* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we are quick to point out that we publish only fiction, not thinly veiled autobiography by people who should probably be medicated, if not locked up. Please say hello to Sam O'Brien.

It Was The Perfect Con

By: Sam O'Brien

My sweet, gullible Laurie. You played right into my hands with this little ruse I created called “our relationship.” It’s time I came clean. I’m a con man — a master of chicanery, duplicity, and, as you’re well aware, seduction.

I’m sorry you had to find out this way, with me in my Cinnabon cashier disguise, stuffing my rucksack in the bedroom we used to share and rushing off to my next scam. All in front of your new and sudden boyfriend, no less. I can only imagine how embarrassing and confusing this must be for you. The answers will fall into place in due time, my dear — hopefully in a mind-blowing, Usual Suspects kind of way.

What was the con, you ask? Oh, was there a con! The con to end all cons! I bet you’re dying to know how I pulled it off, too. Well, I’ll tell you. And not because Kyle is looming over me, demanding it, but because I think you deserve to know.

It all started when I first saw you at Freshman Orientation. I knew you’d be the perfect mark. I smiled and waved. You rolled your eyes and suggestively turned your back to me. The game was afoot!

I spent the next few years conning my way into knowing everything about you: crying until the registrar put me in your classes, crying until your friends invited me to your party, feigning illness (and crying) so that your roommates didn’t call the cops when they found me in the bushes with my telephoto lens — their sympathy no match for my cunning.

I was patient. This much is key to a successful con. By the time we met, I was armed with all the intelligence necessary to woo you. And you slid right into my hands. Like butter on a piece of bread that is then used to butter an ear of corn.

Are the pieces falling together yet? That chance meeting at the bakery the morning Brad broke up with you (where I’d been working for two years since seeing you eat there that one time), my brazen “Everything okay?” as I handed you your cupcake, and your very sudden, very public meltdown. I took you aside, feeding you sweets and soothing platitudes. And when you were at your weakest and most vulnerable, I seized my moment and asked you out.

After that, coffee dates turned into dinner dates, which then turned into a shared apartment with your name on the lease, but my name on the rent checks. You see, earning your target’s trust is important, but the con man’s greatest trick is making it seem like he trusts his target. This is my specialty. I reeled you in with my finest displays of complete and unjustified confidence: agreeing to an open relationship, allowing you to pay your half of the rent in IOUs and sensual hugs, politely ignoring Kyle’s presence in the apartment the past week. All layers within my intricate onion of deceit.

You may not know it now, but one day, you’ll start to see just how much I took you for. First, it’ll be the small things: a drawer suspiciously lacking our fine IKEA cutlery — rightfully half mine anyway, since I drove you all the way to Jersey for it. Or maybe it’ll be a dusty alley between DVDs, where our box set of The Wire once stood. You’ll be upset, but you’ll also find yourself fighting off the urge to find me, as you imagine me in my new and exciting life, where I’m slicing meats of rigorous consistencies and challenging my sociopolitical biases. You will then take inventory of your home — and your heart — and realize you’re missing something far more valuable than your favorite pair of underwear. Something priceless and me-shaped.

You probably still have feelings for me, but let’s face it: somewhere deep inside me beats the heart of a two-bit hood, eternally rubbing his filthy, cutoff-gloved hands together and plotting his next swindle.

Go with Kyle. He’ll treat you right. It’s time I moved on to my next con anyway. You might see me in the future. Maybe you’ll think you see me in the supermarket, shuffling around in a majestic wolf sweatshirt, flannel pajama pants and Crocs. Maybe you’ll think you see me buying $8 wine, a party-size bag of Funions, and a discount bin movie about a dog that plays human sports. Maybe it is me and that’s my disguise and I’m off on a new adventure in bamboozlement. You have no idea who I am now or who I will be tomorrow. Keep living in blissful ignorance, Laurie. It’s rather becoming on you.

What do you say? One more trick for the road? Pick a card, my dear. It’ll only take a moment. In approximately thirty seconds I will jump out this window, land into a hopefully not-glass-filled dumpster, and make my escape. Enjoy your life with Kyle. Because you have paid handsomely for it. I have outfoxed you.

Was this your card?

I think you’re lying.


* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we are not ashamed to admit that we never saw The Neverending Story. On the other hand, Sarah Meyer's piece is so good that we don't really care about the source material. Also, it actually has an ending.

What Artax The Horse Was Thinking Before He Sank Into The Swamps Of Sadness: Another Neverending Story

By: Sarah Meyer

Whew, it feels good just to slow down! This has been a heck of a quest. I mean, galloping across the Grassy Plains with Atreyu is my idea of a perfect afternoon, but this has been nonstop! That’s okay — the quest must be really important or Atreyu wouldn’t be so serious about it. He’s so focused! I admire that. I’m such an ol’ space cadet, me.

So this is a swamp? Never seen one before. It’s…a bit gloomy for my taste. But then I’m spoiled, living on the Grassy Plains. The Grassy Plains are the best.

Wow, this mud is relentless. I’ve got mud in all my horse places! And it does not smell great.

Aw, quit your whining, Artax. You’re on an adventure! How cool is that! Just like Daddy always said, your cheerful disposition’ll get you through anything! Thanks, Dad!

I do hope we wrap the quest up soon, though. Can’t wait to get back to the paddock, nice warm blanket, big bucket of oats. Oats are the best.

See, I am just straight up hungry, is all.

And tired. And muddy. Mud is the worst.

Snap out of it, Artax, you’re all right. Besides, this whole thing is bigger than you. There’s so much at stake here, like the future of Fantasia! Apparently. I’m not clear on the specific parameters of the quest. Like, what we’re supposed to be doing. Or why we’re in this swamp. I guess Atreyu’s meeting a quest-related person? Hope we find them soon! Ain’t no carrots in this swamp — ha!

Nope, nooooo carrots. Not a one.

I’m feeling pretty crummy, if I’m honest with myself. And sort of…melon…what’s that word? Melatonin? Melancholy, that’s it. Boy, I gotta start doing the crossword again, my vocab’s gone to shit.

‘Course I never was the sharpest nail in the horseshoe.

Is the mud getting deeper or is it just me? It is just me. Atreyu! I’m, like, four feet tall all of a sudden. What the heck?

Aw, shucks, he can’t understand me. I wish I could talk. Why are there racing snails and giant bats and flying dragon dogs all over the place, but no talking horses? Why no gift of speech for ol’ Artax? It sure is a whimsical, fantastical world we live in. Barely makes any sense, if you think about it.

Atreyu! He’s not even turning around. He’s a man on a mission today. He’s been talking about the Childlike Empress and the Nothing and blah blah human blah for days. Last night he didn’t even read to me.

Lousy quest. What a dumb word. Quest. Sounds like the symptom of a disease: oh, Artax has Fantasian tick fever and he’s questing from every orifice!

What’s gotten into me? I don’t want to blame my surroundings but this swamp is a bummer.

Now Atreyu’s noticed I’ve slowed down. I’m such a worthless slacker.

Quit yanking on my reins you…you buckskin-wearing punk! That’s right, I think your outfit is stupid! Who do you think you are with your shirt open to the navel? You’re fourteen for neighing out loud!

Wow, I’m not budging. I am officially stuck in the mud.

Whatever, it’s probably better this way.

God, I’m fat.

And I bet my foals think I’m a deadbeat sire.

I can’t remember the sun.

Neverending? Whatever.

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where there is no such thing as bad children, only bad parents. And none worse than Paula Lynn Johnson.

We Need To Talk About Braden

By: Paula Lynn Johnson

Dear Mrs. Johnson:

Braden spilled paint on another student’s artwork today. Although the student was in tears, Braden refused to apologize. I would appreciate it if you talked to him about the importance of saying “sorry.”


Joanne MacDonald, Head Teacher, Lil’ Sprouts School (Tadpole Room)


Dear Mrs. MacDonald:

I’m so embarrassed! Of course I’ll speak to Braden. Please don’t hesitate to alert me to any more incidents. Working in tandem, I’m confident you and I can nip any problems in the bud.

My sincere thanks,

Paula Lynn Johnson


Dear Mrs. Johnson:

Braden had a difficult day. Another student complained that Braden was “touching” him. When I moved their seats apart, Braden persisted in reaching his hands as close as possible to the student without making contact. He then taunted, “I’m not touching you!” This was very annoying and interfered with our game of Alphabet Bingo. Please speak with Braden about the importance of respecting others.


Joanne MacDonald


Dear Joanne:

Thanks for the heads-up, but I think there’s been a misunderstanding. You see, Braden and I are both certified third-degree Reiki masters, via our Mommy and Me and Reiki classes. Braden assures me he was placing his hands near Max merely to clean his aura, which is apparently quite filthy. As such, we can hardly fault Braden for channeling the universe’s positive energy to give a classmate the psychic healing he so desperately needs (and free of charge, I might add).

Alphabet Bingo sounds like fun!


Paula Lynn Johnson


Dear Mrs. Johnson:

Braden could not seem to stop talking during Quiet Time today. His constant chatter was disruptive, and I was forced to remove him to the Time Out chair. Please tell me what consequences you are using at home for this behavior.


Joanne MacDonald


Mrs. MacD:

I’m so sorry about Braden and his big fat yap. In our house, Quiet Time is strictly enforced with television. I’m not sure if you have access to a flat-screen, but if you park him in front of one, you won’t hear a peep out of him. Just turn on some cartoons or, in a pinch, some Dexter (his favorite!) and the little guy will sit tight for hours (assuming you also keep the chicken fingers coming. Seriously, don’t run out of those. Oh — and make sure they’re shaped like dinosaurs or it could get dicey).

Good luck!



Mrs. Johnson:

Today Braden announced to the class that there is no Santa. It was quite upsetting. You need to explain to him why we don’t say such things.

Joanne MacDonald



I’m not sure you’re aware of this, but there is no Santa. Also no Easter Bunny. Sorry to lay this on you all at once, but I figured it was about time you knew.

Peace Out,



Mrs. Johnson:

Despite my repeated instructions to stop, your son continues to eat our glue sticks. I’m really beside myself at this point.

Joanne MacDonald


Yo, bitch!

Have you ever tried glue sticks? They’re really good. Typically, I like to smear them on sourdough crisps and pair them with some artisanal cheese and a nice Sauvignon Blanc, maybe even a Pinot Grigio. Give it a whirl — your taste buds will thank you.


Funky P


Dear Mrs. Johnson:

I am writing to inform you that your son Braden is expelled from Lil’ Sprouts School, effective immediately. As you know, he showed up for our Halloween parade in a clown suit and wielding a large, blood-smeared machete. This is an egregious violation of our zero-tolerance weapons policy and, per our handbook, cause for dismissal. Moreover, it was extremely traumatic for the little ones. You should be ashamed of yourself.

Regretfully yours,

Denise Fritzger, Principal


To Principal Fritzger and Posse:

Braden was a Killer Clown. Do you understand the concept? Basically, we’re talking about a clown that kills, indiscriminately and ruthlessly. Drop the machete, and you have a mere circus clown, which misses the whole point.

Let me assure you that the blood was totally fake. The machete, however, was not, and I take full responsibility for that. Braden has been handling knives since he was able to walk, and I suppose I didn’t take into account that the other children are light-years behind him, developmentally speaking. Call this my “teachable moment.” For his part, Braden is heartbroken that he has to miss the class party, as he planned on showing everyone his sword-juggling skills.

My bad,

Paula Lynn Johnson

P.S.: I hope this won’t hurt our admissions application for Caitlyn, Braden’s little sister. She’s half his size, but you won’t BELIEVE what she can do with a crossbow!

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, your last best, hope of surviving the day. Let Beverly Petravicius be your ghoulish guide.

Survival TV

By: Beverly Petravicius

You don’t usually think about the fact that death could be just seconds away. That will change when you watch The Biography Channel’s I Survived, where survivors of freak accidents, horrific crimes and other macabre misfortunes tell how they cheated death. The show ostensibly inspires us with the survivors’ courage. More importantly, though, it alerts us to the potential of being assaulted by a mentally unstable chimpanzee or getting stuck in a combine harvester. The fact that I Survived is now in its fifth season should tell you that the potential is alarmingly high.

The message of I Survived is that a fierce determination to live combined with rational thinking can keep you alive through a seemingly hopeless situation. Of course, most people in those situations die and therefore don’t get to appear on TV. So I Survived is really a lesson in what situations should be avoided. As it turns out, it’s pretty much all of them. While it takes a lot of courage to escape death, it takes some real planning to avoid it altogether.

You don’t have to hike through the Amazon during monsoon season to attract death’s attention. Death isn’t so busy with hang gliders, hitchhikers and the guy on his roof trying to dislodge a hornets’ nest that it can’t find time to mess with someone visiting the library. Death doesn’t need you to put yourself in a risky situation because death is resourceful. You can be driving home, swerve to avoid a deer, and end up with a tree branch lodged in your neck.

I Survived teaches us that interacting with people dramatically increases your odds of dying. So ideally you should never speak to anyone that you can’t outrun. On the job, ignore anyone claiming to be a customer and don’t ever fire anyone. Dating is also a bad idea. Ex-boyfriends are dangerous. Current boyfriends aren’t much better. In fact, all men should be regarded with suspicion.

Death’s favorite place to attack, though, is nature. The outdoors is a dangerous place. For example, people fall off mountains. They usually fall a long way and almost always hit something hard. People on mountains who manage not to fall off are usually attacked by a mountain lion or trapped in a blizzard. Nothing good ever happens on a mountain.

I Survived also teaches us to stay away from water. Water is great when it’s in, say, a bottle. Water in its natural habitat, though, is dangerous. A staggering amount of recreation takes place in water despite the fact that water wants nothing to do with us. We know this because if water liked people it wouldn’t be filled with sharks.

The woods are also trying to kill you. Trees, in particular, should be avoided. Apparently they fall a lot. Bears show up in several I Survived episodes, and they are always in the woods. Bears hate people as much as water does.

Implicit in every episode of I Survived is the fact that while dying is always a bummer, it’s even worse if you die in an unusual way. Your death then overshadows everything about your life. Surviving a bizarre accident makes you interesting. Dying in one makes you odd. Future generations will have conversations about you that go something like this:

Kid: Mom, tell me about great-uncle Bob.

Mom: He developed a cure for cancer.

Kid: Wow! What happened to him?

Mom: He died cleaning the gutters. He fell off the ladder and severed an artery on a pair of nail clippers he had in his pocket.

Kid: What a moron.

Mom: Tell me about it.

I Survived gives people hope that they can live through anything if they stay calm and refuse to give up. Yet the fact remains that most people in these situations will cry, pee their pants and then die. The smartest way to live, therefore, is to stay home, alone. And don’t put nail clippers in your pocket.