The Acolyte's Tale

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Flash Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
An acolyte's nightmare at his big sister's wedding.

Submitted: September 04, 2012

A A A | A A A

Submitted: September 04, 2012




Billy stood forlornly beside the groom and best man, oblivious to their fidgeting.  His world consisted of the altar rail stretching endlessly before him, and the dozens of thick white candles that lined it.  Four dozen plus two, to be exact—his reward for boycotting the wedding rehearsal for a soccer game.  It was time.  The pastor nodded solemnly, and the organist began the prelude.  Billy gripped the lighter with both hands to minimize trembling and stepped to the first candle.  The air conditioner clunked on.The breeze tousled his hair.  His flame flickered in the breeze, recovered, and died.  Goodbye Norma Jean.The best man pointed to the extinguished flame, then to the groom.  That’s you, buddy. 


The adult helper swept over, relit the lighter, and melted away.  Nothing to see here.  Billy reached again for the first candle.  His lighter clipped it, and it wobbled dramatically.  Billy recoiled.  A burst of laughter from the audience, followed by “oomph,”—an elbow to the ribs, Billy hoped.  The wobbling subsided, and he lit the candle.  One down, forty-nine to go.  The pastor glanced at his watch.  Moving carefully, Billy managed the next six candles without incident.  But the wick on the next was too short, submerged in wax.  Billy held the lighter to it, waiting for the wax to melt and expose the wick.  It shook despite his deathgrip.  A clock ticked the seconds, slowly.   Sweat beaded on Billy’s face.  The prelude ended.  The organist shuffled sheet music, improvising.  Two preludes were unheard of at a wedding, until now.  The troublesome candle lit.  Billy looked to the pastor, who smiled reassuringly and resisted checking his watch.


Billy’s mind flashed to the bride, his big sister, a beautiful, loving, nurturing soul—usually.  For some reason the wedding had her twitchy.  The next candle also had a bad wick.  Candle making was a dying art.  The pastor looked away.  The air conditioner turned off.  A drop of Billy’s sweat fell to the floor, narrowly missing a lit candle.  A gasp from the front row.  Rosie, his friend and fellow acolyte.  Her eyes wide and bright, face pink, both hands clamped over her mouth.  The church had two acolytes, fifty candles, but only one silver candle lighter.  What’s wrong with that picture?  Billy bugged his eyes at Rosie—the universal signal for her to leap the rail, grab some matches, and light some freaking candles.  She bugged her eyes back, but otherwise ignored the signal. 


Billy returned to the candles, Sisyphus pushing his rock.  The next dozen were better, then another monstrous one.  It had burned so far down in the middle, and the surrounding wax walls were so high, he couldn’t reach the wick.  He tried every angle, then plucked the candle from its holder.  Rosie gasped through her fingers.  Billy half expected the earth to swallow him up for this egregious affront to churchly candle-lighting decorum.  He turned the candle upside down.  The flame rose to the wick, which lit.  Billy replaced the candle and moved to the next.  Someone applauded.  Please God, not his mother.He plowed steadily through another seven, and the audience was with him.  Three or four clapped in unison.  Another five candles, and more clapping.  His peeps.  Then near disaster:  Billy tripped on his robe, banging his head on the rail.  More wobbling, but no candles fell.  The Lord works in mysterious ways.  Billy regained his feet, and at least forty guests were now clapping in time, joined by—and really, this wasn’t possible, these things simply don’t happen in church—the organist, who conjured a rally tune fit for the bottom of the ninth at the old ball game. 


The adult helper materialized with a long match scrounged from somewhere.  She started for the far end of the altar rail.  Lighting candles with a match would be another barbaric breach of etiquette, but desperate times and all.  Billy shook his head.  Where were you twenty candles ago?  The helper paused, frowned.  A loud “boo”—his father?  No, he was with the bride, or probably off smoking a cigarette by now.  The helper vanished.  Only the candles remained.  His candles.Billy resumed, picking up speed.  The organist kept pace.  Everyone was clapping now, and stomping their feet.  Even the pastor made a quick calculation and joined in. 


Only seven candles remained when Billy stopped short, spotting what the organist had seen from her pedestal—which explained why she had switched to the theme music from “Jaws.”  The wicks of all seven of these abominations had burned low and were blocked by the surrounding wax.  Off came the first candle.  Billy flipped it upside down, lit it almost casually.  And the next.  Then came one with both high surrounding walls and a submerged wick.  Degree of difficulty 3.7.  Billy’s grim face told the story.  He removed the candle, flipped it, and melted the top layer of wax, which dripped and smoldered on the hardwood floor.  It finally lit, but the delay cost him some support.  Wedding guests can be worse than NASCAR fans.  So many come just to see a crash.


The final four candles were in the same sorry state.  As he melted wax from the next, a drip splashed his hand.  Billy yelped and dropped the candle.  Reaching down, he kicked it, and it skittered across the floor.  Billy groaned, the crowd groaned, the organ stopped.  Another unpleasant flash to his sister, awaiting her entrance.  But he was faster with the next two.  This won back the audience and the organist, who broke into, “We are the Champions” for the final candle.  It proved the hardest of all, of course.  The wick was buried deep in the wax.  Billy had to hold the flame to it for what felt like an entire church service.  Exhausted, his lighter shook wildly, nearly setting fire to the altar drapes.  The last candle finally lit.  Billy looked to his adoring audience, laughed deliriously, and exhaled a deep sigh of relief, blowing out seven candles.



© Copyright 2018 Kerry Sullivan. All rights reserved.

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