We Can Smile Again


© Mary M. Cushnie-Mansour

 Eventually, Sylvia was kicked out of school. She gathered together her few possessions and then dropped her pens on my desk. “Here,” she murmured, “You have more use for these than I.”  She shuffled slowly from the room, her shoulders slumped, her steps heavy.

I wanted to confront Samwell and demand to know what he was doing to her. To ask why there were black circles around her eyes … why her back was hunched so … why her feet did not dance anymore? I needed to save my friend.

I watched their comings and goings. I saw a difference in his walk, too. He would stagger up the hill, bumping from tree to tree, falling to the path––probably drinking too much. I feared, more than ever, for Sylvia’s safety. I prayed for a night when my parents would go out, so I could go up to the shack and find out what was happening. 

Finally, the perfect night unfolded. My parents were invited to a 25th wedding anniversary house party for some old friends, and an October pea soup fog had rolled in. The Marshall’s lived in the country and had insisted their guests stay over. Mom called, instructed me to lock everything up and go to bed. I had Mrs. Winter’s phone number in case of an emergency.

I smiled, headed to my room, dragged my rocker over to the window and sat down. Samwell would be along soon, and my eyes would have to be sharp to see through the blasted fog.

My alarm clock ticked softly. I kept shaking off sleep. I needed some music. I turned my CD player on. The heavy metal notes beat in my veins. 

Time passed.

The music stopped.

Silence, but for the ticking clock.


“Damn!” I jumped up, it was one-thirty.

I had probably missed Samwell’s return, but I needed to go up there anyway and put an end to whatever was going on.

I put my runners on, grabbed my jacket and house key, and ran downstairs. I almost tripped over the Halloween pumpkin by the back door. Outside, the fog closed in around me, penetrating the fabric, dampening my skin––or was that nervous sweat? 

I could have gone up that pathway blind folded, I had travelled it so many times. As I drew closer, I noticed a candle trembling in the window. I heard loud movements from inside, and then, I heard the ugliest voice.

“You witch! Where is the money?” There was a loud slapping sound, but no whimper followed.

“Tell me!” the voice roared.

“Go to hell and fry!” a female voice screamed. Then, there was another slapping sound, followed by a crash. 

I moved quickly to the door and with all my valour, burst into the room. Sylvia was cowered beneath a table. She was half naked, her clothing tattered and torn. Bruises and bloody scratches played snakes and ladders on the exposed skin. But her eyes held a fiery madness, like I had never seen before! She was glaring at Samwell with such hatred, that even he momentarily stopped his assault.

I seized the moment and grabbed the fire poker by the door––the one Sylvia and I kept there in case any unwanted strangers tried to invade our world.

This was our secret place––Sylvia’s and mine.

Samwell was unwanted.

I swung with all my might.


The clay felt good to my trembling fingers. Sylvia showed me how to smooth and shape it. “You can create anything you want with clay,” she smiled.

We worked all night on the new piece. In the morning, I ran down to my house and left a note for my parents, informing them that Sylvia and I were sleeping in the shack, and I would see them tomorrow. We slept for a few hours and then continued our work. Finally, we sat back and observed our creation. He was magnificent, just like when we had first seen him.

“Not bad, for a beginner,” Sylvia smiled. She began to dance around the sculpture. “You know what … I think we will enter this in the Pumpkin Fest pottery show. There is a new category this year: ‘Real Life Creations.’”

“I could write a story to go with it, an amalgamation of two arts,” I added with a smile.

“Good idea.” And, Sylvia smiled, again.


The town of Waterford is proud of their world renowned artist and writer. Sylvia inherited the property when her mother passed away. We live in the main house; however, we still spend a lot of time in our secret place. We fixed the walls and broken windows, though. We also expanded the cottage by adding two rooms––one, where I write my manuscripts, one where Sylvia works her magic with clay.

It is our statues and the stories that go with them that have truly made us famous, though. Sylvia and I won the grand prize with our first entry, ten years ago. We win first prize every year, actually, and after each show, we add another statue to our iron fenced garden on the hill. The stories are encased in a glass box beside their inspirations.

At the moment, we are working on another statue, one of the most exquisite we have ever executed. Unfortunately, it will not be ready for this year’s show, for the clay is too fresh, and I have yet to write the story.


There is a part of me that wishes it had never happened, yet the satisfied part of me cannot help but to smile. Sylvia smiles, as well. And she dances, too––like a mad fairy––in the garden of statues.



Book Signing today, October 27th

On my way! Be there this afternoon from 1 – 4 with my books “Night’s Gift” and “Night’s Children.” Spread the word! Come on out to Chapters, Richmond Centre, London, ON, and pick up your personally signed copies – what better activity to do on a rainy Saturday! If you would like to check things out ahead of time, feel free to puruse through my website: http://www.marymcushniemansour.ca

We Can Smile Again … Part one of a Halloween story


Part One of Two

© Mary M. Cushnie-Mansour

There is a part of me that wishes it never happened; yet, the satisfied part of me cannot help but to smile. Sylvia smiles, as well. And she dances, too––like a mad fairy.


            I grew up in the small town of Waterford. Sylvia moved next door when we were the tender age of thirteen. She was from Hamilton, and I was enthralled the “big-city girl” paid attention to me. We became best friends, and our friendship has survived for we share secrets that are buried in our hearts’ darkest corners. 

            There was madness in Sylvia’s eyes––her mother’s, too. In fact, when Sylvia had shown me some old family pictures––all had the same look. One thing I had noticed was there were no males in the photos. I never thought to ask Sylvia about that, though.

            Sylvia and I did not play the silly games girls of thirteen participated in. We had a secret place. It was secluded in a grove of trees on top of a hill. It had been the servant quarters for the old Cooper house that Sylvia and her mother now lived in. I spent hours, with pen and paper creating imaginary worlds. Sylvia shaped her clay and danced. We were content. Life was good. 

Sometimes, we would sit by one of the windows and peek at the outside world. We’d smile to each other as we observed the other teens playing at being adults, and then returned to our work––I, to my pages––Sylvia, to her clay. 

And then, came the summer of, Samwell. He arrived from Mexico, to work in the tobacco fields, and we were caught unprepared for his devastating charms––especially did he catch Sylvia. I would go to our secret place and find the door bolted. I would knock, but there was never an answer. Baffled, I’d walk back down the path, sit by the oak tree, and wait. She would tire of him soon––she’d never favour him above our friendship! I was sure of that.

When we did have time together, I noticed Sylvia seemed self-absorbed with other things, none of which she confided to me. She’d just walk dazedly around the room, trailing her fingers over the dusty pottery.

And then there was the fact that Samwell always seemed to lurk nearby whenever I was with Sylvia. I would observe him leaning against the old oak tree, a cigarette hanging from his mouth, and a smirk on his face as he starred up to the shack. It was as though he were just waiting for me to leave so that he could move in.

When we came down the hill, Sylvia would walk past him, but I observed the obscene body language between them. Once in my house, I took to going directly to my bedroom, where I would watch from my window. Sylvia always raced back to the oak tree––to him.

I cried a lot that summer, waiting for the tobacco harvest to be over. Samwell would go home then, and my friend would return to me. I would exonerate her of the transgression against our friendship, just as I was sure Sylvia would have exonerated me had I made a mistake.

Summer took her leave; fall strutted in with glorious, rustic colours. The tobacco workers began to disappear from our streets. But, Samwell did not leave. And then Sylvia brought me the boxes that contained my writings. Her eyes were crazy as she handed them to me.

“Samwell missed his plane home and won’t be able to get another flight for a month or two. The airline won’t refund his money, so he has to get a job to buy another ticket. He will be able to save quicker if he doesn’t have to pay rent, so I said he could stay up on the hill. I don’t want him to poke through your stories. You can return when he is gone.”

That was it. Sylvia just left and headed back up the hill to “our secret place.”  I carried the boxes to my room, went to my window, watched my friend disappear up the hill, and cried––again.

Sylvia began missing school. When she did show up, there was an awkward silence between us. The magic of the past three years was gone.

“When is he leaving?” I asked on one of those days.


“Well, it has been a month; November is almost here and the weather is going to get worse. Not paying rent, I just thought he might have saved enough for his plane ticket by now.”

“He did, but he sent his mother the money to buy medicine for his little brother.”

“Doesn’t she want him to come home?” 

“Not really. Besides, there is nothing there for him. He might stay here … what are you looking so glum about … at least he has a job.” 

“But he can’t stay up there!” I spoke sharply.

She grabbed my arm, and swung me around to face her. “Give me one good reason why not!” Her eyes were gleaming madly.

“Ouch!” I pulled away. “What’s going on Sylvia? I thought we were friends––that is supposed to be our place. I thought Samwell was temporary! What is happening to you?” I burst into tears.  

“Sorry if I’ve hurt you, Carey, but as great grandmamma used to say, life moves on, and so do people.”

Her answer cut my heart. “So … this means you are moving on?” 

“Yes.” She got up and left the school. I knew where she was headed––without me. As I watched her leave, I noticed the change in her movement––her feet did not dance as they had a few short months ago. It was at that point that I knew something was drastically wrong!

Part two…October 31, 2012

Review: Perfect Nightmare

Perfect Nightmare
Perfect Nightmare by John Saul
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

John Saul delves into the dark world of a psychopath obsessed with collecting young girls, and also, as we venture further into the book, a young woman. The perpetrator blends into the scenery, seemlessly; and, with methodical care, he plans each of his kidnappings right down to the last detail.
Enter the Marshall family … They find they must finally sell thier home and move to the city where Mr. Marshall’s job is. The travelling back and forth to the city is getting too much, and they can no longer sustain an apartment in the city for those nights when he has to work too late. Lindsay, the daughter, has the perfect life, and one more year to go before College. She does not want to leave.
The house goes up for sale … a realtor open house is scheduled … the psychopath circles it in his newspaper … he will be able to slip in and out un-noticed … he spends a few minutes in Lindsay’s room … when she gets home from school, she senses that someone had been in her room and had touched her things … she tells her mother, who in turn checks things out but sees nothing strange.
A few days later, there is an open house for the public … the Marshalls have some apartments to look at in the city … Lindsay begs to stay home, saying she will spend the night at her friend’s house. However, as you might have suspected, that is not what happens. Her friend is not going to be home, so Lindsay is forced to go to her house, alone. And, inside, awaiting her return is …

Beware, this story will take you on quite a journey into the mind of a very sick individual, but also into the ability of a mother who is so connected to her daughter that she won’t give up on her quest to find her. I shall say no more … you must read the book to find out everything that happens. A good read for those nights by the fire.

View all my reviews

Review: Mad River Road: A Novel

Mad River Road: A Novel
Mad River Road: A Novel by Joy Fielding
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Joy Fielding takes you across the country to Mad River Road, a journey that no one would want to actually take. I found Jamie to be a bit unbelieveable … here she was, well educated, yet she fell for a stranger at the drop of a hat, and she succumbed to his moods with such a niave neediness. Ralph, on the other hand, was a great portrayal of what a psychotic individual could be – Prince Charming one minute – the abuser the next – smooth talking liar eliciting sympathy to the weaker, needier person in the relationship. He was true evil personified.
And then, there were the women on Mad River Road, the little community of misfits, just trying to make do in life. Emma, who had closed off her life, with her big secrets, so large she moved around a lot, and told lies about where she had been and what she had done in her life. And Lily, the widow, who had had the perfect marriage. Both women had a little boy … either woman could have been the one Ralph was driving to Mad River Road to see, and kill.
In the end, the pages kept turning so that I could see if Jamie actually ever developed the guts to stand up to Ralph, and to see how Ralph would be stopped. The ending was definitely a surprise … but I did have my suspicions.
Mad River Road is worth the read if you love a good mystery to curl up with on a rainy day.

View all my reviews




© Mary M. Cushnie-Mansour


            Gerry had decided to head up to the cottage early and surprise his daughter. He got an eerie feeling when he saw the front door was ajar. Princess was meowing by the cellar door. When she saw him, she slipped through the door, stood on the landing, and meowed again.

            “What’s wrong, Princess?” Gerry asked, following her.

            She padded down the steps, headed to the room and meowed at the steel door.  Gerry opened it. “Oh my God!” he exclaimed, rushing to his friend. He checked for a pulse––faint.

            Gerry raced upstairs and called 911.


            Caroline awoke in a strange room. Her ankle was throbbing. The door swung open, and the swamp creature walked in. “Ah, you are awake!” 

            “Who are you?” Caroline managed.

            “That’s not important; I need to do something about this colour,” she crooned, running her fingers through Caroline’s hair.

            Caroline tried to pull away, but the woman grasped hold of her face and peered into her eyes. “There is no use, dear; there is no way out of here.”

            Caroline fainted. The woman picked her up and carried her into a bathroom. “It is time to go blond––like the rest of them.”


            Before the ambulance took Mr. Malcolm away, he’d managed to regain consciousness long enough to tell Gerry that it was Caroline who had stabbed him, and he had no idea where she was now. 

Gerry had come up early specifically to help Caroline close the cottage and bring her home. She’d been behaving strangely lately, according to her mother––but to stab someone? He’d told his wife that he had business with Malcolm, so she wouldn’t fret. Gerry glanced at the lake and noticed Princess sitting at the water’s edge, staring across to Mr. Malcolm’s cottage.

“You know where Caroline is?” he asked, going up to her. She rubbed around his legs, and then returned to her vigil. It was then Gerry remembered a recent conversation with his friend, while they were sitting by the swamp…

“We’ve had that house under surveillance all summer,” he’d begun, pointing to a place on the other side of the swamp. “Some woman, who used to be a top model, bought it. Bit of a recluse. Story is that she was in a terrible fire––ended her career. One of our officers thought he saw something suspicious over there a few months ago, so we set up surveillance…”

 Gerry put two and two together and called the police.


            Caroline was sitting at a table in a room with mirrored walls. Six young, blond women were starring at her. “Welcome,” they said in unison. Caroline recognized them all; they were the girls in the news clippings.  

            The swamp woman entered the room, followed by a young man who was pushing a cart with a movie projector on it. He pulled down a movie screen. She flicked on the projector. The girls turned, robotically, to watch.

            Caroline saw a beautiful young woman parading on a runway. Suddenly, flames shot across the screen and out of the flames came a distinctly different woman––at least that is how it appeared! Caroline gasped. The others were un-phased. The woman laughed hysterically.

            When the film finished, the young man served supper. The girls ate mechanically.  “What’s wrong with them?” Caroline wondered. She decided not to eat, fearing the food may be drugged.

            The woman noticed, came up to her and cooed gently in her ear: “It would be better for you if you eat.” Caroline picked up her fork.

            When the meal was finished, the girls stood up, in unison, and walked, single file, out of the room, like a parade of models. The woman pushed Caroline into line.  


            The police met Gerry at the swamp’s edge. “We’ll have to go in quietly,” said one officer. “We don’t want to spook this woman.”

            “Are the girls still alive?” Gerry asked.

            “Not sure.”


            Sophie and her son watched the boats crossing the swamp. They would not take her alive––or the girls. “You know what to do, Jason.”

            “Yes mommy.”

            After saturating the floors with gasoline, Jason flicked a lit match onto the floor and walked out the back door, disappearing into the woods. Caroline was watching from her window. She heard the hysterical laughter above her. Then, she smelled the smoke.  “Help,” she hollered, as she tried to open her door. It was locked!


            The police pushed into the flaming house rushing toward the cries for help. A woman was laughing, but they couldn’t find her––the laughter soon ceased.

            While waiting for the air ambulance, Gerry held his daughter’s hand.  “Caroline…”

            Her eyes were glazed. “Who?”

            “Caroline, it’s okay honey, all the girls are out, all except the woman, Sophie.  It looks as though she was trying to live the life she’d lost, by collecting beautiful young woman.”

            “There was a young man in the house; did you find him, sir?”

            Gerry was puzzled that his daughter had called him, sir. “No, there was no one else in the house, Caroline.” Gerry gazed into his daughter’s eyes and saw the return of her former illness.


            After the doctors had checked Caroline out and confirmed that physically she was okay and that her mental condition would pass in time––she was still in shock––Gerry returned to the cottage and locked it up. He placed a call to a local realtor, and until it sold, the cottage would remain closed.

As they drove slowly away from their summer home, Caroline sat in the back seat, humming and rocking back and forth. Her laptop was clutched to her chest. Princess lay asleep beside her.

“We’ll be home soon, Caroline,” her father said, taking a quick glance at his daughter.

 “Why do you keep calling me Caroline, sir, my name is Ruth?”      





Part Five of a Series

© Mary M. Cushnie-Mansour



            “Hello Caroline,” the voice was vaguely familiar.

            “Mr. Malcolm?” Caroline held up the knife. 

“There’s no need for the knife Caroline,” he said, standing and stepping out of the shadows. “I noticed someone skulking around your cottage earlier, so I came over to make sure you were okay.”

            “You lie!” Caroline spit out. “My doors and windows are all locked––how did you get in?”

            Mr. Malcolm pointed: “That window was open.”

            Caroline looked. Impossible! She had secured everything! She pointed the knife menacingly. “Don’t come any closer,” she threatened.

            “Caroline, please; I am just looking out for you as your father asked me to. Put the knife down; we don’t want anybody to get hurt here.” He stepped forward.

            “Not another step!” Caroline was trying to think––what would Ruth do? This hadn’t been part of the story. Something inside her snapped and she lunged forward, planting the knife into Mr. Malcolm’s abdomen. The look of shock on his face brought a smile to hers. Down he slumped, grasping at his belly. Caroline stared at him. The last thing he saw, before closing his eyes, was her smile.

            Caroline sat down in her father’s chair. Things had happened too fast, and she needed time to think. Her fingers tapped on the wooden arms. Well, Ruth already had the victim in the room––so, all she needed to do was get Mr. Malcolm down there. She’d have to drag him. Caroline noticed the old blanket––the one her mother loved––on the couch. Retrieving it, she laid it down and then rolled Mr. Malcolm onto it and began to pull. “Better to clean the blood from one blanket than have to clean an entire floor, hallway, and stairs,” she mumbled.

            Mr. Malcolm was not as heavy as Caroline thought he would be, but it still took some manoeuvring for her to get him down the basement stairs and into the room. She leaned over and checked for a pulse––there was a faint one. She shrugged, turned and left; there were things that needed to be tended to.

            Caroline headed down to the dock where her canoe was tied. She noticed Mr. Malcolm’s boat on the other side. Quickly, she guided it around and tied it onto the stern of her canoe. When she got to the other side of the lake, she’d tie his boat to his dock, in its usual spot, retrieve her traps and then head back to the cottage and deal with him.  There were a lot of questions he would need to answer––if he regained consciousness.


            Mr. Malcolm opened his eyes. His whole body ached. He gazed around at his surroundings. A smidgen of early morning light was filtering through the small window opposite to where he was laying. He tried to sit up, but his head was too woozy and he was hit with a sharp pain in his gut. It was then he remembered!

            Caroline had stabbed him. Gerry had mentioned he thought his daughter was still not quite right from the breakdown, and he hadn’t been too sure about leaving her alone up here. But to go to this extent? She had no idea what danger she could be in. He’d been staking out a house on the other side of the swamp and was getting ready to make a move now that there was some concrete proof. When the most recent girl, Cindy, had disappeared, there had been a clue left behind––something they’d never had previously–– something they had not released to the media.

            Another pain shot through his abdomen. “Help!” he moaned before slipping into unconsciousness again, but not before he thought he heard a cat meowing outside the door.


            After securing Mr. Malcolm’s boat to his dock, Caroline made her way to the pathway that led to the swamp. She had a visual picture of where she’d laid all the traps and hoped some innocent creature hadn’t happened by. That was one thing that she and Ruth hadn’t thought of.

            She picked her way carefully to the first trap, leaned over and pulled it from its hiding place. Then she moved on to the next one. With three of the traps gathered, she looked around trying to remember where the fourth one was. She knew it was closer to the chairs than the others had been. As she cautiously stepped forward, Caroline was startled by the snapping of a twig. She turned, quickly, lost her balance and fell. The traps scattered. She heard another twig snap, and as she looked up someone was walking steadily toward her––someone who did not look human.

            Caroline pushed herself to her feet and began backing away. Snap!

            “Well, well, what do I have here,” Caroline heard before blacking out. “Not blond, but I can fix that!”

CONCLUSION on Wednesday, October 17, 2012

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