Boots’s Pick
Nathaniel Tower

Turkey Sandwich
Photo Credit: FotoosVanRobin

A friend of mine told me I couldn’t imagine a sandwich the size of Montana.

“Of course I can,” I reasoned. “I can imagine anything.”

“You can’t imagine that which you cannot perceive,” he told me.

So I set out to prove him wrong.

The first thing I did was search for a plot of land the size of Montana. I tried to purchase Montana itself, but there were more than a few residents ready to raise objections. I set my sights further north.

After not too much searching, I found a nice vacant piece of land up in northern Canada. The few residents there didn’t seem to mind when I told them what I was doing and offered to buy them out. The wildlife didn’t refuse either. Northern Canada actually ended up being a much better spot because there I could keep my sandwich under permanent and natural refrigeration. I knew it would take quite some time to eat such a colossal meal, and I certainly didn’t want it to spoil after all of my efforts.

With my plot of land secured, my next step was to bake the bread. I consulted several master bakers along with a few architects and some mathematicians in order to determine the appropriate amount of each ingredient I would need. The first baker told me it couldn’t be done.

“This is lunacy,” he said. “Do you even know how big Montana is?”

“Yes,” I told him. “In fact, I just purchased 147,046 square miles of land in Canada on which to create my sandwich.”

He tried to explain himself further. “Look,” he said, “let’s just say the average loaf of bread is one square foot.”

“Okay, but I don’t think it is,” I told him.

“Well, let’s just imagine it.”

I tried to imagine it, but I couldn’t. I had seen too many loaves of bread in my life to believe that the average loaf was one square foot.

“Fine,” I told him anyway.

“Okay. It takes about two teaspoons of yeast and four cups of flour to create that one square foot of bread.”

“Got it.” Those numbers were easy to comprehend. Since I had never made a loaf of bread, I had no trouble accepting his calculations.

“Do you know how many square feet are in a square mile?”

“Yes,” I lied.

“Okay. So to make a loaf of bread that is a square mile, we need to multiply our ingredients by 27,878,400.”

“That’s a lot of flour,” I told him.

“And that’s just for one square mile. Then you will need to multiply that by another 174,046. So now you see my point. It can’t be done.”

I shook my hand. “I have the land. It can be done.”

Now I had two people to prove wrong. I just need a few imaginative people to help me.

For the next three weeks I recruited my team. Thirteen bakers, four architects, two mathematicians, one surveyor, two engineers, and three employees from a local sandwich shop. When we all sat down together at our first meeting, I knew we had the brainpower to put together the sandwich.

“There’s one problem I see,” the lead baker told me.

“And what is that?” I asked.

“We’re going to need a rather sizeable oven to pull this off.”

“Not a problem,” said one of the engineers. He got to work on it right away.

For the next seventeen months, my bakers put together all of the ingredients with the help of the mathematicians to make sure everything was just the right amount. We weren’t sure exactly what the number was called that represented the amount of flour we needed, but we did know that it was over 999 trillion cups. They slaved away night and day, and their bodies were so caked in flour that I couldn’t tell which was which. But never once did they complain or doubt or even ask for a break or any money. Truth is, we hadn’t discussed compensation, but I felt all along that they were just excited to be working on such a prestigious project.

During that time, my engineers and architects worked on assembling the oven, and the sandwich shop employees, who had all quit their jobs, collected the meat and toppings for the sandwich. We decided on a relatively simple sandwich that consisted of thinly sliced turkey breast, tomatoes, shredded lettuce, pickles, American cheese, and just a little bit of mayo, low fat of course. Although we had to throw out a few bad tomatoes and some moldy cheese, the three did an excellent job gathering the sandwich ingredients. Their job might have been the least impressive, but it was a necessity nevertheless.

At the end of the seventeenth month, my surveyor approached me with what he saw as the first real snag in my plan.

“You need more land,” he told me.

“What? Did Montana grow?”

“No. We’ve taken up more than half of the land with the oven and the ingredients. You’ll need more land to build the actual sandwich.”

This news was a shock to me. The engineers and architects had pulled off an amazing feat. Rather than building an oven the size of Montana, they built an oven exactly one-fourth the size of Montana. We would simply cut the bread lengthwise and then fuse the pieces together in order to get it just the right size. But we had never even considered needing extra land to create the sandwich.

Somewhere during those seventeen months, my buddy came up to me and told me that I could stop. I had taken it too far, he said, and although he was impressed with my determination, he didn’t see the point of building the actual sandwich.

“You’re missing the point,” he said. “By building the sandwich, you are taking it out of the imaginative realm. You still aren’t imagining it. You’re just creating it.”

“But how can you create something you don’t imagine first?” I asked him. I wondered what Descartes and Plato would’ve thought about my question. But my buddy just shook his head.

When the dough was finally ready it had risen a little higher than we had anticipated. We had to have the engineers come help to punch it down. Then everyone on the team had to assist in getting the massive ball into the oven.

There was much debate over how long it would actually take to bake the bread. I contended that if the oven had been built correctly then it shouldn’t take any longer than a normal loaf of bread. One of the bakers said it would take weeks and possibly even months. We agreed we would set the timer for an hour and check often. It was ready in just under two hours.

Cutting it was a bit tricky, but we managed. We also managed to fuse the pieces together. The bread didn’t quite fill up the land mass though. I blamed the bakers for rolling it out a little too carelessly. By my count we were only a few square feet short though, and I didn’t think that would really make much of a difference in the grand scheme of things. Someone could always just imagine that the sandwich occupied those last few feet.

Putting on the meat and toppings wasn’t as much of an adventure as we anticipated. We had to ward off some birds and bears, and at one point we thought we were going to run out of tomatoes, but it ended up being just the right amount. Those sub shop guys sure knew what they were doing.

The mayo was the most fun part. We rented a small biplane and flew it the length of the sandwich, crop-dusting the mayo all along the way. We ran out just a few inches before we reached the end, which I was pleased with because no one wants mayo in that spot at the end of the sandwich where the toppings really thin out and it’s mostly bread.

When we were all finished putting the top piece of bread in place, we admired our work but regretted the fact that we couldn’t see it all at once. I asked them if they wanted to rent a helicopter and fly up until we could see the whole thing. They said they had best be getting back to their lives. It was a bit of a shame, but I knew more or less what it looked like. After all, it was a normal sandwich that just happened to be the size of Montana. I waited for my friend to come and apologize. He never did.

Turns out that my crew did expect some pay after all. The sub shop guys had been tracking every hour they worked, including their travel time. The engineers gave me a flat rate. The mathematicians provided some formula I couldn’t comprehend, but it seemed they wanted to be paid per square kilometer. The others had their fees as well. None of it was reasonable.

Except for one of the bakers. He said he was happy just to hone his art. I laughed at the notion that making a sandwich was art.

I ended up telling them that their checks would be in the mail. They were happy with that and went about their business. I wonder if the sub shop guys ever got their jobs back. They would be the most experienced sub shop guys around, so I can’t imagine they had too much difficulty.

I stayed in Canada with my sandwich for a few days. I wanted to take a bite, especially since I had no money left to buy any other food, but I couldn’t stand the thought of having a sandwich smaller than Montana (even though it already was slightly smaller). So I just feasted on berries and other miscellaneous items I could find in the Canadian forests. There was quite a chill in the air, which was both a blessing and a curse. I was cold, but at least the sandwich was comfortable.

After a few days of roughing it in the cold, the temperature took a turn for the worse. For the sandwich that is. We hit a patch of unseasonable warmth that I heard would last for weeks. My sandwich would certainly spoil, so I did the only thing that made sense. I called up my friend, the one who started the whole argument to begin with. I asked him if he would help me eat the sandwich. He said sure.

“I never thought it would go bad so quickly,” I told him as we munched on a little piece of the sandwich that could probably feed the world.

“That’s how imagination goes,” he replied.

I still haven’t figured out what he meant.


Nathaniel Tower writes fiction, teaches English, and manages the online lit magazine Bartleby Snopes. His short fiction has appeared in over 50 online and print magazines. A story of his, “The Oaten Hands,” was named one of 190 notable stories by storySouth’s Million Writers Award in 2009. His first novel, A Reason To Kill, is due out in July 2011. Visit him at Bartleby Snopes. Email: bartlebysnopes[at]

The J

Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Gold
Nathaniel Tower

The other day I was reading a book I had purchased online a few years back. It was Ulysses, by Joyce. I was finally on the last chapter, the one with no punctuation, the one from the woman’s point of view—not sure if those two ideas are related or not, but I guess it makes sense.

So I had just started the chapter, a glass of wine, a Pinot Grigio, in my hand. I didn’t really have a clue what was going on, but I kept reading anyway because I was once told that the most intellectual accomplishment a human being could achieve in this day was to read Ulysses cover-to-cover. There I was, on the brink of achieving some intellectual brilliance that I didn’t fully comprehend but was proud of anyway, when I accidentally tipped my Pinot, sending the swirling liquid in a waterfall to my newly planted carpet.

In haste, I sprang from the comfort of my recliner, spilling the immortal genius of Joyce in a far less tragic accident, the heavy volume crashing with great force upon my naked big toe. Although the massive words hurt, I resisted the urge for profanity, instead stooping quickly and silently to rescue the pages from the wine that was seeping into my carpet.

After bouncing off my foot, the book had landed oddly, its spine down, flipped open to pages 364 and 365, words I had read many weeks ago, words that now stared at me wistfully, begging for another glance.

And then I noticed it. Lodged between those two pages was a tiny white envelope.

How had I not noticed this before?

I could feel the dampness soaking into my foot, ruining my carpet, but I paid no attention.

Was this an omen? A sign? Had someone planted this envelope possibly when I had dozed for just a brief moment while reading on the park bench?

Without hesitation and with great curiosity, my clumsy fingers tore into the small white envelope, forever breaking the bond between paper and licked glue.


In big block letters. One word and one letter. No punctuation. A tiny space separating them.


“Who the hell is J?” I asked aloud.

No one answered.

I flipped the book closed, not caring that I had lost my place, and stared at the picture of Joyce that graced the cover.

“Who’s J?” I asked his reproduced image.

He stared back, but did not answer. I flipped through the book, but the pages offered no further clues.

A swarm of question buzzed through my mind. Who wrote the note? Was it intended for me? Who was J? Was I to kill J? Was Joyce the J, and this was just some jokester’s attempt to suggest we stop reading his works? Was this a reference to the novel that I had somehow missed? Had someone accidentally switched books with me and left his reminder to kill J in the wrong hands?

I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and gathered myself. The questions ceased.

Out loud, I made a list of all the Js I knew well. “Jane, Jared, John, James, Jim, and Janet.” I thought about it again, and decided to add all of the last names I knew. “Johnson, Jurotich, Jackson, Jerinnian.”

I repeated the list, trying to order them according to whom I would most want dead. Of all the names, two stood out: Jim and Jurotich.

Jim was a two-timing snake, someone who stabbed you in the back before you even turned around. On top of that, he was a pervert who had twice been arrested for doing unmentionable perverted things.

Jurotich wasn’t a terrible person, but every time he spoke, he irritated to core of your soul.

I continued to think, wavering back and forth between the two despicable characters. At last I came to the realization that it was Jim. Someone wanted Jim dead. That someone wanted me to kill Jim. I understood what I had to do. I was the chosen one.

I made another list, this time of all the people I thought might want Jim dead. Once I had a dozen names, I folded it gently and placed it in my pocket. I returned the envelope to its shelter between the pages of the book, and headed out for the park where I frequently read, leaving the soaking wine to forever soil my new carpet. Oh well, I told myself later, it was bound to happen eventually.

In the park, I sat on my usual bench, a bench of sturdy wood and cracking gray paint, and held the book just below eye level so the world could easily see what I was reading. Actually, I wasn’t reading. My eyes were glancing over the top of the book, peering stealthily into a world that did not know I was watching. Strategically I had placed the jagged torn end of the envelope so that it also peered out, the rest of its body clenched together by two pages halfway through the book.

I studied the people that walked by.

There was a tall rabbi, a man who did not even glance my way.

There were three or four women jogging, two of whom studied me as they ran slowly by, possibly admiring my intellect.

Two men walked by talking about a woman one had “boned.” They repeatedly and loudly used the word as they neared me.

There were a handful of squirrels, none of whom paid any attention to me whatsoever.

There was a police officer who eyed me suspiciously for a moment before continuing his beat.

There was a sketchy bearded man in a trenchcoat and sunglasses. Of all the people present, he seemed most likely to be the one to want someone dead. But he didn’t approach me either, although he did stand within a dozen yards for quite some time. Perhaps it was I who should have approached him, I began to wonder.

Finally, after several hours of waiting—eventually I realized how suspicious my lack of page turning must have looking—a young woman I didn’t think I had ever seen before approached and sat on the bench beside me. She caught me off guard, at a moment of weakness where I was actually studying Joyce’s words, so I didn’t get much of a glimpse at her, but I could see how maybe she would want someone dead. She certainly didn’t seem the type to do the deed herself.

“Nice day,” she said casually.

“Uh huh,” I responded, lost in my book.

“You like Joyce?”

“I’m trying to,” I added curtly. I wasn’t about to play coy with her. This wasn’t a situation for coyness.

“Yeah, he’s hard to get into.”

Something about her voice forced me to look up from the words that didn’t really have my attention. Looking over her face, I noticed she was strikingly beautiful, the type of woman that would likely have inspired someone like Joyce to write a poem. I wished for a moment that Joyce had been there to capture her beauty with his magical pen.

“Is this your first battle with Ulysses?” she asked with her glistening green eyes the color of emeralds shining in the morning sun.

“No. Yes. I’m not really sure,” I stumbled over my clumsy tongue in a very un-Joycean manner.

She laughed comfortably at my words, taking my clumsiness for some cute form of flirtation.

“Look,” I said, lowering the book and looking away from her sharp eyes, “I know why you’re here.”

“Oh really?” she asked, blinking but surprisingly not blushing.

“I sure do.”

“But you don’t even know my name.” She spoke incredulously.

My fingers gently played with the frayed edges of the protruding envelope. Her eyes watched my subtle movements.

“Perhaps it’s best we not get too personal here.”

My brown eyes met her green eyes. Hers pierced mine and I looked away.

“But don’t I want to get personal?” she asked cryptically, as women are wont to do.

“No, you just want to kill J. Or have me do it.”

“Oh.” She began to slide away from me as if I were some leper.

“Look, I’ll do it, but I need a little help.”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that.” She looked down at the ground, her dragon-colored eyes searing the pavement below us.

We sat in silence for several minutes. I could feel the heat rising from the ground, circling around me, engulfing my soul.

“So is this how it’s going to be?” she asked, finally breaking the silence.

“I told you I need help.”

“And I told you I couldn’t help you.”

“Can you at least tell me who J is? I mean, I think I know, but how can anyone be sure? And this is far too serious to risk picking the wrong J.”

She sighed and stood. “I’m sure you can figure it out,” she said unsurely. For the first time, I noticed more than just her eyes. She was actually not as strikingly beautiful as I had initially thought. In fact, she was rather plain. “So are you going to do it?”

“If I can figure it out.” Secretly, I decided I no longer would. There seemed no clear reason for such an act, and I couldn’t very well just go kill someone because a normal-looking woman who happened to have somewhat enchanting eyes asked me to.

“Oh, you’ll figure it out,” she added, her back turned to me as she walked away.

And that’s when I noticed it. Attached to her bag was a single letter, straight at first, then hooking into a miniature U at the bottom. Together, the two shapes formed a golden J.

I reached into my pocket and removed the small revolver. Pointing the gun, my hand quivering, I debated for a moment. Was I sure? Was this what she wanted? Could I really kill someone I had just met? Then again, who was I to not kill someone who really wanted me to do it?

Before she could get out of range, I decided to pull the trigger. As the smoke rose from the barrel, her body collapsed to the grass, falling like a sack of potatoes, a strange sight from such a small woman.

I stood, looking around to assure myself there were no witnesses, then ran to the body and scooped up her bag before sprinting away from the scene. As I ran, the image of blood-painted grass clung to my mind.

Back in the security of my apartment, I searched the contents of her bag. It was filled with dozens of small white envelopes. I tore into one after the other, the same five letters staring at me repeatedly.





After a couple dozen, I stopped my frantic search for meaning. I removed the golden J from her bag and studied it carefully. It looked so out of place in my hand. I turned it over repeatedly. It was nothing but a plain gold J.

I tried to reason with myself that I had done the right thing. Clearly she had been the purveyor of the note, but still I wondered how it had gotten there, and still I wondered why she had been so cryptic. I tried to focus on some logical explanation, but I couldn’t see anything clearly except her cold green eyes blending into the grass as her body fell to the ground.

Throwing the J to the ground, I decided to turn to Joyce for help. After all, the book was where the story had all began. Perhaps the ending would clear things up. So I read the last few pages, desperately searching for some sign to indicate that I had done the right thing, to confirm that I wasn’t completely insane.

And in the end, I found the confirmation I needed. There, on the final page of Joyce’s great work, the final sentence of a chapter without sentences, a solitary affirming word. That single “Yes” caused me to breathe the greatest sigh of relief that had ever been emitted from my lips. Smiling, I closed the book and rested it atop the mountain of notes.

At the precise moment of my victory, the police showed up.

Nathaniel Tower writes fiction and teaches English. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Cantaraville, Mud Luscious, Bottom of the World, Inscribed, Skive, Toasted Cheese and many others. He is also the founding editor of the online literary magazine, Bartleby Snopes. He currently lives in St. Louis, MO with his wife. E-mail: bartlebysnopes[at]

The Oaten Hands

Baker’s Pick
Nathaniel Tower

His hands were made of oats.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if he hadn’t been a horse whisperer.

His hands were like that when he was born. No one really understood why. Neither of his parents had any body parts made of oats. Neither of them had even eaten any oats the morning the conception took place. But sure enough, when Edwin MacGrain was born on that windy November night, he slid out, covered in all the embryonic goo, with hands made out of thousands of sturdy oats, all clumped together in the exact shape of normal looking hands.

The hands were still fully functional. He had full range of motion with both hands and all of his fingers. The thumbs were even opposable. It was as if the oats had simply taken the skin’s place; everything underneath was exactly the same as everyone else.

It was a darn good thing that Edwin had developed a taste aversion to oats early in his life. His mother had made sure of it. Myrtle MacGrain wasn’t going to have a child that went around munching on his own hands.

“Get your oats, I mean hands, out of your mouth,” she would yell at him whenever the youth had chewed on the delicious grains that comprised his hands.

“But they taste delicious and I’m hungry,” the boy had whined.

“Well, let me just fix that,” she said before wiping wormwood all over his hands. “Why don’t you try them now?”

He did, and immediately he drew back his head forcefully, the bitter taste of his wormwood oat hands leaving him cringing for sugar.

“Now, promise me you will never chew on your hands again.”

“I promise, Mommy,” the boy had told his mother.

And he made good on that promise, so for twenty-two years, Edwin MacGrain lived a somewhat normal life, as normal of a life as anyone could live when his hands were made of oats.

Edwin was bullied about his oat hands in school, with classmates often threatening to feed him to the local farm animals or to pour milk on him and eat him out of a bowl for breakfast. They stopped bullying him about his hands when he started wearing black cotton work gloves all the time. Then they made fun of him for wearing gloves all the time.

Most wondered if there were other parts of his body that were made of oats as well. Although some of the ladies enjoyed the novelty of his grainy touch, they were a bit afraid that other appendages might possibly consist of oats, and they assumed that the logistics of that just wouldn’t be able to work out. So, for the most part, they kept their distance.

It was his complete lack of normal social interaction that drove him to horse whispering. He stumbled upon it one day by accident really. The bullies had chased him unknowingly to a farm, leaving him as a sacrifice to the most feared horse of all, a ferociously muscular white stallion by the name of Hayman. When the beast seemed poised to strike, the cowering Edwin softly spoke, “Hey man,” not realizing at the time that the two syllables he had uttered, had they been uttered closer together, would have represented the horse’s name. But it was all the same to the horse. To Edwin’s amazement, rather than munching at his hands, the horse simply nuzzled at his feet as he begged for mercy. When he placed his oat hands on the mighty stallion’s fiery mane, the horse purred for him, and he realized that he had tamed the wild beast. It was a ridiculous scene, the boy rubbing his oats all over the menacing horse as it purred like a kitten and paid no attention to the tasty smells that emanated from Edwin’s hands.

Edwin’s favorite part about interacting with Hayman was that the horse made no attempt to make fun of him. For the first time in his life, he felt normal. He fit in. From that moment, he knew why he had been born with hands of oats—God had made him that way to connect him with the creatures of the farm.

His mother was a bit skeptical when he told her.

“How will you be able to work with horses with your condition?”

It upset him when she referred to it as a condition. It wasn’t a condition. It was a permanent state, the state in which he had been born and would live forever, and surely she was at least partly to blame for it.

“I’m a horse whisperer,” he replied simultaneously angrily and cockily, “I have full control. I don’t need to worry about my hands.”

After sighing, she let the boy choose his own fate. She didn’t know what else to do.

He never told his dad, not that the man would have cared. The father had gotten out as soon as he realized his boy’s hands were permanently made of oats. “Can we cut off the oat hands and attach real hands?” he had asked the doctor within five minutes of the birth.

“No, we can’t attach real hands, but we can cut off the oat hands. We could give him hooks if you want,” the doctor, who loved pirates, replied while standing underneath a poster of a scowling Blackbeard in his office.

“No son of mine is going to have hooks,” the mother responded when the husband told her the idea.

“Then let’s just get rid of his hands,” the father told her.

“No son of mine is going to live without hands.”

“Well no son of mine is going to have oats for hands. I want a divorce.”

She gave it to him. Had she the papers with her then and there, she would have signed them. What kind of man wouldn’t stand by his wife and son in this time of need? Men stayed in relationships when their children were born mentally retarded or without limbs or with heart conditions or with thousands of other much more serious ailments. This was just oats for hands. Maybe, in some strange way, this was a blessing.

And by the time Edwin MacGrain had turned twenty-one and discovered his gift, he realized it was indeed a blessing, and that in itself made up for the years of torment as well as the years with soggy, crumbling hands.

Although Edwin MacGrain felt that he had accomplished something when he discovered his gift, he quickly learned that the profession of horse whispering was not much in demand anymore. It had gone the way of the gasoline pumper and the scrivener. There were simply more technologically advanced ways to get the job done. Modern medicine and training techniques had created horses that didn’t need anyone to whisper to them. In fact, most horses found the whole idea of having someone feel their face while whispering nonsense to them quite annoying. Some horses would buck and kick when they felt strange hands upon them no matter how gentle the whispering was. But Edwin’s touch was different. No horse could resist the roughly gentle touch of his oaten hands. If Edwin could tame Hayman, then Edwin could tame any equine.

Edwin MacGrain felt his best opportunity for employment was through the classified ads of the neighborhood newspapers. In small towns with closely-knit communities, everyone seemed to favor neighborhood journalism over the sharp tongues of the big city writers. For a small fee of ten dollars for a week, he posted his advertisement in every neighborhood newspaper within a one hundred mile radius:

Horse Whisperer Searching for Employment
With my soft oaten hands and soothing voice,
I will tame your horse, guaranteed.
Fee: $50 per hour plus travel and meal expenses
If interested, contact Edwin MacGrain.

Below the description, he posted his mother’s phone number, which was the only phone he had ever known. He wondered if he should explain more about his hands, but he figured it was best to just wait until the calls came in.

After a week, the phone still hadn’t rung. No one seemed to need a horse whisperer, either that or they just didn’t believe that he could do the job, or possibly even the fee was too high. The following week, he put out a similar ad, another ten dollars out of his pockets, with his fee lowered to $25. The week went by and the phone still did not ring. He tried one more. The fee this time was listed as negotiable.

On Friday of that week, he finally got a call. Bixley Drowley was the man’s name, and he informed Edwin that he had several horses that needed taming. His voice was strange, deep and husky with an accent that Edwin had never heard before. The man seemed to pronounce every sound hard, stressing syllables that normally weren’t stressed.

“Edwin Mackgrain please,” he had said when Edwin picked up the phone.

“This is Edwin,” the young man replied professionally, his oaten hands tightly grasping the phone.

“This is Bixley Drowley. Got some horses that need taming. What you charge?”

“Name your price, sir.”

“Bullshit, son. I need your fee. You tell me, I’ll pay it.”

“Alright. Twenty-five an hour,” Edwin said timidly.

“Bullshit, son. That isn’t your fee. Any sensible horse whisperer with any bit of talent charges a helluva lot more than that. What’s your fee?”

“Fifty dollars an hour,” Edwin said with a little more confidence.

“Bullshit, son. I won’t pay less than one hundred. I need to know that I am buying something that is quality. So what’s your fee?”

“One hundred dollars an hour,” Edwin said firmly.

“Bullshit, son. If someone tells you they won’t pay less than one hundred, you better charge them more than one hundred or you ain’t getting all the you can out of them. You need to charge me as much as I am willing to pay.”

“How much are you willing to pay?” Edwin felt this conversation was quite twisted.

“I’ll pay up to three hundred an hour.”

“Then I’ll charge you two hundred fifty per hour—”

“Why won’t you charge me my max—”

“Plus travel and food.”

“Good deal, son. I accept. You be at Drowley farms tomorrow by the time the sun rises.”


Edwin woke excitedly the next morning two hours before sunrise. He wanted to be sure to give himself plenty of time to arrive at the Drowley farms before the sun peeked its head above the horizon. There were no mountains or hills to delay its arrival, so Edwin had no room for error. He wasn’t sure exactly what before sunrise meant as far as time, and he didn’t want to cut things too close, so he figured he would just arrive about an hour before the newspaper said the sun would rise.

As he drove down the two-lane highway, he wondered if he should have covered his hands. Even though he had indicated in the ad that his hands were oaten, it could still be quite the shock to see someone standing before you with hands made of oats. To his knowledge, he was the only one of his kind, but he was also pretty sure that no one outside of his immediate community knew about the condition. The Drowley farms were almost an hour away, and news about something like that probably didn’t bother to travel very far. It just wasn’t that important. As he neared the farms, he decided it was best to keep his hands uncovered. Drowley needed to know immediately what he was dealing with. Besides, Edwin was not ashamed of his hands. They were a gift.

An hour before the sun rose, the faint light of its rays began to emerge, and Drowley was awake and waiting on the wooden porch when Edwin arrived. Drowley, a tan man with a grisly beard, greeted him immediately. “Well hello, Edwin,” he began, pleased to meet the young man that could tame any horse. “I’m glad to see you are—what the hell is on your hands?”

Edwin looked down embarrassed but offered no answer.

“Well, son, speak…” Drowley suddenly seemed unpleasant in every way imaginable.

Edwin thought about hopping back into the car and speeding away. This was the first time he had really traveled away from his home by himself, and he was quickly realizing that he had made a mistake. “Th, the, these are my hands.”


“These are my hands.” Edwin held his oaten hands high for the man to see.

The man studied them closely for a moment, grabbing him by the forearms but being certain not to touch the hands. Drowley’s grip was strong, certainly not the grip of hands made of oats. “So your hands are made of oats?” he said in disbelief while still studying the grains that had clumped together over the bones and tendons of Edwin’s hands.

“Yes sir.”

“That’s the kind of thing you should probably tell someone before selling your services to them,” Drowley said as he released the boy’s forearms causing the oaten hands to crash against Edwin’s waist. The impact caused slight cracks that snaked their way around his hands.

“I did tell you,” Edwin responded timidly while staring at the damage that had been inflicted upon his hands. “The ad said that I had ‘oaten hands’.”

“I didn’t think that your hands were made of oats. I thought it was just some cute medafore, or whatever. Aw, hell.”

Edwin shrugged but did not respond. He saw nothing to respond to.

The two stared at each other silently for a few moments before Drowley broke the silence. “How’d they get like that?”

“I was born this way.”

“Well, no shit. Was your daddy a horse or something?”

“Wouldn’t know,” Edwin responded spitefully. “I’ve never met the sonuvabitch, but I don’t think him being a horse would give me oaten hands. Maybe if my daddy had been a box of oatmeal…”

“How the hell could your daddy be a box of oatmeal?”

“How the hell could somebody live his whole life with hands made out of oats?” Edwin responded, holding the backs of his hands right before the eyes of Drowley.

“Good point. Let me show you to the stables. You sure you can work with horses with those things?” Drowley asked as he led the way to the stables.

“Ever hear of Hayman?”

“You mean that vicious beast monster of a horse over at the Fardley place?”

“Yes sir. I tamed him. I tamed him with these oaten hands.”

Drowley stopped in his tracks and turned to the boy. “Well I’ll be a sonuvabitch. You really can do this job. Good thing I am paying you so damn much money.”

Edwin didn’t know how to respond to this. After all, Drowley was the one who had refused a lower price and suggested such a high one. All Edwin did was shrug.

Drowley resumed the walk and showed Edwin to the rotting stables. The stables consisted of four horse pens, each one a tiny cage filled with feces and shredded hay. The four horses that occupied the pens immediately perked up from their naps when Edwin entered. They could smell his presence.

“Well, here they are. That one’s Shadow, that one’s Horsearama, that one’s Milk Breath, and that one is Skinny Man,” Drowley said as he introduced the four identically brown horses. Edwin did not see a single identifying feature on any of the horses other than the fact that they were separated into different cages. “Basically, they are all wild beasts, and you need to tame them so that I can ride them.”

“Sounds good,” Edwin said with his hands hidden underneath his shirt.

“I’ll basically leave you alone with them, and you come get me when they are tame. If they aren’t tamed by noon, come see me for lunch.” Drowley didn’t wait for Edwin to respond, departing from the putrid smell of the stables as soon as he finished speaking.

Edwin went to work immediately, entering each pen, placing his oaten hands upon each horse until their menacing eyes transformed into beautiful black mirrors that accepted his presence as if he were a part of them. His work was quick and magical, and within a few short hours, the horses would have eaten out of his hands without eating his hands, no matter how tempting it might have been.

When he entered Drowley’s house only three hours later, the man assumed that Edwin was throwing in the towel. “Can’t do it, can you boy?” Drowley asked.

“Actually, I’m finished. They’re all ready for a ride. Even Skinny Man.”

Drowley dropped the mug of coffee he had been sipping. “You’re pulling my leg, ain’t ya boy. Just like you were about those oaten hands. Let me see your real hands.”

“These are my real hands,” Edwin said with a laugh. He was proud of his hands. They had just earned him over a thousand dollars. “May I have my money now?”

“How ’bout we have lunch first?”

“Whatever suits you,” Edwin replied with a smile.

The two sat down to a meal of scrambled eggs and burnt bacon. Before Edwin had even swallowed his first bite, Drowley began to rain questions upon him.

“You were really born with those?”


“How do you wash your hands?”

“I don’t. They’d crumble and get soggy. Besides, germs don’t really accumulate.”

“Interesting. Aren’t you ever tempted to eat them?”

“Aren’t you ever tempted to eat yours?”

“No, why the hell would I do that?”

“I don’t know. Why the hell would I eat my hands?”

“Because they are made of oats.”

“I hate the taste of oats.”

“I guess that makes sense. I don’t really like the taste of human flesh..”

“Have you ever really tried it?”

“No, I suppose not, other than when I used to chew on my fingers as a child.”

“Well, then it’s a damn good thing your hands weren’t made of oats.”

Edwin and Drowley continued the exchange for hours. It turned out, much to both of their surprises, that Edwin was quite normal and that he really was quite proud of his malformation.

“Shall we go look at those horses?” Drowley finally asked.

“Let’s do it.”

Drowley was quite satisfied with the behavior of his four stallions, and the two walked back to the house after only a few minutes to retrieve Edwin’s pay. Drowley handed Edwin twelve hundred dollars, which was more than the agreed upon rate, and told him that he really appreciated the help and that he would recommend him to all his friends.

“This is more than we agreed,” Edwin said.

“Well, I’ve got one more job for you, if you don’t mind.”

“Sure, anything,” Edwin replied with a renewed confidence.

“Alrighty then. Can you take this bucket of milk to them?” Drowley held out a wooden bucket filled with several gallons of milk.

“Absolutely,” Edwin said as he grabbed the bucket from Drowley’s hands. Edwin held the bucket by the bottom with both hands. He wanted to ensure that the weight was distributed evenly so as not to put any unneeded pressure on the oaten hands.

The moment Edwin entered the stables, things seemed different than they had been when he had entered. The smell of milk mixed with the smell of the oats, and the four horses reverted back to their wild ways, exiting their pens ferociously and causing a general commotion that knocked the bucket out of Edwin’s hands and sent him sprawling to the floor. His hands landed first, crumbling from the impact and soaking up the milk rapidly. Almost instantly, the four horses swarmed him and began furiously licking and chewing at his hands. His cries of pain went unheard, and he lay there helplessly as the horses ate until Edwin thought his hands were no more. After a few minutes, everything went black.

When Edwin came to, his hands were bandaged and he found himself in Drowley’s bed.

“Am I okay?” he asked the tan farmer.

“I’m not sure. Your hands were pretty badly injured.” There was general concern in Drowley’s tones.

“I need to see them,” Edwin said through anticipatory tears.

Without a word, Drowley began unwrapping the bandages until Edwin’s hands were clearly visible. Edwin’s eyes clouded with tears as he stared at the pale human flesh that had been underneath the oats all this time. It had taken him twenty-two years to figure out what to do with his deformed life, and now he wondered what he could possibly do without his oaten hands.

Nathaniel Tower is the founder and editor of Bartleby Snopes. He is a writer of fiction and teacher of English. He has stories published or forthcoming in Inscribed~A Magazine for Writers, Pens on Fire, Darkest Before the Dawn, Cynic Mag, SHINE!, Long Story Short, Ranfurly Review, Perspectives Magazine, Bottom of the World, and Cantaraville. He also has contributed many articles to The Spoof. He just finished his first novel, A Reason to Kill. E-mail: bartlebysnopes[at]