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Unconventional Advice for the Discerning Reader

Sophie Wereley has secluded herself in the mysterious hills of Washington, DC. She has a soft spot for feral cats and a great admiration for guerrilla gardeners. Her fiction has appeared in Daily Science Fiction and Intergalactic Medicine Show. You can find her all over the web, including on Twitter @sayitwhirly and her blog at sophiewereley.wordpress.com.

Dear Ena,
I've just learned that my father has been embezzling money from our business for the past three years. I found out when my own paycheck bounced, and now I can't pay my rent. The business is in the hole almost $20,000. Any ideas on how I can make a quick buck? And how can I begin to repair this relationship?
Daddy I$$ues
Greed loves none other more than it loves itself. Your relationship with your father will not be repaired until he can excise his greed with his own will and spirit. You may try to help him, but I worry you will only be further mired in his selfishness.
As for the quick buck, I suggest slaughtering a doe in the nearest meadow exactly east of your home--there is one, I believe, behind an old Kroeger's grocery that may serve nicely--and pouring the resulting blood into a circle. Toss a braid of rosemary and holly into its center, with three polished obsidian. Recite the Lord's Prayer, or perhaps the poetry of Emily Dickinson. Something will appear to offer a bargain. Take it if you see fit.
Otherwise a sympathetic relative would be of service?
Dear Ena,
My brother and his wife have named their baby girl after our recently deceased mother. I love my brother and my new niece, but I can't believe they used that name! When they mentioned it in their list of possibles, I expressly asked them to choose a different one. I can't look at the baby or say the name without feeling betrayed and heartbroken. What should I say so they understand how much this has hurt me?
Mom's Name First
Heartbreak can be assuaged by a meal of aspic made from ground foxes' teeth, though each tooth must be given willingly, and so first you must learn the language of foxes. I would rather you bite into an apple, then speak into the open flesh all you wish to say to your brother--and here hold nothing back. Dress the wound with salt and a dab of menstrual blood, and the apple will speak your thoughts while robbing you of the ability to do so yourself. Then bury the apple.
For, what has the child done to deserve such begrudgement--or to be the cause of such heartbreak--at the sound of her name? It is hers, for as long as she wishes to keep it, so you'll have no luck prying it away from her.
May I suggest, frankly, shutting up and minding your own business?
Dear Ena,
Every day feels like swallowing a smooth, black stone the size of my fist. I feel them grating in my stomach when I walk, and I cough up thick grey dust. It stains everything, including my skin. How can I make this stop? I've twice swallowed a length of lavender-infused silk and drawn it back out of my throat, but it doesn't seem to help. I'm beginning to feel that I'll be like this forever. Please help.
You have concluded that you are suffering from a broken heart and have begun a regimen of a most commonly cited cure for heartbreak that has manifested as illness in the stomach. I am afraid, however, that your heart was not broken. By a careful arrangement and rearrangement of the letters in your message, I deduce that your heart has in fact split itself and given part of its body to another.
I won't ask how or why it happened, because in truth you may not know either: hearts give themselves up with frequency and without much logic. Indeed, it's rare to find an adult with a heart all their own; most have amalgams of multiple hearts, each piece originating in someone different. A lover, a parent, even a stranger.
I am afraid I can offer no help in this case, as it is the nature of hearts to be both wantonly generous and contrarily unhelpful. They rarely consult us when dividing and departing, as I'm sure you've noticed. But this is how they have always been. Soon, I hope, a heart will find reason to give part of itself to you, and you will love, from then on, with the strength of two, then three, then many.
The rock dust, then, is peculiar because it should not be symptomatic of a broken heart. I suspect it is, instead, a heavy mixture of self-doubt and anxiety. I suggest peach yogurt or multi-grain bread to aid in digestion, and the support of a good therapist.
A Note to Readers:
Last week, a young man wrote who was struggling with humility and the wording of his apologies to family and friends. I noted that he could wind spider webs around the head of the pin, dunk this in chamomile tea, and then unwind the spool to see some suggested wordings for apologies applicable to his situation. Many of you objected to this treatment of spiders. I truly apologize: it is an unnecessary cruelty to destroy the home of one creature to buttress another's common sense, and it would have been more fruitful to offer scripts myself. I also should have mentioned that the webs must be given willingly, as the foxes' teeth from this week. In addition, vegan substitutions for these items can easily be found, including:
- cornsilk for spider webs
- lime deposits for foxes' teeth
However, these must also be gifts, and in general I find that spiders and foxes are a good deal more talkative than corn or limestone. I welcome suggestions for other substitutes, of course. Please sound off in the comments.
Ena Wither casts a shadow only at noon and wears silver bracelets as protection against the Hollow Walkers. She is a regular contributor to the magazine, and encourages everyone to avoid hot liquids until the week's end.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

Author Comments

Many of my friends know that I'm borderline obsessed with advice columns. I read them voraciously and have often fantasized about being an advice columnist myself--although I have to specify that I'd prefer to be an Ask Amy or a Captain Awkward than a Miss Lonelyhearts. I started to wonder what kind of advice would be necessary in a speculative fiction universe. What if solutions could be spec fic, too, and how would a columnist with experience in practical and arcane problem-solving address people's questions? The first two questions, by the way, are riffs on letters that have actually been written into actual advice columns, and the last letter takes its inspiration from one of my personal, sadder moments.

- Sophie Wereley
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