The following is an excerpt from my novel-in-progress, Retribution Principle.




Learned a new word today. Purge.

Father Kozak said the root of this word is the same as the word “Purgatory.” Which, also he said, was where you are right now.


Summoned to the Principal’s Office and sitting before a large desk, Father Kozak told me that I needed to purge myself of anger and bitterness. He explained that doing this would be a “catharsis” for me, which I guess is another word I learned today.

I’m almost tempted to wonder how a man trained to miraculously turn a cracker into Christ could sound a lot like a shrink, but then I realize that given how much money you spent paying these people to teach me English and Science and where unbaptized babies go when they die from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, they ought to have other skills.

Father Kozak, sitting in his big red leather chair, he told me that whatever negative thoughts and feelings that I had about your death, I needed to give them to God.

That was what he said.

Give them to God.

He told me to imagine that while he spoke to God, imagine all my emotions were soiled rags. Imagine holding them in my hand, and as I prayed to God to take them from me, imagine me handing over the soiled rags.

Purge, because a little purging never hurt anyone.

To be honest, I hadn’t a clue in Purgatory what the priest was talking about. All I could think about was how soon before I could get out of this guy’s office and get back to not paying attention to a teacher in a classroom somewhere.

Father Kozak pressed his index fingers to his lips before speaking, the rest of his fingers folded as though he were forming a gun with his hands and kissing the barrel. He looked at me, over and beyond those fingertips, and then pulled them away from his mouth and asked, “So, Michael, what emotions will you purge?”

This man was relentless.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I have no idea. I have to go home and think about it.”

Father Kozak in his big red leather chair brought his hands back to a steeple in front of his mouth and looked at me over his fingertips. He half-squinted his eyes and said, “Keep in mind what our Lord says to us in St Matthew’s gospel about unclean spirit.”


“When an unclean spirit goes out of a person it roams through arid regions searching for rest but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my home from which I came.’ But upon returning, it finds it empty, swept clean, and put in order. Then it goes and brings back with itself seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they move in and dwell there; and the last condition of that person is worse than the first.”

Really Mom, I had no idea what the fuck this man in a black Jedi outfit was talking about. I nodded my head, and he pressed his lips to his steeple fingers and nodded back.

When I got home from school, when I walked through the front door and stood in the foyer, I decided to do exactly what the underpaid magician told me to do.


I moved quickly, because Uncle Anthony would be home soon. I began in your bedroom and worked my way into every room in the house.

From the walls, I tore down crucifixes, paintings of Jesus, paintings of Mary, paintings of Jesus and Mary, paintings of angels.

From the dressers and night stands and countertops, I removed statues of all major players of the Catholic Church. From shelves, I removed Bibles and prayer books and hymnals.

The fresco of Saint Peregrine, the Italian patron saint of carcinoma: Purged.

All of the visible places that you put these things in order to remind you every day to forget how scared you were, I purged them. After all, I did not want unclean spirits from the arid regions of wherever to come roaming into his house.

Having rounded them all up Nazi Germany style, I tossed them into a big cardboard box and set the box on the kitchen table, the artifacts inside clattering together. I looked out the sliding glass door at the barbeque grill in the backyard, and then I went to a small wooden drawer next to the sink and fished inside until I found a matchbook.


Author: Joe Stallone

Fiction Writer

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