Thursday, October 31, 2019

“The Poplar Grove” a story for Halloween by Sally Basmajian

You may have heard the tale.
Long, long ago on every Halloween night a dark figure haunted this poplar grove. The people in the nearby town would catch glimpses of a mysterious man, clad all in black, as they peered through the cracks in their boarded up windows.
He moved smoothly through the trees, as if gliding on the wind, always hesitating at the edge of the woods, rarely approaching the town. The hiding townspeople trembled with fear as they clutched their wooden crosses, praying for salvation. 
In those days, even babies wore tiny crosses around their necks on Halloween, for the people knew that on this night of the year a vampire roved the woods. If a child perished – and more than one infant had been choked in their cradles by the rustic necklaces – better it be in the arms of their Saviour than by the bite of the devil’s creature.
Nowadays in our town, nobody brandishes garlic or a homemade cross on Halloween. We laugh at the old tale and let the kids go trick or treating – well supervised by their parents, of course. All the same, nobody ever goes near the woods at night.  It’s sort of an unwritten rule, and I’ve never even heard anyone say that it might be interesting, just as a stunt or on a dare, to hang out there and see what happens.  Our fear is powerful and it endures, all these generations later.
So it might surprise you that tonight is Halloween and I’m standing in the middle of the poplar grove, surrounded by hundreds of shadowy, silvery trunks.  The dry, remaining leaves shake and chatter in the wind, creating cascades of sound, as if a ghostly presence were applauding my daring escapade. 
The trees crowd around me, making me feel that they are creeping closer and closer to me. I know this is only my imagination. Still, I shiver with anxiety as I wait for something, anything, to happen.
I wear no garlic. I carry no cross.
Aside from the gentle clapping of the leaves, there’s no sound or movement in the poplar grove.  I’m spooked by the darkness, and look to the moon, hoping that its light will comfort me, but it is remote and uncaring. What I am experiencing is true loneliness. I feel sad and uneasy – and ridiculous – as I continue to stand, deep in the woods, waiting for my miracle from hell.
And then it happens.
“Very interesting,” a baritone voice drawls. “And what have we here?”
I turn quickly and trip on a jutting root. Recovering my balance, I look around.  I see nothing but trees and their shadows, shifting in the dappled moonlight. 
“Who’s there?” I say. I am annoyed with myself when I hear the wobbliness of my words.
“Hmmm. Let me guess. Hardly a maiden, are you?”
That makes me mad. Since when do supernatural creatures get to be so fussy?
“Show yourself, whoever you are,” I say. That’s better. My voice sounds firmer, more authoritative. 
“Certainly, madam, if that is your wish.”
A tall, slender figure apparates before me. His face is in shadow, but I can see how elegant his form is, swathed in a cloak of pure blackness.
I am way too angry to be rattled by his ability to pop, fully fledged, into being like a horrifying genie or a magician’s ratty bunny.
Madam?  Like, are you kidding me? I’m only twenty-five years old! How do you get off calling me madam?”
He chuckles, a rich, cultured sound. That makes me even madder.
“I don’t know who you think you are, you piece of recycled Halloween garbage, you excuse for something that is actually capable of scaring anyone, but I’m no madam. As a matter of fact, I’ve been told I look young for my age and that I’m pretty darn hot! So, get over here and bite my frickin’ neck and deliver me into the next dimension or whatever it is that you do. Time’s a-ticking. Move it!”
The man comes closer, appearing to float inches above the ground. He is illuminated by the moonlight and is easily the most handsome male I have ever seen, in spite of his SPF-100 complexion. I swan my neck in his direction, hoping he will notice that I have washed it especially well for this occasion, and have even been thoughtful enough to pre-scratch it so that it emits an enticing smell of fresh blood.  His nostrils quiver.
“Well, my dear, I usually go in for maidens. It’s kind of my thing. But, it has been a century or so. And you do have a certain spunky charm about you.”
His eyes become black slits and he swoops toward me with intent.
“Welcome to eternity,” he says.
My neck is stretched to its fullest extent, my eyes are closed. I feel no fear. This is it  my ticket to a glamorous afterlife, and I am ready. My whole body quivers with anticipation as I await the vampire’s puncture and then his extracting kiss.
Nothing happens. 
I crack open a baby blue. There he is, my supposed hero of darkness, my canine-tooth-enhanced Count, lounging against a nearby poplar, shaking his head in a judgmental, tsk-tsk way, and eying me with distaste.
Oh, no. No, no, no. This can’t be happening.
“What’s wrong?” I ask. I know what’s coming and I can’t bear it.
“Your blood. It is tainted with disease. I will not touch you.”
“What? How can you reject me? What I have isn’t catching; I swear to you. And I need your help here, buddy.  One little bite?”
“’Fraid not, my dear. You have my sympathy, of course, on your illness. Besides, I’m doing you a favour. The vampire’s life is long and tedious. All that waiting around in the woods, hoping for unblemished youths to appear. It isn’t getting easier, either, as the years go on – maidens being almost impossible to find and parents being all over-protective and that. Consider yourself lucky.”
As he drones on, I’m edging closer. “Listen here, you bat-winged bully, I absolutely need you to impale me with those beautiful, sharp teeth of yours. You can’t leave me hanging like this!”
I launch myself at him, hands outstretched to grab his narrow shoulders.  My plan is to drive my long fingernails into his flesh and take a bite out of him if he won’t chomp me first.  Maybe I’ll get some sort of medical benefit if I succeed, and I have nothing whatsoever to lose. I open my mouth and prepare to make contact of a deliciously macabre kind.
But, with a crackling, electric sound, he vanishes.  I sprawl on the ground, rubbing my head where it has collided with a sapling and look wildly around me.  My vampire is nowhere in sight. He’s gone, taking all my hope with him.
A small, winged creature flutters high in the sky, over the trees. A vampire bat? I can’t be sure. All I know is that when it disappears from sight I’m left alone, in the woods.
It’s a death sentence.
Years ago, I watched my mother die from this disease in a way that was much too fast for me but agonizingly slow for her.
But you can bet that I’ll never give up. Other options exist. There are medical procedures I can try. There are therapies these days that weren’t available to my mother when our illness killed her. The doctors will help me, and my fellow townspeople will be there to support me every inch of the way. I intend to fight for my health and for my life, and fight hard.
And, hey, you never know. I’ve heard tales of a strange wolf pack menacing a town not too many miles from here. To my knowledge, nobody has said the w-word aloud, but to me the animals sound a lot like werewolves. A werewolf mauling would be an awfully messy way to meet my goal, but I’ll do some research first and then, if the situation looks promising, maybe I’ll go on a solo field trip there one night.
A single bite from one of them should do the trick.

Sally Basmajian is an executive escapee from the corporate world of broadcasting. She lives in idyllic Niagara-on-the-Lake with her understanding husband and demanding sheltie and spends her free time writing. She has won recognition for her stories in the 2014 and 2015 Rising Spirits Awards and in creative non-fiction 2015 contests sponsored by ScreaminMamas and Canadian Stories.

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

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

“Garden of Eden” by Nadine Rodrigo

The frangipani tree overflows with milky white flowers, its centres garnished with liberal brush strokes of yellow saffron. It perfumes the air, and a sprinkling of fallen blossoms decorates the lawn. The morning sun promises the perfect temperature for a lazy day.  Kumari, Ramesh, Savi and I sprawl on a straw mat in our garden under the shade of our favoured tree.
The school break is well under way and I pull out a scrabble board, having already played cards, monopoly and checkers.  I drag an old crate for a table and Savi, my younger sister, unearths a discarded tire for a seat.
Soon, we’re deep into the game, and Kumari, my friend who lives next door, comes up with words that we’ve never heard of and she takes forever when it came to her turn.  My brother Ramesh is getting irritated.  
“Come on Kumari, how long are you going to take?”
She doesn’t bother to answer, concentrating on her next mysterious word.  Savi lags behind in points, she is bored. She plays with her hair, looks at her red nails, notices a chip, and starts chewing on it.  Ramesh is about to berate Kumari again when my mother appears with tall glasses of lemonade.  Eager hands reach for the drinks. Ramesh gulps his down while Kumari absentmindedly sips hers.
The shrill sound of barking shatters the gentle morning. Startled, I drop my glass. Charlie Brown and Lester, my pet dogs are at the edge of the garden where the tall grass and bushes grow wild after the monsoon.  Their hair is raised on the ridge of their backs and they bark ferociously.  We dash across the lawn to investigate.
“Stop making such a racket you two, Mom will yell at -”
 I freeze.
Behind the long grass is a huge cobra, half raised, hood expanded, it stood, majestic and mesmerizing.  Transfixed, we stare at it until Kumari starts howling for her mother. 
“Charlie!  Lester! Come back! COME BACK!”  
I scream at the top of my voice which quivers, barely producing any sound.  I struggle to grasp them by their collars but I am hauled back by my mother who is behind me.
“Priya, what do you think you are you doing? Don’t you know how far it can leap?”
My mother wails and prays simultaneously.  I wish my dad would return home soon from work.  Kumari’s mother hears the commotion and joins us, breathless and barefooted.  She clutches Kumari close to her when she sees the cobra and pleads, “You must not harm the king cobra. If unprovoked, it will go away on its own.  If you kill it, you know it will come to haunt you.”
 She is superstitious like many others, and I hardly know what to believe.  The dogs bark relentlessly, but the cobra does not budge, only swaying slightly with the movement of the dogs. It hisses, fangs exposed ready to strike.  Charlie Brown, the dachshund, runs back and forth on its short legs, his sausage like body barely above the ground. Lester, of unknown origin stands a foot taller. He snarls with his teeth bared, prepared to attack. 

In next to no time, a crowd has gathered to watch.  The neighbours holler conflicting advice, Ramesh and the boys rummage for stones; Savi and I cling to each other sobbing, terrified that the cobra will surely kill my pets.  
Finally, it sinks into the grass, and slithers away.  The cobra moves its long body swiftly, the dogs unaware it has vanished, continue to bark. 
The familiar sound of our car signals my dad is home.  Relieved, I rush towards him and hug him and hold my pets tight. Everyone gathers around to relate the story, including the brave heroes of the day, Charlie Brown and Lester.    
The scrabble board lies upturned and abandoned, under the tree. Exhausted by the day’s events I sit beside the scattered letters wondering where the King cobra disappeared to.  I pick up the letters to place them in the box, and by habit, form a word. The letters in my hand spell, COBRA.  I shiver, and fling them into the box.
The frangipani blossoms appear ghostly white.                                                      

Nadine Rodrigo was born in Quebec  and grew up in Sri Lanka, which has influenced much of her writing. She sees writing like having a baby: you give birth to your story, nurture it tenderly and rein it in when necessary and hope the ultimate result will be splendid.   

See Brian Henry’s schedule hereincluding writing workshops, weekly writing classes, and weekend retreats in, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Collingwood, Cambridge, Georgetown, Georgina, Guelph, Hamilton, Jackson’s Point, Kingston, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Midland, Mississauga, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Saint John, NB, Sudbury, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.                                                                              

Sunday, October 27, 2019

”Big Bag of Rocks” by Rocky Mancini

There is a joke that goes, “If a man is alone in the forest, and there isn’t a woman to hear him speak ... is he still wrong?”

I’m reminded of this joke every now and then.  One of those now and then moments came up during our latest move.  My wife and I have moved six times over the past 32 years and each time we have a discussion about what should and shouldn’t find a place in the new house. The latest move involved a particularly sensitive item.

“You’re not bringing that thing with us to the new house are you?” my wife asked.

I stopped… not sure if that was a question a comment or a command. It sounded like a question. I could even envision a question mark at the end of the sentence. But even after 32 years of marriage I occasionally had trouble distinguishing between them.

The subject of the question / comment / command was swaying heavily from my left hand while I did my best to balance a large well-used cardboard box in my right. The words Fragile and Breakable wavered drunkenly in front of me. Despite its dimensions, the box was a lot lighter than the knapsack I had in my left and failed to act as adequate counterweight to the hefty knapsack.  My sudden change of pace resulted in an interpretive dance-like movement of a third-rate circus juggler navigating an obstacle course. Conceding defeat, I slowly lowered the knapsack to the ground and focused on keeping the box steady.

The look of confusion on my face prompted my wife to continue. “You realize you’re literally carrying a bag of rocks to our new house, don’t you?” 

Again, I found myself struggling with whether this a question or comment.  I had an inkling of where this discussion was going.

 “First of all,” I pointed out, “it’s not a bag, it’s a knapsack.”

“Fine.” her sigh was followed by a controlled breath, and then she slowly repeated, “You realize that you are literally carrying around a ‘sack’ of rocks, don’t you.”

I was fairly certain that this was a comment, not a question.

“Secondly,” I continued, ignoring the implied you idiot, “they’re not rocks. They’re minerals and fossils,” trying my best to give an “as you well know” tone to my voice but coming across as defensive.

For the sake of context I’d like to include at this point that the knapsack in question contained various samples of minerals, ores, fossils and yes … maybe the odd rock or two. These were all collected over the years, starting from university where I graduated in geology, and ending, not coincidentally, when I began dating my wife.

The entire collection fit snugly inside an old knapsack.  I lugged, dragged and kicked that knapsack all over the province during my undergrad field trips.  Over time I continued adding to the collection whenever I came across interesting samples at mineral shows or during hiking and camping trips with friends.  I had invested a lot of time, sweat and energy into that bag of rocks.

The knapsack was a simple design, a single large pouch made of canvas.  I purchased it at an army outlet store at the start of university. It’s primary purpose was to hold rock and mineral samples, the odd prospecting tool, and beer, sometimes at the same time. It’s colour, never brilliant to begin with, had faded to a mellow sandy beige and showed the scars and scuffs of many misadventures.  It had tan brown buckles and edgings, which were cracking but holding up remarkably well.

It was still sturdy for its age, although it had lost its shape some time ago.  It now sagged a bit and the straps had been broken and replaced by various strings ropes and laces over the years. However, this knapsack, broken straps and all, never made it into the category of junk, at least in my mind. 

The knapsack, its contents notwithstanding, had become a symbol, a reminder of more carefree days before mortgages, kids and corporate ladders.  I couldn’t tell you the name of half the samples anymore, but that wasn’t the point.  I still have memories of climbing over outcrops in Timmins, hanging onto rocky ledges right next to a busy highway in Belleville. These images are firmly entrenched in my psyche.

To be honest, both items I was juggling, the bag of rocks and a box containing my wife’s mothers’ and grandmothers’ heirloom cups, saucers, dishes and delicate china pieces see the light of day about the same number of times each year – that is, never.  But somehow my wife’s box of china was considered valuable … nay precious … while the other was considered … well, a bag of rocks.

The point was that it was my bag of rocks, darn it, I’d take it with me if I wanted to.  It was my line in the sand and I refused to concede to “more important things” like family heirlooms and rare and precious china. It represented a line in the sand and I refused to budge – on principle.

I have to admit I sometimes wrestle with the logic behind my attachment to this weathered relic and why it deserves a place in our home.  To the untrained observer, my affection and dedication to its preservation seem incongruent with how I treat it or its cargo.  I find it embarrassing to even bring the minerals out in the open for anyone to see, having forgotten what most of them are called.  All I can say is that there aren’t a lot of things from my university days that I have held onto.  A dusty framed diploma and this old beaten canvas knapsack seem to be the extent of what I had accomplished in four years of study. Giving it up would be like turning my back on an old friend. 

Back to the story … I knew well enough that this was not the time to bring up the fact that the box marked Fragile and Breakable was also going to our new house and would take up more than twice the amount of our limited storage space than my wee knapsack would.  It was also not the time to mention that the knapsack would undoubtedly find itself tucked underneath my desk where it would continue its role of jamming my toes whenever I tried to stretch my legs and would not take up any of our limited precious storage space.

To make matters worse, my wife has recently taken up minimalism with a religious fervour.  The movements manifesto being something along the line of, “If it doesn’t bring you joy, throw it out.”  You can probably see where this is going. My bag of rocks did not give my wife any joy.

But for now, my wife abandoned our discussion in favour of supervising the movers who were moving her dresser and were currently teetering at the edge of the stairs. Shaking her head and muttering something about the similarities between stubborn children and husbands under her breath, she hurried off to save the furniture.  

I knew that this was a temporary reprieve and that the discussion would continue.  Uncomfortably satisfied with the shaky truce, I took advantage of the opening provided and carried the box and knapsack to the car.  I realized that concessions might need to be made for the sake of peace. The familiar refrain – “happy wife, happy life” - kept ringing in my ear.  Compromise, I knew was the only solution to resolve the stalemate.  Compromise is something I have learned to do and have become quite good at – 32 years of marriage having provided me a lot of practice at perfecting the art.

So compromise I did.

The knapsack is a little lighter now. A result of sacrifices made on the minimalist altar regarding which rocks were really joyful and which could be discarded.  Peace restored, the knapsack with the surviving contents secured under my desk, things have returned to normal. 

But some days when I am alone in my office and my wife isn’t around to hear me speak, I tell myself, “I’m not wrong! At least I’m pretty sure I’m not.”

Rocky Mancini lives in Oakville with his happy wife of 32 years and their son. He recently retired and is exploring new endeavours with a particular focus on music, writing and art. In no particular order, his interests include: family, community, the environment, travel and the preservation of wildlife and nature. 

See Brian Henry’s schedule here, including Saturday writing workshops, weekly writing classes, and weekend retreats in Algonquin Park, Alliston, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Collingwood, Georgetown, Georgina, Guelph, Hamilton, Jackson’s Point, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Midland, Mississauga, New Tecumseth, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Sudbury, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

You're invited to an author reading – to just listen or to read – Sunday, Nov 24, in Toronto

Author Reading
Sunday, November 24, 2019 
12 noon – 4 p.m.
The Wallace Gastropub, 1954 Yonge St, Toronto (Just north of Davisville. Map here.)

Note: We’re also having a reading day Saturday, Dec 7, in Oakville. See details here.

At this reading graduates of Brian Henry's writing classes get to strut their stuff. Come hear some of the most amazing emerging writers in the Toronto area reading some of the best work you’ll hear this year. This will be a fun get-together and everyone’s invited. Don’t miss it!
And if you want to read from your own work, email me, and I’ll let you know if there’s still room on the roster – as of now, there is space. (But you must arrange to read in advance; you can’t just show up on the day and hope to read.)
Doors open at 12 noon. Arrive for lunch by 12:15, or if you’re just having a drink or coffee and a snack, please arrive by 12:45. But because we’re monopolizing their second floor, you can’t order just a coffee (or they might not want us back).
The actual readings will start at about 1:30 and we’ll go to about 3:30 / 3:45 p.m. 
If possible, RSVP as soon as possible and let me know you’re coming:
I look forward to seeing you all there! ~Brian
This winter, there's a whole new round of classes from Introductory to Intensive: 
Burlington: Exploring Creative Writing, Thursday afternoons, Jan 23 – March 19. Details here.
Oakville: Writing Personal Stories, Thursday evenings, Jan 23 – March 19. Details here.
Burlington: Next Step in Creative Writing, Tuesday afternoons, Jan 21 – March 31.
  1st reading emailed Jan 16. Details here.
Burlington: Intensive Creative Writing, Wednesday evenings , Jan 15 – March 11. 1st readings emailed Jan 8. Details here.
Toronto: Intensive Creative Writing, Friday mornings, Jan 17 – March 13.  1st readings emailed Jan 10. Detail here.
    See details of all winter courses here,
To reserve a spot, email:

See Brian’s complete current schedule here, including Saturday writing workshops, weekly writing classes, and weekend retreats in Algonquin Park, Alliston, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Collingwood, Georgetown, Georgina, Guelph, Hamilton, Jackson’s Point, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Midland, Mississauga, New Tecumseth, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Sudbury, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

Monday, October 21, 2019

How to Get Published workshop, Saturday, Nov 23

We Came Here to Forget by Andrea Dunlop
represented by P.S. Literary

How to Get Published
An editor & a literary agent tell all
Saturday, November 23, 2019
10:00 a.m. – 3:45 / 4:30 p.m.
(Open at 9:30 a.m. for registration & coffee)
Niagara on the Lake Public Library,
10 Anderson Lane, NOTL, Ontario (Map here.) 

If you've ever dreamed of becoming a published author, this workshop is for you. Book editor Brian Henry and literary agent Stephanie Winter will explain how to approach an agent or publisher to give your book the best possible chance. We will go deep into how to write a query letter that will get you a yes. Bring your questions. Come and get ready to be published!
Special Option: Participants are invited to bring a draft of a query letter you might use to interest an agent or publisher in your book. You don’t need to bring anything, but if you do, three copies could be helpful.
And be sure to bring your elevator pitch! Following the end of the formal workshop at about 3:45, Brian Henry will be staying to help interested attendees, rewrite their query letters, while literary agent Stephanie Winter will be listening to your pitches. Agents come to these events wanting to hear what you’ve got and hoping to find authors they want to represent.

Stephanie Winter is an Associate Agent at P.S. Literary. Established in 2005, P.S. is a growing Canadian agency with seven agents, representing fiction and nonfiction by debut and established authors. Stephanie first joined the agency as an intern before becoming P.S.'s Agency Relations Assistant. Stephanie holds a BA in English Lit from the University of Toronto and an MA in English: Issues in Modern Culture from University College London. 
Stephanie is acquiring both fiction and nonfiction. She particularly appreciates strong characters who bend stereotypes, genders and more. Within fiction, she’s actively seeking Upmarket, Commercial, Historical, and Women’s Fiction, and also urban and magical fantasies, cozy mysteries, dramatic comedies, light romances, and genre-bending narratives. Within nonfiction, she’s interested in Humour, Pop Culture, Pop Psychology, Memoir, cultural or event-base History, select Dessert Cookbooks, LGBTQ+ narratives, and essay collections.
Workshop leader Brian Henry has been a book editor and creative writing instructor for more than 25 years. He publishes Quick Brown Fox, Canada’s most popular blog for writers, teaches creative writing at Ryerson University, and has led workshops everywhere from Boston to Buffalo and from Sarnia to Charlottetown. But his proudest boast is that he has helped many of his students get their first book published and launch their careers as authors. 
See reviews of Brian's classes and workshops here.

Fee: $49.56 + 13% hst = $55 paid in advance by mail or Interac
or $53.10 + 13% hst = $60 at the door
To reserve a spot now, email:

See Brian’s complete current schedule here, including Saturday writing workshops, weekly writing classes, and weekend retreats in Algonquin Park, Alliston, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Collingwood, Georgetown, Georgina, Guelph, Hamilton, Jackson’s Point, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Midland, Mississauga, New Tecumseth, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Sudbury, Toronto, Windsor,  Woodstock, Halton, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

"Best Wedding Ever" by Wendy Simpson


Jess was pissed off. He had much better things to do with his Saturday afternoon. He still needed to take his skateboard to the shop for repair. His mom would have to give him money for new rear wheels. And he needed more guitar picks and new strings. He had homework too but even that wasn’t enough to get him out of this!
The pastor had called just before noon in a panic. There was a wedding at 3:00 and they were short an altar boy. Unfortunately for Jess, lucky for the bride, his mom had answered the phone.
She agreed immediately. “Of course. Jess isn’t doing anything today.”
So here he was, sweltering in a white robe made for someone much shorter, his scuffed runners visible under the receding hemline. His mom would not be pleased.
Jess really didn’t mind working the regular Sunday service. He and Steve, the pastor’s son, were the regulars at the 11 o’clock service, snuffing the candles and straightening the hymnals just in time to scarf free sandwiches and desserts from the After Service Coffee Chat. He was fast becoming skeptical about this God and unquestioning belief thing but the perks were good. Pastor Jim let him and Steve set up their skateboard ramps in the parking lot and they were even allowed to store them behind the rectory. They didn’t get chased away by the custodian at the school anymore, even though it was kinda funny when he freaked out at them.
The opening organ notes sounded and he realized he’d been miles away. 
“Jess,” said Steve. “We need to light the candles.”
Weddings were actually pretty easy and they usually scored a few bucks each.
Where’s your dad?” asked Jess.

“Oh, he’s not doing this wedding. Some old guy’s marrying them. He’s a family friend or something. I don’t know. My dad told me but I can’t remember. Reverend somebody.”  
“Great, that helps,” Jess replied.
“Whatever,” was the best comeback Steve could manage.
Jess settled into his seat to wait out the ceremony. At least these benches were cushioned. He wished he hadn’t had to leave his phone in the office. It was so nice out today. So sad to be stuck here. 
The organ music increased in volume and the wedding began. Jess had to remember to check out the bride. His mom always bugged him about it, although mentioning white, lace and any kind or colour of flower usually ended her interrogation.
Jess wasn't quite sure when things started to go wrong. He could see that everyone was in position. The guys at the front by the railing in their dorky suits were chatting. Only the groom looked nervous. At the end of the aisle he could see some girls waiting with flowers. But there was no minister. Steve slipped out quietly to find him. He was still in the office shuffling through papers. He looked up quizzically when Steve knocked and seemed a bit surprised when he reminded him about the wedding. 
“Yes, yes. I’m on my way,” he said without haste. 
The Reverend Clark ambled slowly into the church. He was much older than Jess had expected. He seemed a bit confused. “Crap,” sighed Jess. “This might take a while.” He really wanted to get out of here. 
When the pastor was in position he motioned for everyone to stand and the bride walked slowly to the front of the church. Jess noticed that the groom looked anxious and was really sweating.
Poor sucker, he thought. Must be the monkey suit.

Jess had totally tuned out again when he realized Steve was laughing – out loud! And now the old pastor looked really confused. 
“We’re here to witness the marriage of Helen and Robert,” he insisted loudly, obviously not for the first time.
“No!” shouted the groom’s father, walking towards the front of the church. “Reverend, we’re Helen and Robert.”
“What? um pardon?” stuttered the Pastor.
“You have the wrong names, George, uh Reverend,” said Robert, with as much calmness as he could muster. “Mathew is my son, remember? He and Jennifer are getting married today.”
Jess chuckled. These things usually went so smoothly. The guests were fidgeting. The bride looked like she was going to cry. The groom, wow, he was really red now, sweating and swaying!
“Sorry,” said the pastor, cupping his hand around his ear. “I forgot my hearing aid today. What did you say?” 
As Robert prepared to shout, the groom went down, not like crashing off a rail on a skateboard but slowing collapsing, melting onto the blue carpet and landing on the bride’s veil. Her head snapped back. She let out a whoop that was something between a shriek and a sob as she toppled backwards down the three small steps, taking out a bridesmaid on her way. 
It was a holy mess! But within a few minutes all was made right. Jess barely noticed how the actual cleanup happened, just that all was calm by the time he had fetched a glass of water for the bride, which the groom drank eagerly. Within minutes they were ready to try again. Someone had insured that the good Reverend was marrying the right people. The congregation was engaged, diligently hanging onto every word and movement as if collectively they could ward off any further calamity. All went well on the second attempt except now both the bride and groom were so pale they matched the wedding dress. 
After the service the best man handed Jess an envelope and mumbled something apologetic about best laid plans. “No problem,” chuckled Jess. “Best wedding ever!”

Wendy Simpson lives and sells real estate in Oakville. Although her university days are long behind her she’s never lost her love of reading. She is the mother of three adult children and three (soon to be four!) grandchildren. She travels as much as possible and loves to spend several weeks each year in Victoria and the Cayman Islands.

See Brian’s complete current schedule here, including Saturday writing workshops, weekly writing classes, and weekend retreats in Algonquin Park, Alliston, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Collingwood, Georgetown, Georgina, Guelph, Hamilton, Jackson’s Point, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Midland, Mississauga, New Tecumseth, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Sudbury, Toronto, Windsor,  Woodstock, Halton, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.