Back to the Mansion
By Sally Madison
The plans were all set. Lloyd would provide the distraction at the tea ship, while Earl escorted the
Lord Mayor and Miss Mary to the Bowers’ house through the dark alleys.
Mary, who had been strangely quiet, finally erupted. “I cannot go! I would be deserting all that
my family has stood for, what of our loyalty to Cousin George? It is treasonous not to fight for
civility and put these rebels in their place. I will be shunned by my family.”
Her husband Richard, who was the Lord Mayor, Earl and Lloyd stood there astonished into
silence. “But, Mary, they tried to kill you… and me.”
Mary, hanging her head, knew that he was right, but she still could not imagine the future through
her disheveled life. “No matter what the consequences, I need to get back to the mansion,” she
insisted. “There are things there that are more important to me than anything in the world.”
Earl considered her comment for a moment. She was right; they would need money, if nothing
else. “It’ll be tricky, but I think we can manage it. Most everyone is down at the park. We might
be able to sneak into the servant’s door. Here, put this scarf around your hair like the
washerwoman does. Let’s go, but quiet mind you, and try to stay out of sight.”
At the mansion, there were still a few stragglers who were watching the remnants of the fire burn
some of the paintings, books and small chairs they had taken from the mansion, when the mob
dragged Mary and Richard out to tar and feather them. Fortunately, the looters left alone anything
that was too large to carry easily.
Earl led Mary and Richard into the vegetable garden, and handed them each a few squashes.
“Anyone whats’ spots us, will think we’re stealing these. Either way, they won’t pay any mind.
Now, you go quiet-like into the back door and warn your help not to let on who you are.”
Earl went to the fire circle and poked the ashes. “Looks like everyone went back to Finnegan’s. I
hear that Old Tom Paine was buying beer for anyone of like mind.” said…
“You aint’ goin?’ said one of the straglers.
“Nau, me pa needs me to drag his sorry ‘ars back to our place.” Earl lied, “You go ahead, I’ll be
Mary and Richard stealthily snuck into the house. Mary ran to the parlor. Opening the drawers
and pressing various pressure points of her desk, she finally opened the secret compartment.
With a sigh of relief, she grabbed the mahogany box that matched her desk, and hugged it to her
chest. Gently she ran her fingers across the beautiful desk that had been her wedding gift. “Until
we meeting again she spoke to the desk.” She sighed. Carefully she opened the box, which held
her most prized possessions, her jewels and the black pearls and the family’s heirloom.
Word Count : 498
It’s Nothing Personal…
By Josh McMullen
The president hadn't been in power for more than a day before instituting sweeping reforms all over the
country. His fist act, citing the ever-widening gap between the upper and lower classes, was to basically
sever the bond between them altogether. They would no longer be able to fraternize outside of fiscal and
other essential responsibilities. He handled the backlash with aplomb, citing the mountain the media was
making out of the figurative molehill.
He had even instituted an agency (The Pay Grade Integrity Commission) to make sure his baby never
came into question. Penalties were swift and severe, going so far as lifetime imprisonment and even in the
most severe cases, death.
That was the situation Farley and Dahlia found themselves in on that freezing-cold March night in
Farley's apartment. She had rushed through the office when the PGIC came through on their weekly
sweep, taking Farley's hand and dragging him out the door. No place was really safe, not under the new
regime, but if they could just hold out for a little while, they might just be able to make it.
Farley had just kissed her; that much Dahlia knew. Outside of that, her brain was completely cloudy. She
crawled to the window and peeked outside, where PGIC agents had given up the battering ram and were
preparing to reduce the whole place to ashes. She had heard of this, and it was only the worst case
scenarios that brought out the flamethrowers. If they couldn't make them come out quietly, they would
just smoke them out, and to Hades with the rest of the commons displaced.
Farley remained near the door, the joy of the reckless act he just performed turning into ashes in his
mouth. He leaned his head against the door, wondering if it was all worth it. He could have just went back
to work and left Dahlia alone, no muss, no fuss and certainly no government agency to chase him all over
“You know they're just going to chase us until we can't run anymore,” he said dejectedly.
“I know,” Dahlia groaned, hanging her head resignedly. “I couldn't help myself. That's what this does to
you: when you want something but can't have it, it just makes you want it all the more.”
“You…you honestly wanted me? I'm nothing special…” Farley said, with nothing suddenly making sense
Dahlia responded with a kiss on the tip of his nose, which sent chills down his spine. “You were to me,”
she whispered. They looked out the window; PGIC agents were everywhere; there was nowhere to run
now. She sighed, hanging her head. “Maybe we should just give up. There's nowhere to run.”
Farley suddenly found newfound confidence. Maybe that's what this does to you too, he thought. He
stood up and took her hand. “I'm not giving up, not as long as you're alive.” Without hesitation, they
disappeared into the night, just as the flames began licking the building…
Word Count 500
Like So Much Smoke
By Sam McManus
My sister doesn’t smoke. Oh, I’m sure she would if she took any time to think about it, because she’s all
about ritual. Every morning she runs a brush through her lustrous locks exactly twenty-seven times,
because that’s how old she is. Every afternoon she takes a nap at 4 p.m. because that’s when she gets
home from her job as a waitress at Sal’s Diner. Every evening she watches an episode of Arrested
Development, even the ones she’s seen about a hundred times, just because. She says it’s something about
Jason Bateman, but I think she has a crush on the guy who plays Tobias.
So, what’s more ritualistic than smoking a pack a day, two packs a day, a carton a day? The way the
smoke fills your lungs like so much air, the way it twists, serpentine, through your system, there’s nothing
quite like it. But it would have to be Camels. If my sister did smoke she would choose Camels because
they have more nicotine in them, as much as fifteen patches stacked end to end, snaking up a flabby arm,
or two arms, or from head to toe.
I had a buddy who smoked Camels. He would tap the box before he slid one out, another ritual, you see.
He would tap the box, then turn his hand upside down until one came tumbling down. Then he would
deftly capture it between his thumb and forefinger, flicking the lighter at the same time as a flame erupted
from thin air. The thinner the better. He used to light up when we were standing outside the biology lab,
flicking his ashes into the nearby bushes, which I’m sure were planted by some honorary class or
something. He didn’t care. They did the trick.
“Dude, I’m living the life,” Jimmy Hong would tell me, as the smoke collected in his moustache, giving it
an otherworldly look. Then he would cough once, twice, thrice, and then collect himself. Every single
time. My sister would have found him dashing and debonair, like Cary Grant in An Affair to Remember.
He smoked in that movie.
Of course I’m not sure if Jimmy Hong would have been her type, even though he smoked like a chimney.
My sister always did like the academic type, the kind who would look down their noses at those who did
salacious things like smoke.
“Find me a guy who likes Poe, and I’m good,” she told me the other day when she had gotten out of the
shower and I was getting in.
“That girl who sings ‘Haunted’?” I asked, good-naturedly, firmly tongue in cheek.
“The raven guy, doofus,” she said, punching me on the arm. I looked at her and thought, “You should
smoke. You’ll appreciate more than Poe could ever offer you, with his brooding nature and early death.
That’s so Kurt Cobain.”
But I said absolutely nothing. I just let the silence stretch like measuring tape between us. Like so much
Word Count 500
By Mike Cecconi
He sinned against every religion he knew, on a regular basis, just in case the end of the world
was really coming. None of the big ethical ones, none of the ones that hurt other people. Just the
ticky-tack sins, the sins of outmoded cultural baggage, the minor missteps that meant something
one obsolete context but lived on in faith anyway. Nevertheless, he made sure he kept the small
sins in all popular cosmologies fresh, in case the end turned out to be anything like The Rapture.
He insured against Islamic or Judaism being Truth by eating crispy bacon every once in a while,
indemnified himself against Hindus with the occasional well-cooked-through steak. He wanted
minor sin, of course, he didn’t want to risk food poisoning. He was never much of a drinker but
made sure to do the occasional vodka shot in orange juice, just in case it was the Mormons, ate
hamburgers on Lenten Fridays on the long odds the Catholics had nailed it down, even though
having been raised Catholic himself, he was certain the Catholics were out of their minds.
He cursed the gods in every tradition he could get his mind around, could swear a blue streak in
nearly any formulation. He could well have been crowned world expert in profanity if there was
money in it, though he knew when to water down and only use tame versions of the damn things.
He’d perfected the art of being ritualistically-impure, just ritualistically-impure enough to not get
in any heaven on the first shot. He didn’t want to assume anything in his quest to avoid an initial
Assumption. He was ritualistically-impure in every faith he could think of, he was in fact ritually
ritualistically-impure. His life was a vast array, a Technicolor dreamcoat, of itsy-bits infractions
and had rules-lawyered himself out of The Chosen Ones, any cosmic system you could name.
If all the “good” people were going to be taken up by sky monsters, he wanted to be down here
in the world’s ashes instead, so he could instead be on Earth to help, to aid those abandoned by
the magic or the holy, make The Tribulation better for us suckers who won’t make the cut as pre-
determined by some high-priest, hairy thunderer or cosmic muffin. You don’t just leave people
behind, he thought, even if the spirits of the air abandon all but The Elect, we’re all just people
and the shunned deserve assistance, so he kept sinning just enough to get stuck in the real.
Maybe he’d end up in hell eventually, but he’d just try to make hell less painful too. Maybe he’d
end up in heaven and give God a stern talking to. Or maybe this is all there is, maybe the idea of
sin is an absurdity, and all we can ever do is try to ameliorate each other’s suffering. He’s ready
for that too, though if that’s the case, he might start hitting the vodka a little bit harder.
Word Count: 478
Papa Was a Rolling Stone
By Peg Scarano
My dad was a piece of work and I loved him from the depths of my soul despite the fact he was
not always a good dad or husband. He was handsome, intelligent and most of all, charming. So
charming, he had the reputation of being a lady’s man. For years, my dad went bowling on
Wednesday nights until my mom discovered he was really striking up a relationship with a
younger woman and no longer had time to spare for her. After spending a lot of time in the
gutter, their relationship finally ended in divorce.
Several years later, my dad starting bowling on Wednesday nights again, but this time he was
meeting my mother on the sly! What a snake in the grass! My dad finally divorced wife #2 and
returned to my mom. I stood up for them when they remarried. You can’t make this stuff up.
When my kids were little, my parents lived in Fort Lauderdale. It wasn’t until Jenny was in high
school that they moved back to Little Falls. They had a lot of practice working on relationships
and they both worked very hard to develop a loving relationship with my children and they
succeeded beyond my hopes and dreams. My lady’s man dad charmed my girls with his quick
wit, bad jokes and winning smile and warm hugs while the girls gave it right back at him. It was
a wonderful thing to watch and there was never enough time.
But sometimes when life is going so well, you are thrown a curve ball. The summer after Jenny
graduated from high school, my dad’s health deteriorated rapidly and he passed away the same
day Jenny left for college. It was bittersweet as it had been difficult for my mom to care for him
and watch him decline so swiftly. His illness attacked him mentally and physically. And, if he
understood what was happening to him, he would have been horrified.
He had planned for cremation so his services were not until a week after he passed. Jenny came
home from college. Julie and Emily, who were 14 and 9 at the time, spent a lot of time with my
mom that week. Their hearts were broken for their Mum and aching for their Pop.
Finally, it was the day of the funeral. We were all gathered at the cemetery for his final
interment and quietly had our heads bowed in prayer. Suddenly, the urn rolled off of its resting
place and started tumbling down the hill. We were all stunned. However, Emily took off at a
run, arms flailing and as she grabbed the urn with her Pop’s ashes she proclaimed, “I’ve got
Pop!” The memory of that moment convinced me my dad wanted us all to know he was not
ready to leave us. His final act of love.
Word Count 500
By Terry Rainey
We walked in double rows — Martin Flynn on my right, Kevin Kepler behind — across the
blustery cold parking lot from school to OLPS Church. Ash Wednesday bestowed a deeper
contemplation of death and of the 40 days Jesus fasted and wrestled Satan, tempered by the happy thought
that Mass time plus ashes distribution would shorten our day with Sister Mary Xavier (SPC).
At Mass, Father Badassari solemnly lit incense that smelled like my grandparents, saying “During
Lent we disengage ourselves from the purely physical. Man does not live by bread alone. We consume
more satisfying food, spiritual food, through prayer and faith. With such a diet, we express our God-given
potential to its full capacity.” FatherB always used “us/we.” So comforting. When necessary, I hoped
he’d give me last rites. Extreme unction, my favorite sacrament. I loved its creepy sound. After a sinful
life, extreme unction could land someone in a fairly pleasant section of purgatory.
At ashes marking, Kevin jerked his head so that FatherB’s thumb slid and he used more embers.
I smiled. On the way back to class, we ducked into the bathroom, and I redesigned Kevin’s ashes into a
bullseye. As I paused to admire it, SisterX banged open the door and barked “Out of the bathroom!
Now!” Kevin didn’t get to see my artwork.
In class, SisterX said ashes were a visible cross. "Thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return."
Somehow dust equaled sacrifice for Lent, so what to give up for an eternal 40 days was a serious choice.
Sister was giving up football; her Pittsburgh Steelers banner was draped in purple. But I suspected she
was just focusing on the Pirates in spring training. I wanted to give up something that I wouldn’t miss,
but that I’d get credit for, so I’d decided on bread crusts.
Then, surprisingly, X asked what each of us was renouncing for Lent. She started with the smart
side of the room. Brainiac Kathryn Moore was forgoing English, reading more in Latin. SisterX smiled,
then went up and down the rows: dessert, lima beans, chocolate, peanut butter, Marvin Gaye, soda, Froot
Loops, crackers, socks, pizza, hot water, Popsicles, Bonanza, utensils, cupcakes. Hearing this litany of
penitence made me hungry.
SisterX turned towards the challenging section. Martin was giving up two of the Three Stooges.
Sister asked how one gave up 2/3 of the Stooges. By turning the sound off, and just appreciating Curly’s
genius. The girls rolled their eyes.
Kevin was next. He announced he was giving up Playboy magazine. SisterX turned menacing,
almost volcanic. The cinders on her forehead crinkled, creating a third, even more frightening, eyebrow.
She glared at him and only then seemed to notice the bullseye. SisterX took a deep breath. “Thank you,
urchin. Now, I need you, Kevin, to get to the bathroom and clean up the messy mirrors.” He hopped up
so quickly that some ashes floated away from his happy face, his God-given potential at full capacity.
Word Count: 496
By Peg Scarano
My husband and I have differing opinions on the definition of the word legacy. It is very
important to him to leave our children and grandchildren substantial financial means and the
assets of our home and property when we leave this earth. This is all well and good, but I’d like
my legacy to be a good upbringing which provides my girls the means to be independent,
confident and capable of taking care of themselves and their families. They have already cashed
in my legacy.
Rocco was brought up in a household where food was plentiful and they never lacked for the
necessities of everyday living. However, he and his siblings missed out on a lot of the little joys
of childhood. No one ever had a bicycle, skates, games or needless toys. When his older twin
brothers outgrew their clothes, Rock got them. He doesn’t remember his mom buying him a new
shirt or sweater. They each received one present at Christmas. His parents rarely went out to
dinner or on vacation alone or as a family. Their house was built by his dad and it was a
masterpiece of love and devotion. He was well-brought up and knew right from wrong. He
learned to be frugal.
When both his parents passed, their legacy was the beloved home his dad had built and each of
the four children received a respectful financial inheritance.
My parents, on the other hand, spent money before they earned it. My mom tried to rein in my
dad because she paid the bills. She did a fair job, but I know she struggled. As children, my
brother and I each had our own bicycle, skates, sleds, toboggans and we shared a bushel of board
games and frivolous toys. Every fall we went school shopping for new clothes and Christmas
looked like Santa’s workshop under our tree.
My parents went on extravagant vacations and went out for dinner two or three nights a week
with or without their children. We always had a shiny new car. Our house was modest and well-
cared for, but not until after my dad played his 18 holes of golf. In the winter, he hired someone
to shovel our driveway and sidewalks.
My dad passed away first and I held the power of attorney for my mom. She was sick for nearly
a year before she died. They owned no property at the time and with my brother’s blessing, my
daughter took over their ten-year-old car. After all the bills were settled, I called my brother to
say, “I have good news and bad news. What do you want to hear first?” He opted for the good
news. “All the bills are paid and there is money left for us!” He commented, “What could be the
bad news?” I murmured, “We get to split $80.”
Our legacy was a true testament to my parent’s way of life and our upbringing – we didn’t need
Word Count: 498
Testament to the Truth
I swore I would not give credence to this…this…thing…whatever you may call it. Nothing more
than a hoax, I said. A ghastly trick, designed to bilk the community of its money and its sense of
safety. What kind of man preys upon another’s fears? Who but a scoundrel places monetary gain
over his neighbor’s peace of mind? Exhibiting this hideous monster—he took great glee in
charging for a glimpse.
I saw it, yes. And I saw through it. And yet…even as I knew it for a fraud, I couldn’t help
wondering ‘what if?’ What if it were true?
After much consideration, I began my study of this thing. My research—methodical and
scientific—soon consumed my every waking moment and infiltrated my dreams, insinuating
itself into my life. Although my work had not been approved by the university, I carried it out,
anyway, under the guise of something more academically acceptable. After three years, my wife
left me. I barely noticed her absence, so engrossed had I become in my work, my clandestine
travel and investigation.
Under the precept that fiction often has basis in fact, I ferreted out the evidences, then attempted
to discount and disprove each. Some I could; others, I could not. For every fifty fictitious
sightings, I encountered one possible truth. Eventually, I collected a file as thick as my thumb of
events which, I felt, supported a very different truth from the one I had set out to establish. I
could not debunk the myth.
For years, I denied the creature’s existence. Skeptic though I was, I now am unequivocally
certain he, it, is real. At risk of my reputation, I gladly sign this testament: I saw it. I believe. My
encounter, in the wild, confirms its existence.
Do not mistake my intentions. I do not wish to validate the side-show freak introduced to us by a
money-grubbing showman. I say I encountered the genuine article. It lives among us now, as it
has, perhaps, since the last ice age.
If the showman played on people’s fears and their delight in being frightened, perhaps this was a
good thing. Perhaps it kept them away from the genuine creature, a truly monstrous beast,
capable of ripping a man limb from limb. But this is an unjust portrayal. Never have reports
substantiated a violent nature. More typically, the creature is apt to flee than fight, hide rather
than expose itself. We have little to fear. It is the beast’s safety that concerns me.
The beast. I hesitate to call it such, after devoting most of my life to studying it. I cannot leave
this earth without validating the worth of my research. To say I would gladly give up another
lifetime to this pursuit hardly says enough.
Before I die, I must go on record. Protect this noble beast in our midst. Heed my testament. Go to
the circus if you wish to see freaks. But to find the truth, go out into the world.
Word Count 496
By Terry Rainey
On a cold, Lenten Saturday, OLPS faced St. Jerome in CYO basketball. It was my mother’s turn
to drive, so Martin walked to our house and we picked up Kevin Kepler. Both were staying the night.
Kevin was the 8 th of 12 kids, so it was always mayhem at their house. I knocked hesitantly, hoping
Mr. Kepler wouldn’t be the one to answer the door, but he did and said that Kevin was getting ready, and
take a seat. I took a seat. He asked who we were playing. When I told him, he said that St. Jerome
translated the Hebrew bible to Latin in the fourth century, but never accepted payment for his writings.
He told critics don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. In the 1500s, Mr. Kepler said James Tyndall was
burned at the stake for translating the bible into English. I never knew how to respond to Mr. Kepler, but,
thankfully, Kevin lurched in, and we escaped.
Kevin was our sixth man. Something crazy always happened when he played. Sparks flew. But
SisterX had suspended him for the Ash Wednesday bullseye on his forehead. Kevin quietly took the rap
for it, and didn’t squeal. Another example of his loyalty. Kevin could take a hit and keep on ticking.
He’d been slugged by his older brothers and father quite a bit, but he never complained. His father
quoted scripture when disciplining, so Kevin had collected bruises and Biblical knowledge.
In the car, wanting to cheer up Kevin and aware of Martin’s Old and New Testament ignorance, I
suggested playing bible trivia. We named our two favorite plagues: Martin chose locusts and lice, and I
took frogs and boils. Kevin preferred pestilence and slaying of the first born, perhaps thinking of his
Then we said bible names that made us laugh. I started with Melchizedek and Ezekiel and
Habakkuk. Kevin came up with Leviticus, Hezekiah, and Ishmael. Then Martin added Samson, Medusa,
and Spiro Agnew.
Next was our favorite story. Moses, Kevin said. He lived to be 120, older than SisterX, and he
looked like Charlton Heston. Martin mentioned the Ax of the Apostles, which was used to chop off
Pharisees’ heads. I liked Solomon splitting a child, which we often invoked when dividing a Baby Ruth
bar. We chanted:
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John,
None of them work in the Pentagon.
We beat St. Jerome 29-22, but we played badly. We missed Kevin’s energy. That night, while
we watched Get Smart, I thought about Kevin taking the rap for me, about my sinfulness and my need to
repent. Sister Mary Xavier constantly reminded us that people suffered for our sins, and Lent gave us a
chance to atone. She urged us to attack sin with hammer and tongs, like little blacksmiths, our souls like
But how complicated life seemed, considering all the centuries piled up, people being burned at
the stake, and horses’ mouths, not to mention Spiro Agnew.