, I squeezed the packets into a mug of hot water and then stirred it with my finger. Agatha said I should drink it over the toilet. “It’ll really get things moving,” she said. “Puke city.”

She knew her shit.

I knelt on the dirty bathroom tiles and downed some of the tea. I inhaled the pungent aromas of warm yellow, spicy brown, and Dijon mustards. I stared at the bowl, envisioning every time I’d ever puked.

“Still not working,” I said.

“Try this…” Agatha made some gagging noises. “Turn... the… volume… up,” she said, pretending to choke. I put the phone on speaker and slid it in my shirt pocket, then drank more of the tea. Agatha’s burps and heaves echoed in the stall. This is how it ends, I thought, with a stranger making vomiting sounds on the phone in a public restroom while I drink mustard tea over a dirty toilet.

Someone was lingering at the urinal, his polished black wingtips aimed in my direction. The arsenic spread into my lungs. Probably. It felt like it did. I dipped three fingers in the mug and coated them with mustard. I opened wide and drove them down my throat.

I started to feel something.

Half-chewed kernels burst from my mouth in a stream of bile and mustard tea. The polished black wingtips quickly exited the bathroom. I spit the last of the stuff in the bowl, then collapsed on the floor. Agatha complimented my poise before hanging up.

I washed my face and tried getting back to work. I glanced at the bag.

“Sherman’s Apricot Kernels, Have a Healthy Snack.”

I noticed the tree had a little winking face. It was winking right at me.          

I opened an email.

Dear kernel people,

I should make you read a detailed account of what I just went through, but I’ll save you some time and give you the short version, which is that your “healthy snack” almost killed me.

I could still smell the vomit in my nostrils.

Where the hell are the warnings on your website? How many people have died at this point? You won’t get me. Not this time.

I knew I had to finish strong.

Fuck you and your kernels; I want my money back, overnight shipping fees included…  

Then my doctor called me back. He’d spoken to Poison Control and thought I’d probably be OK.

“Monitor yourself closely for the next twenty-four hours,” he said.

I told him the situation’s been handled, “Thanks anyway.”

He tried to give me some shit about the dangers of self-diagnosis. Thought I should see a therapist.

“Yeah sure,” I said, “I’ll see you soon.”

Warm regards, Michael Seymour Blake.

I hit send.


Michael Seymour Blake is the author/illustrator of 12 Days of Santa Crying. His work has appeared at Queen Mob’s, Fanzine, Flapperhouse, Entropy, Corium, Paper Darts, People Holding, and Reality Beach, among others, and he has work forthcoming from Hypertext. He has painted various murals around NYC, including one that was prominently featured at Silent Barn in Brooklyn, home to the new Mellow Pages Library. He lives in Queens. 

Illustration by Adam Forster - whose work will feature in Issue 3!