The Mona Schreiber Prize for 
Humorous Fiction and Nonfiction

Winners of the 2005 Mona Schreiber Prize
for Humorous Fiction and Nonfiction:

First Place:

"X Marks the Spot" © Patch Rose, Truth or Consequences, NM (2005, 1st Place)

I love Ash Wednesday. Itís the only day when itís socially acceptable to walk outside with a filthy face.

The effects of this holy day are best experienced down in the Wall Street section of Manhattan. Men in Saville Row suits and women in floorĖlength mink coats walk around with enough dirt on their heads to start an ant colony. Ordinarily, these people would be mortified to find a sliver of oregano in their teeth; today, theyíve got a litter box on their heads and theyíre happy.

My favorite game is to guess the priest by the smudge. Some people walk by with perfectly proportioned crosses on their heads. You know these people saw a brand new clergyman, still excited with his work and trying to make each face a masterpiece. Then, you pass someone with a cruel smudge running parallel to the eyebrows, and you know this person hit a church with a tired old priest, for whom the wonders of oily skin have long since worn off.

Many churches in New York have quick lunchtime services to receive ashes. You can get in and out in twenty minutes. You can tell whoís been to these services. Theyíre the ones sporting a check mark.

One guy I passed had a perfect dot in the center of his forehead. He hadnít gotten a cross. Heíd gotten a period. I immediately imagined a quadriplegic pastor, still dedicated to his duties, dipping his nose in the ash pot and pecking people on the head.

Bald guys have it worst of all. All that acreage is too much temptation for the priests. This one poor guy I passed by looked like heíd been jumped by two priests whoíd used him for tic tac toe.

But the most disconcerting thing about Ash Wednesday is the attitude of the ash wearer. To them, itís a badge of honor. As they pass you, you can feel them scanning your forehead like a melon at the checkout counter. Upon finding your forehead free of grit, the evil looks start. You can just about hearing what theyíre thinking: That oneís going to Hell. After several nasty glances from the asherati, my paranoia got the better of me. I started looking around for an open church.

Unfortunately, I found myself in a part of town without a church. As I looked around, the panic rising inside me, I spotted an old homeless guy lying in a doorway.

I ran over to him. "Hey," I said, and broke his reverie with his bandaged foot. "Show me your hands," I told him.

He looked up at me and I think he couldnít decide who to talk to, the me on the right or the left. He solved the problem by crossing his eyes. He shook a battered coffee cup at me.

"Show me your hands," I repeated.

"Gimme a dollar," he said.

I gave him a dollar. He showed me his hands. They looked like they hadnít seen soap for a decade. His blackened palms and fingers were nicely complemented by the green lines under his fingernails.

They were perfect.

"Okay," I told him. "Spit on your thumb and smear it on my head."

"Thatís gonna cost you two dollars," he said.

I gave him another dollar and he smudged me. Unfortunately, the last thing he must have eaten had to have been tuna and mayo, because all I got from him was a greasy puddle that stunk from twenty feet away. I walked away, heartbroken and reeking.

"For another buck, Iíll lick it off," he called after me.

Finally, as a last resort, I crept over to one of those outdoor ashtrays they keep by the front doors of office towers. I lucked out. No one was currently puffing. Without trying to be too obvious, I lifted up the cover and ran my fingers around the ashtray. Then, I quickly wiped them on my forehead.

I turned to find the building security guard watching me. He had the most beautiful ashen cross on his polished, bald head. His eyes burned at me as he reached for his radio.

I laughed and put back the cover. "No time for church," I told him. "God bless you." Then I got the Hell out of there.

I felt his eyes burning through my back as I went to one of the sidewalk vendors. I paid five bucks for a Giants ski cap and spent the rest of the day in wool-covered anonymity.

Second Place:

"The Theory of Revolution" © Leigh Anne Jasheway-Bryant, Eugene, OR

Hyperventilating seemed like the best strategy. After all, when youíve just been given the answer to the evolution-versus-creation debate right there in the middle of PetSmart while looking for low-fat breath mints for your dachshunds, what are your other options?

I thought of fainting dead away, but thatís so nineteenth century. And while I briefly entertained the notion of grabbing the intercom microphone and announcing, "Attention, PetSmart shoppers! The answers to life, death and dental hygiene are now available in aisle seven," I too distinctly recalled what happened the last time I did that.

Instead, I grabbed the first bag I could get my hands on--which just happened to be a forty pound bag of Science Diet for SeniorsĖripped off the top, dumped its contents on the floor and shoved my head inside. I could hear my dogs thinking, "Finally, it IS raining dog food!" as I took three short breaths, then a long one. I wasnít sure if that was the proper hyperventilation technique or if I was confusing it with CPR, but I figured either would work.

Finally ready to face the reality that Iíd been chosen to resolve one of lifeís biggest mysteries since the DaVinci Code, I extricated myself from the dog food bag, dragged my bloated wiener dogs away from the kibble smorgasboard and walked back to the scene of the crime.

He was still there in the large metal bin on the floor, a bin filled with giant, stuffed animal pillows shaped like dogs of all types. Right there on the top of the pile was the German Shepherd who was God.

Perhaps I had doubted the truth of it all just moments earlier because I really didnít expect God to be German Shepherd. A dog, yeah, sure, that made sense. After all, most of us have suspected that for years.

Donít get me wrong. The stuffed German Shepherd didnít actually talk to me. I donít hear voices. Not since the electroshock treatments. Well, at least not unless itís very quiet and Iíve talken too much cold medication, and that certainly wasnít the case now. So, no, the dog God didnít speak to me. Neither did she roll over or beg. Yes, God is a she. I checked. No balls. Sorry, guys.

I reached once again for Godís tag. Iím the kind of person who reads the tags everyone else tears off without a second glance. Laundering instruction tags. Inspected by tags. Donít remove this tag or the IRS will use a weedwacker to trim your eyebrows tags. And right there on the German Shepherdís tag was the answer:

"In case you were wondering, it wasnít creation or evolution. It was revolution. In the beginning, after the Big Bark, the universe was as cold and unfriendly as a cat in an unheated Jacuzzi. I look out at the vast chasm of space for someone to play with, someone with opposable thumbs who could throw a stick for me, someone whose crotch I could sniff when I needed entertainment. But there was nothing and frankly, I got bored. So, I chased my tail. I chased it Ďround and Ďround, faster and faster, which kicked up a lot of space dust, not to mention dog hair and a few fleas, and when I finally exhausted myself, the dust cleared and life had revolved. In fact, it continued to revolve for several minutes, causing most of it to be just a little queasy when things finally settled down. Wash by hand. Do not use bleach. Inspected by #27. Do not remove tag under penalty of being Ďfixed.í"

I fingered the tag for a few seconds, while trying to decide whether to call Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson and gloat, or whether to call my college alma mater and ask for a refund of the tuition money I spent on science classes.

I looked at my dogs, who gave me that all-knowing look they always have, only this time punctuated by several burps. Then, I ripped off the tag and buried the German Shepherd deep in the pile. Hey, she may be God but Iím not going to spend $29.95. As for being fixed, Iím permenopausal, so what would it hurt? Iím going to keep Godís little secret. For now. As long as she promises not to poop in my yard.  Iím perimenopausal.