Saturday, December 31, 2016

“Last Call at the East Street Mission” by John Miscione

It was a late December night when Ron Spicer stood against a cold brick wall and shivered. Leaning his head back and closing his eyes he tried to clear his muddled mind. The sound of approaching footsteps roused him, and in a well rehearsed voice he asked, “Hey pal, can you spare some change?” The passer-by kept walking without as much as a glance.
It was easy now to beg. Gone was the embarrassment, the shame and self-loathing. Those feelings were buried long ago beneath an insatiable thirst, an Everest of countless and forgotten binges.
Six years ago, in what to Ron seemed like another man’s life, his wife Pamela had stood before him in their marital home. Holding their one-year-old baby she’d shouted in anger, “I’ve had it Ron! I can’t live like this anymore. If you don’t stop your drinking, I’m taking Tommy and we’re leaving.”
What followed were slurred apologies and empty promises; promises that had echoed within that home so many times before. Further episodes quickly spiralled downward into a nasty mess of divorce papers, a surprise change to the door locks, and a restraining order. Finally, in a sober act of defeat, Ron had left Pam and their son, Tommy. A chaotic time of imposing upon the hospitality of his long-suffering friends soon came to an end, and Ron found himself on the street, homeless. It seemed fitting when, not unexpectedly, he was fired from his job.
So here he was, cold and wet, standing in front of the East Street Mission. He was preparing to go in but had to sober up first. The volunteer attendants at the mission strongly discouraged the ‘guests’ from coming in drunk, and would ask them to come back when sober. Ron was hungry and tired, enough so that he was willing to listen to what he called the bullshit of those self-righteous assholes. A few false words of praise and a contrived look of remorse would earn him a warm mattress on a crowded floor, and a stomach full of something solid for a change.
Ron hadn’t had much to drink tonight, and after exhaling a big breath into his cupped hands he believed he just might pull this off. He glanced at his dimly lit reflection in the glass door. It was hard for Ron to look at himself, to see how he had aged so quickly and unkindly. At thirty he looked almost twice his age. 
He had once been considered a handsome man, before the drink had consumed him. His face was now etched with deep wrinkles, his nose bulbous and red. He was gaunt and scrawny, contradicted only by his distended stomach. Ron ran his hand along his head to smooth down his thinning long hair. Good enough, he thought, and with his head down he pushed through the door and entered the shelter.
The stark lighting inside hurt his eyes, but he quickly found his bearings in this too familiar refuge. Ahead to the left was the registration desk. I hope Marnie is in tonight, Ron thought. She was one of the nice ones, not apt to judge or sermonize. As he approached the desk it occurred to him how quiet the shelter was tonight; absent too was the rag-tag collection of stragglers usually lining the hall. But what really surprised Ron was the imposing figure sitting behind the registration desk.
A giant of a man with an impossibly wide grin stood up to greet Ron. From that grin sparkled a large gold tooth. Like a beacon in the night it drew Ron closer. An enormous hand was extended forward and Ron watched dumbfounded as his hand was swallowed up in a massive bundle of fingers and flesh.
“Welcome, Mr. Spicer. I’ve been expecting you.” The man’s voice was deep, and he spoke with a Russian accent. “My name is Sasha, but everyone calls me Mr. Jingle.” Ron’s wide-eyed stare broke free from the handshake and was drawn to the big man’s belt. Hanging from this belt was a large ring holding a multitude of keys. Each key, of different shape and size, shimmered with gold, like a charm bracelet of golden teeth.
Mr. Jingle moved out from behind the desk, his key ring jingling and jangling with every step. It became plainly obvious to Ron how this man got his name.
“Who-who are you?” stammered Ron. “Are you new here?”
“New?” he chuckled. “No, Mr. Spicer. I’ve always been here, but out of sight. I’ve come to help you Mr. Spicer, and I’ve made some extraordinary arrangements. No one will interfere so please come with me, this is your special night.”
Somehow, knowing that resistance would be futile, Ron allowed himself to be led away. They walked through a nearby door marked “NO ADMITTANCE”, keys clanging and chiming in rhythm to their steps.

Ron found himself walking along a gloomy corridor, both sides of which were lined with strange doors. To Ron it brought to mind the hallways inside those sleazy hotels, the ones that didn’t ask questions, or waste money replacing light bulbs. He broke through his uneasiness and asked, “Where are you taking me? All I wanted was something to eat and a place to sleep.”
“Don’t worry, Mr. Spicer, we have arrived,” replied Jingle. They were standing outside a series of framed glass doors, like the entrance doors to a mall or theatre. “Now, let’s see. I believe this is the correct key.” From the ring on his belt Jingle produced a gold key, slid it into the lock, and opened the door. “Please enter, Mr. Spicer, and enjoy the show.”
Ron passed through the door and surprisingly found himself to be dressed in a tailored suit, walking down the aisle of a theatre auditorium. He stopped and just stood there, dumbfounded until an usher approached him.
“Can I help you find your seat, Sir?” the usher asked. “The awards ceremony is about to begin.” Without thinking Ron reached into his suit pocket and found a ticket stub. He handed it to the usher, who examined the ticket and said, “This way, please.” He led Ron down to the front row. “Here you are, Sir, front row, aisle seat.”
Ron took his seat and looked around. The centre aisle was on his right; a fidgety woman was in the seat to his left.
“Isn’t this exciting?” she asked. “My son Bill is up for an award. Do you know someone receiving an award tonight?”
Ron said nothing. He pulled his ticket out of his pocket again and read its bold print: 13th Annual Young Entrepreneurs Awards Gala. Suddenly, the stage lights came on and a hush fell over the crowded theatre. A spotlight beamed on the emcee standing at centre stage.
“Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the Young Entrepreneurs Awards ceremony,” he announced. “Tonight we honour those bright young people who have shown incredible ingenuity and--”
“Excuse me pal, I believe you’re in my seat.” A visibly irritated man had appeared next to Ron. He was glaring down at him, his cheek twitching rapidly as it began to redden. Ron felt an immediate dislike for the man. Reluctantly, he began to get up from his seat as the usher appeared.
“Is there a problem here?” asked the usher.
“Yeah, this guy’s in my seat,” said Twitchy.
“That can’t be,” replied the usher.  “I sat this gentleman myself. May I see your ticket, Sir?” Twitchy handed him his ticket. “My apologies, this is indeed your seat.” The usher turned to Ron. “May I see your ticket again? I must have misread it earlier.”
Ron reached into his suit pocket once more. Instead of his ticket, he withdrew a weathered old tarot card. Puzzled, Ron slowly flipped over the card. They all stared at it for a moment. It was the Death card.
“Your ticket please,” said the usher.
“This is all I have,” replied a baffled Ron, patting down his pockets.
“Sir, if you don’t have a ticket you’ll have to leave.”
“Alright, sure. I don’t know what I’m doing here anyway.” Ron turned and proceeded up the aisle towards the exit. He spotted a program lying on the floor and scooped it up. Once through the doors Ron expected to be back in the gloomy corridor of the shelter, but instead he found himself inside the well-lit lobby of the theatre. He stood there, lost and confused, and looked down at the program.
He began to read it and was surprised at the date: December 21st, 2036. Must be a misprint, he thought. He then glanced down at the honourees and a name jumped out at him. Tom Spicer – Recipient of Top Entrepreneur Award was atop a list of other winners. That’s my son’s name. He glanced at the date on the program again: 2036. Twenty years had gone by. Could this be? My little Tommy?  I must be dreaming. Ron went back to the theatre door and cracked it open. He looked down at the stage. A handsome young man was shaking hands with the emcee and accepting an award.
“Ladies and gentlemen I present to you the recipient of this year’s Top Entrepreneur award, Tom Spicer,” the emcee pronounced.
For a brief moment Ron thought he was looking at himself on his wedding day – the resemblance was unmistakable. There was a round of applause as Tom stepped to a lectern to speak.
“Thank you, thank you,” said Tom. “I’d especially like to thank my mom for her support and encouragement over the years. Unfortunately she can’t be here due to illness, however my step-dad is sitting in for her tonight.” Tom waved to a man in the front row and the spotlight swivelled over to him. To Ron’s disbelief it was the jerk who’d bumped him out of his seat, Twitchy, who now stood up and waved back to Tom.
“Excuse me Sir, you’ll have to keep this door closed,” said an usher. Ron stepped back, letting the door close softly. He’d seen enough. He left the lobby and stepped outside in the street, more confused than ever. Maybe some fresh air will snap me out of this twilight zone. Ron couldn’t believe any of this. What the hell is going on? That couldn’t be my son, could it? He had to be sure. He decided to wait for the ceremony to end and catch Tom on his way out.
The awards ceremony went on for hours, but Ron had spent enough time on the streets to know how to let his mind go. It was like sleeping standing up, but without dreams, just vacant. This was different though. Ron was struggling to make sense of tonight’s strange events or accept the notion that he had gone completely insane. 
Finally he saw the theatre doors swing open. A large crowd poured into the street. He scoured the crowd, searching for someone who, through some bizarre occurrence, could be his grown-up son. And then, there he was. Can it really be him? There was a twinge in his heart that said yes. Tom had come out of the far doors, accompanied by his step-father.
Ron pushed through the throng of people, hoping to have at least a word with his boy. The people in the crowd, initially blocking his path to Tom, began to step away. Women cringed and averted their eyes while men stared at him with disdain. Puzzled, Ron looked down at himself and discovered he was once again wearing the tattered clothes of a homeless beggar. His foul body odour was rife. Without time to mentally process this transformation, he looked back up and was face to face with his long-lost son.
“Tommy. Tom, can I have a word with you. I think I know you.”
“Get lost, you bum,” said Twitchy. He gave Ron a hard shove which sent him sprawling onto the sidewalk. “Let’s go, Son. These guys are always looking for a handout.”
Tom and his step-father began to walk away. Tom stopped for a moment and looked down at Ron. Their eyes met and a flicker of recognition passed between them. “Have we met before?” Tom asked.
“Don’t waste your time, Tom, let’s go,” interrupted Twitchy. “This guy’s just a waste of skin.” He threw a pocketful of change at Ron. “There, go buy yourself a drink.”
“Just a minute,” snapped Tom, glaring at his step-father. “I asked this guy a question. Mom was right about you, no compassion whatsoever.” Tom looked back to Ron. “Well, Mister, what have you got to say?”
Before Ron could reply, a pair of security guards arrived. They quickly picked him up and dragged him around the corner and into an alleyway. They threw him down roughly, causing Ron to bounce his head off a concrete wall. He grabbed the back of his head and slouched down.
Ron sat there in a daze. He could hear music playing through the open window of an upper apartment. He vaguely recognized it; it was the song, “Aqualung”, by Jethro Tull, broadcasting from a classic rock radio station. As the song played Ron felt light-headed, ready to pass out. Snot ran down his nose as if to mimic the lyrics of the popular song, and he drifted off to sleep.

Ron awoke. He was lying on a mattress on the floor. He sat up and discovered that he was in the sleep hall of the East Street Mission. There was no one else in the room, and he had no idea how he’d gotten here or how long he’d been asleep.
“Hello, Mr. Spicer. Did you enjoy the ceremony?” It was Mr. Jingle, who had suddenly appeared.
“You again. What are you anyway, and where the hell did you take me?”
“I’m just a friend, here to help you,” replied Jingle. “Come along now, I’ve something else to show you.”
Struggling a bit, Ron stood up from the mattress. “Just leave me alone, I don’t want your help. You must have drugged me or something. I’m getting the fuck out of here and reporting you to the cops.”
Jingle’s massive hand instantly grabbed Ron’s neck and squeezed. “Now, Mr. Spicer, you must let me help you. Please, don’t make me do things the hard way.”
Ron was choking, he tried to speak but couldn’t. He could feel himself blacking out.
“Now, will you behave and come with me, please?” asked Jingle. “Nod if you will.” Ron nodded as best as he could. “That’s better. Now let’s get going.” Mr. Jingle relaxed his grip as Ron sucked in big gulps of air. They left the sleep hall and moved towards the same door they had entered earlier in the night, marked “NO ADMITTANCE”. Walking together they looked like old friends, with the larger of the two amiably resting his hand on the other’s shoulders, just below the neck. They stepped through the door.
Once inside the corridor, Jingle stopped them at the first door on the right. There was a small window in the top half of the door. Ron tried to peek inside while Jingle searched for the appropriate key. Straining his eyes Ron could make out a green tiled wall, similar to those in a hospital or institution. There were some words scrawled on the wall in bright red letters, like graffiti. Ron strained his eyes further but found the words impossible to read from this side of the door.
“Ah, here it is,” said Mr. Jingle. He unclasped the gold key from his key ring and pushed it into the door lock. “Now remember, Mr. Spicer, you agreed to behave. Please enter and have a nice visit.” Jingle turned the key, opened the door, and gave Ron a gentle push inside.
The smell of disinfectant filled the air. Ron found himself standing in the hallway of a hospital, just outside the emergency operating room. He was dressed in scrubs, surgical gloves and mask. He felt a strange compulsion to enter the operating room and he quietly stepped inside. Standing at the back of the room Ron was unnoticed by the operating room’s team of doctors and nurses. They were frantically working on a patient in obvious distress.
“Blood pressure 50 over 20, heart rate at 35 and dropping,” reported the attending nurse. “Blood pressure now 30 over 15, pulse at 20. We’re losing her, doctor.” Then the steady flat-line hum of the monitor. “Cardiac arrest!”
“Two milligrams of adrenalin, stat,” the doctor ordered. The nurse complied and returned her eyes to the monitor.
“Beginning CPR,” the doctor stated. He stood over the patient with his arms firmly braced over her chest and began to thrust downward.
“Prepare the defibrillator.”
There was a flurry of activity as the surgical team prepared the patient for heart fibrillation. The doctor pulled away momentarily as the shock paddles were put in place. He grasped the paddles.
A deep thump was heard followed by a sudden upward jerk of the patient. The team watched the monitor for a positive response – nothing.
“Clear!” the doctor repeated, the ensuing electrical thump once again jerked the patient upwards. No response. A third attempt was made, followed by the same result.
“Manual heart massage?” another doctor suggested. He picked up a scalpel.
The first doctor paused, studied the patient for a second longer, and then shook his head. “Too late, we’ve lost her. There’s nothing else we can do. Nurse, please record the time of death and notify the orderly.”
“Yes, doctor.” She made the entry on the patient clipboard and took one last look at the dead woman.
“What a shame,” she said to no one in particular. “EMS who brought her in said she’d been in a bad car accident. Her drunken ex-husband was driving, and not a scratch on him, the lucky bastard.”
Ron watched with apprehension as these events unfolded before him. Why am I seeing this? Then the unthinkable happened. The surgical team moved away from the operating table allowing Ron a full view of the deceased patient. He looked at her face and became petrified. It was Pamela, his ex-wife, laying there dead. Her head slowly turned towards him. Her eyelids flew open to reveal cloudy white eyes, no pupils. Her bluish lips trembled as they parted.
“Why, Ron?” she asked. “Why?” Her eyes slammed shut, her mouth and lips falling limp. He watched in horror as a ghostly aura rose from her chest.
Stunned and shaken, Ron bolted out of the operating room. In the hallway outside, he frantically searched for the door back into the shelter.
What he found instead made his heart jump into his throat. It was the graffiti he had seen earlier through the window of the door. Scrawled in blood on the tiled wall were the words: I’VE HAD IT RON! I CAN’T LIVE LIKE THIS ANYMORE. Ron turned away to flee but ran straight into a gurney. The crash sent him head-over-heels and he slammed his head hard on the floor. Then, darkness.

When Ron awoke he was sitting at a table inside the dining hall of the East Street Mission. His head was resting face down in the crook of his elbow. There was an explosion of pain as he tried to raise it. He lifted his hand and felt a rather large bump on his forehead. He tried to focus his eyes, and with disbelief he saw that he was wearing surgical scrubs.
“Hello, Mr. Spicer. My, my, that’s quite a nasty bump on your head, isn’t it?” It was Jingle, standing directly behind him.
“Why are you doing this to me?” pleaded Ron. “What do you want from me?”
“I’ve told you. I’m here to help you,” replied Jingle. “After all, I was the one who picked you up off the hospital floor and brought you back here. You had a terrible fall, Mr. Spicer. I hope you’re feeling better now.”
“I feel like shit, and I don’t want your help. Please, just leave me alone.”
“Come, come now. Let’s get going, shall we? Our time together will be over soon. Just one more visit, I promise.”
Ron tried to stand, wincing in pain as he moved his bruised legs. “Please Sasha, Mr. Jingle, whatever your name is, just let me be.”
“Soon, Mr. Spicer, soon. Besides, this is for your own good, you know. Now let’s go, we don’t want to do this the hard way now, do we?” 
Ron stood up and took a step toward Jingle. He lost his balance and fell forward. He reached out to break his fall and grabbed the key ring on Jingle’s belt. The ring was as hot as a branding iron. Ron’s hand began to burn, the smell of smouldering skin singing his nostrils. He let go of the key ring and screamed; the palm of his hand was blackened and throbbing.
“Oh, you shouldn’t have done that, Mr. Spicer,” remarked Jingle. “The keys are not yours to touch. Not to worry though, your hand will heal soon enough.” Mr. Jingle bent down and picked up Ron with ease. “This way please.”
Cradling his burnt hand, Ron felt too weak to resist and quietly allowed Jingle to steer him out of the dining hall and towards the door marked “NO ADMITTANCE.”
Once inside, Ron found himself shuffling through the strange corridor again. This time however it was illuminated by a sickly green glow. The floor was tilted and the walls were of uneven height, reminding him of those disorienting Fun House exhibits at summer carnivals.
They stopped in front of an elaborate leather-bound door. From the ring Mr. Jingle selected a key and thrust it into the door lock.  As he slowly turned the key the lighting in the hall intensified and the hum of the fluorescents grew louder. As if coming to life, the door bulged, the leather stretching to its ripping point. Ron looked up at Mr. Jingle in amazement and was blinded by the bright light. Suddenly the door flew open, from which emanated a fog of green vapour.
“Please enter, and have a good time,” said Mr. Jingle.
Ron felt an invisible force pulling him forward and into the room. He rubbed his eyes and blinked, trying to focus on what lay ahead. Darkness at first, then a dawning warm light. The sound of voices could be heard, growing in strength with the light. Edging closer, Ron could hear laughter, the chatter of happy people: a party. He looked down at his injured hand, the burn had healed and the pain was gone. He was now wearing a tuxedo.
“Ron old buddy. How ya doing, pal?” A stranger, also dressed in a tux, put an arm around Ron’s shoulder and pumped his hand. “Come on in, man, let me buy you a drink.”
Ron was immediately hooked by the offer and followed the stranger without protest.
He was led into a lavishly decorated ballroom. Crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling, fine artwork adorned the oak-panelled walls. In the corner a musical quartet played spirited music. And to the right was the piece de resistance, an extravagant bar, which ran the entire length of the room.
“Come on, this way,” said the stranger. They approached the bar and mingled through a cheerful crowd.
Everyone seemed to know Ron, and they greeted him with open arms. They flattered him with praise, cajoled him with admiration. An exceptionally well-endowed woman pressed herself against him. She reached up and kissed Ron warmly on the cheek, leaving behind a generous amount of deep red lipstick.
Ron, the apparent man of honour, finally reached the bar and his jaw dropped. He had never seen such an extraordinary assortment of alcohol. He nearly drooled as his eyes drank in the countless bottles of fine liquor: whiskeys, vodkas, rums, cognacs, spirits of every variety. To one side he spotted a large collection of rare single malt scotch, most of which were labelled thirty-year-old. Behind the bar a large refrigerated glass door displayed a bevy of chilled beer: pilsners, lagers, ales, and stouts. An impressive wine list rounded out the inventory.
“What’s your pleasure, Mr. Spicer?” said a familiar voice. From a shadow behind the bar emerged Mr. Jingle, his wide golden grin beaming down on Ron. Jingle, wearing a bartender’s apron, opened his arms and motioned at the multitude of bottles at his disposal. Ron licked his lips and was about to speak when he suddenly felt a tapping on his back.
He turned and saw a beautiful young woman. She looked up at him with enticing eyes and smiled. She was vaguely familiar to Ron but he couldn’t place her.
“Come on, Ronny, let’s dance.” She grabbed his hand and tried to pull him away. Her alluring frame leaned towards the dance floor. Certain this was all one crazy dream, Ron was only too happy to oblige.
As they stepped onto the dance floor the band, as if on cue, began to play slow, romantic music.
The young lady eased herself into Ron’s arms. She raised her lips to his ear and whispered something obscene. He was intoxicated by the sweet smell of her hair, the touch of her skin, and her sinful words. In a passionate embrace they danced and twirled to the music.
“What’s your name, gorgeous?” he asked her.
“Don’t you remember? It’s Cindy.”
Cindy? I don’t know anyone named Cindy, thought Ron. Unless.... Thinking back he recalled his first girlfriend. Her name was Cindy. They were just kids back then but he’d never forgotten - she had given him his very first drink, taken from her father’s liquor cabinet on a night when her parents were out. How he regretted that very first drink.
He glanced away and noticed a large mirror hanging from the far wall. A strange reflection in the mirror caught his eye and he danced their way towards it. A closer look into the mirror shattered the last remains of Ron’s sanity. He looked at the reflection and was horrified to see a decomposing corpse draped in his arms. 
He quickly looked down at Cindy. She was as beautiful as before. But looking back in the mirror, quite the opposite appeared. A horribly decayed creature, clutching him with skeletal fingers, was staring at Ron with one dangling eyeball. Rotting flesh stretched across her glistening jawbone while a spider flitted in and out of her vacant eye socket.
Stricken with terror, Ron couldn’t pull his gaze away from the mirror. He saw the reflection of the once cheerful crowd in the background. Their elegant evening gowns and fine tuxedos were reduced to bloody rags which hung limply from oozing flesh and protruding bones. They danced and they swayed, a gruesome collection of cavorting cadavers.
Ron broke free from the Cindy-creature and began to back away. He turned and ran for the bar. Jingle is at the bar, he thought, he’ll get me out of this place. Shielding his eyes from the crowd, Ron managed to reach Mr. Jingle, who waiting behind the bar.
“You look like you can use a drink, Mr. Spicer.” Jingle poured a full glass of single malt scotch, neat.
With trembling hands Ron grasped the glass and quickly gulped it down.  The taste was pure evil. He grabbed the bottle from Mr. Jingle’s hand and looked at the label. The fancy label which proclaimed thirty years of aging was gone. It was replaced by a tattered warning sign. A large skull and crossbones sign, the universal symbol for poison, was the only marking on it now.
“Care for another?” asked Mr. Jingle.
Ron looked up and noticed all the bottles displayed behind the bar had the identical warning label. His mouth began to burn, soon followed by a nauseating pain deep in his gut. The nausea grew quickly and he began to heave uncontrollably. Vomit erupting from his mouth with violent force. He doubled over as acrid discharge burned his throat, pungent bile dripping from his nose. He collapsed to the floor clutching his stomach and writhed in pain.
The ghoulish crowd slowly gathered around Ron and looked down at him. From across the room the band started playing and the crowd began to sing “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.”
Mercifully, Ron blacked out.

Ron slowly regained consciousness. He was draped over a filthy toilet in the East Street Mission men’s room. Ron had an awful taste in his mouth and his head was pounding. He rubbed his temples to ease his headache. A terrifying nightmare lingered in his mind. Upon lowering his hands he noticed a smear of lipstick on his fingers. He wiped his cheek and found more lipstick. He thought of the lady in the ballroom who kissed him and he shook his head in denial. This can’t be true, thought Ron. Just another crazy nightmare, that’s all.
“Hello, Mr. Spicer. Feeling better? I hope you’ve learned something today.”
Ron spun around and saw Mr. Jingle grinning down at him sparkling his gold tooth. “You bastard, Jingle. Let me out of this god-damn nightmare. Why do you keep torturing me?”
“To show you the error of your ways, of course.”
“Error?” asked Ron, almost laughing. “What you’ve shown me is heart-wrenching grief and sorrow. You’ve put me through a shitload of horrors. You’ve even tried to poison me. Haven’t I suffered enough? I’ve already lost everything. I’m just a fucking alcoholic, I don’t need you to show me that.”
            “Perhaps you’d like to reconsider your past.”
“What do you want me to say, that I’ll quit drinking? Even if I did, what’s done is done. There’s no going back.” Ron gave Mr. Jingle a questioning glance. “Is there?”
“Perhaps there is, Mr. Spicer, perhaps there is. I can be of some assistance in this matter, but it’s really up to you. This time, you possess the key.”
Mr. Jingle stared deeply into Ron’s eyes and with a booming voice he said, “This is your last call, Mr. Spicer. What will it be?” The words echoed in Ron’s head, and in an instant Jingle had vanished.
Ron was alone again as darkness crept in and surrounded him. He felt as if he was at the bottom of a deep abyss, hopelessly lost. Too weak and too frightened to move, Ron sat cross-legged on the floor. He tried to make sense of Jingle’s cryptic message: This is your last call...what will it be?  And so, for the first time in a long time, he prayed. He prayed and he wept, until overcome by complete exhaustion.
Dream-like, Ron was floating, weightlessly drifting through an endless corridor, through oddly shaped doors. Iridescent keys floated all around him as a blinding light beckoned him forward. He could hear Mr. Jingle’s eerie laugh echoing in his head. For Ron, the passage of time and space had lost its meaning. Finally, he felt himself crashing back to earth.
Ron smelled cinnamon. He felt warm and cozy, well rested. He opened his eyes and found himself in a bed – a familiar bed, in a familiar bedroom. To Ron’s surprise he was back in his family home, the one he had lost so many years ago.
“Wake up, Ron. Are you going to sleep all day? It’s Christmas.” His wife Pamela entered the room.
Pam, my beautiful Pam is back.
“Come on, Tommy’s waiting for us downstairs,” she said. “He can’t wait to open his presents.”
“Tommy’s here? Downstairs?” asked Ron, his voice cracking with emotion.
“Of course silly, where would you expect our son to be on Christmas morning?”
“How old is he?” he blurted out, realizing how stupid this question must sound to Pam.
“You’re acting strange this morning,” she said with a laugh. “He’s seven, remember?”
Seven years old. Six years have gone by since he’d left Pamela and Tommy. But still, it’s not too late to start over, to be happy again. Ron jumped out of bed and gave his once-lost wife an affectionate kiss, embracing her tightly.
“Not now, you’ll get your Christmas present later,” said Pam with a smile. “Now, come on downstairs. I’ve got cinnamon rolls in the oven.”
“Merry Christmas, Dad.” Tommy came running over as Ron entered the living room and leapt into his father’s arms. Ron hugged him closely, not wanting to let go.
“Put me down, Dad, I’ve got something for you.” Ron let him down and the boy ran to a nearby table. Tommy returned with something in his hand and showed it to his dad. It was a Santa’s elf doll he had made himself.
“Isn’t it cute, Ron?” asked Pam. “Tommy’s made over a dozen of those dolls.”
“They’re not dolls, Mom, they’re action figures,” protested Tommy.
“Sorry dear. Yes, action figures. Anyway, Tommy’s even sold a bunch of them to the kids at school. Quite the entrepreneur, isn’t he?”
Entrepreneur? If you only knew, thought Ron. He picked up the doll for a closer look.
“Wow,” exclaimed Ron. “Did you really make this all by yourself?” It was a typical doll but with a tiny dab of gold paint in its smile, like a tooth. It was dressed in a Santa suit with small bells attached to its hat and shoes.
“I call him Mr. Jingle,” said Tommy. “Do you like him Dad? It’s your Christmas gift.”
Tears welled up in Ron’s eyes. He hugged his son again, looked up at Pam, then back to Tommy.
“I just love it Tommy, I really do. Mr. Jingle is the most wonderful gift I could ever ask for.”

John Miscione is from Burlington, Ontario, and enjoys being a story teller. He finds writing to be not just a hobby, but a beneficial outlet for creative expression. He has participated in a number of Brian Henry’s classes to which he attributes a renewed passion for writing. John has written several short stories and has had previous works featured in

See Brian Henry’s schedule here, including writing workshops and creative writing courses in Algonquin Park, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Georgetown, Guelph, Hamilton, Ingersoll, Kingston, Kitchener, London, Midland, Mississauga, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Saint John, NB, Sudbury, Thessalon, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Kitchener-Waterloo, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Ayesha Pande Literary has four agents, all seeking new authors, including new literary agent Serene Hakim

Ayesha Pande Literary is a New York based boutique literary agency with four agents, all accepting new authors, and a small and eclectic roster of clients. The agency has broad-ranging interests and welcomes submissions of all kinds, except poetry, religion or inspirational books, business books, screenplays, illustrated children’s books and middle grade fiction. However they are always on the lookout for young adult fiction. They are especially passionate about discovering and nurturing talented new voices.

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Serene Hakim is the newest member of the team, and like all new agents, she needs authors. Serene. worked at Laura Gross Literary Agency in Boston before joining Ayesha Pande Literary. She has also interned at David Godine Publisher and Chase Literary Agency. Serene holds an M.A. in French to English translation from NYU and a B.A. in French and Women’s Studies from the University of Kansas

Serene is actively seeking young adult (all genres but in particular: science fiction and fantasy with a unique hook, realistic YA with diverse characters), upmarket women’s fiction, and anything that gives voice to those whose voices are underrepresented and/or marginalized. Stories dealing with the Middle East and the variety of immigrant experiences out there will definitely catch her eye. Intriguing female characters are also a huge plus.

For nonfiction, Serene is seeking humorous and fascinating memoirs and is particularly interested in LGBTQ and feminist issues

Query Serene through the query form on the Ayesha Pande website here.
To see details of what all four agents at Ayesha Pande are seeking, see here
Note: The agency is closed to new queries through the holidays. They will re-open for queries January 5, 2017. Anyway, right now between Christmas and New Year, is a  better time to plan your query campaign than to send out queries (see here).

Kelley Armstrong,
one of Brian's former students
Brian Henry will be leading How to Get Published workshops  Saturday, Jan 28, 2017, in Toronto with Stacey Donaghy of the Donaghy agency (see here) and on Saturday, April 22, in Midland, again with Stacey Donaghy (see here).

Note: If you're viewing this posting after March 11, 2017, see current How to Get Published workshops here (and scroll down).

Brian will lead How to Build Your Story Saturday, Feb 4, in Mississauga (see here) and Saturday, Feb 11, in Caledon at the Bolton library (see here), Writing and Revising,   Saturday, Feb 25, in Burlington (see here) and Saturday, March 4, in London (see here), and Writing With Style, Saturday, March 11, in Georgetown (see here).

Also, he'll lead How to Write a Bestseller on Saturday, Feb 18, in Guelph, with New York Times #1 bestselling author Kelley Armstrong (see here). 

And Brian will  be leading Writing for Children & for Young Adults workshops on Saturday, May 13, in Caledon at the Bolton Library with Yasemin U├žar, senior Editor at Kids Can Press (details to come) and on Saturday, May 27, in St. Catharines with Anne Shone, senior editor at Scholastic Books (see here). Brian will also be leading a weekly Kid Lit class, Monday afternoons, April 10 – June 19, in Mississauga (details to come).

Note: For updated listings of Writing for Children & for Young adult workshops and for weekly Kid lit classes, see here (and scroll down).

For more information or to reserve a spot in any Saturday workshop or weekly course, email:

But to move closer to publication, your best bet may be a weekly course. Brian is offering a full slate of weekly classes starting soon (updated details of all six here): 
Exploring Creative Writing, Thursday afternoons, Jan 26 – March 30, Burlington Details here.
Writing Personal Stories, Tuesday mornings, Feb 9 – March 30, Oakville. Details here.
Intermediate Creative Writing, Wednesday evenings, Jan 18 - March 22, Burlington. here.
Intensive Creative Writing, Thursday evenings, Jan 19 – March 23, Georgetown. Updated details here.
Intensive Creative Writing, Tuesday afternoons, Jan 25 – March 28, Burlington. Updated details here.
Extreme Creative Writing, Wednesday afternoons, Jan 25 – March 15, Burlington
See details of all six courses here.

To register of for more information for any of the above, 
Read reviews of Brian’s courses and workshops here.

See Brian’s complete current schedule here, including writing workshops and creative writing courses in Algonquin Park, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Georgetown, Guelph, Hamilton, Ingersoll, Kingston, Kitchener, London, Midland, Mississauga, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Saint John, NB, Sudbury, Thessalon, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Kitchener-Waterloo, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

Navigation tip: For many more literary agents seeking authors, click on the Literary Agents button at the top of the page, just below the banner. To see only Canadian agents, click on the button in the right-hand column under More Content. To see only agents representing kid’s lit, click on the Children’s/YA agents button in the list of Labels below.