Néna, the owner of St. Johns Booksellers, says she loves hosting Mini Sledgehammer because once a month she gets some bedtime stories. Not sure how she slept this month: Creepy, trippy, and gross are just some of the words you could use to describe these stories.
This was the first Mini Sledgehammer for most of this month’s participants, but it was a veteran who took home the prize. Congratulations, Elisabeth!
Character: Man waking from an alcohol-induced slumber
Setting: The underworld
Action: Shaking hand as though to shake something disgusting off
Prop: Book losing its pages
by Elisabeth Flaum
Jim lifted his head and dropped it again. It went splash.
Groaning he lifted it out of the puddle. It seemed to weigh far too much; his neck strained from the effort, water running down his cheeks, until he finally rolled onto his back and lay in the wet.
“Never again,” he mumbled.
“Heard that one before,” said a voice. Jim turned his leaden head till his eyes fell on the familiar shape of Toby lying beside him in the muck.
“How’d we get here?” Jim asked his friend.
“Tequila,” Toby answered decisively, crawling to his knees. “Had to be the tequila.”
Slowly the men got to their feet, shaking the thick black water from their hands and clothes. Jim rubbed his face, flung a blob of mud from his fingers, and looked carefully around.
“This ain’t the Strand, Toby,” he said.
“Nope,” his friend answered. They stood gazing back and forth. It was a street, or seemed to be; light from invisible streetlamps reflecting in black puddles, a dark musty smell settling over them. Above, there was only blackness, thick and empty. Jim shivered, claustrophobic.
“The hell are we?” he muttered.
Toby pulled a tattered book from his pocket and flipped it open, pages scattering and fluttering to the ground. He peered intently at the pages in his hands.
“I think we’re off the map.”
Jim stared down at the sheet floating in the dark puddle at his feet. It glowed gently, like a sickly moon, dimming slowly as it sank into the blackness. He looked up for the source of the light, but found none.
Toby flipped a few more pages, and another leaf took flight. He ignored it, shoving the book back into his pocket.
“Well,” he said. Jim looked up expectantly, but Toby had no more to say.
“What do we do now?” Jim asked, his voice nearly a whine.
Toby shrugged. “Dunno. Should be light soon. Then we’ll see.” He stretched hugely, then looked around for a dry curb or spot of pavement. There was none; he sat back down in the wet.
“Toby, I don’t think it’s getting light.”
Toby snorted. “Don’t it always get light? One way or the other?”
“Not this time,” Jim whimpered. “We’ve gone beyond this time, we ain’t ever gonna wake up outa this.” He glanced at his friend, wringing his hands anxiously, but Toby lay back in a puddle, arms folded behind his head, snoring gently.
“Some pal you are,” Jim muttered, lowering himself to the ground. He sat back hard, his hand sinking wrist-deep in the muck behind him. He pulled it free and shook it clean, wiping it ineffectively on his jeans.
“C’mon Toby,” he whimpered. “We gotta get outa here, man.”
Toby only snored.
Jim huddled shivering beside his friend, every nightmare horror passing through his mind. Ghosts wailed in the distance, the faceless dead lumbered by, sloshing through the thick puddles. Rats chittered and scampered in dark corners. Jim hugged his knees, trembling.
Somehow he dozed.
“Wakey wakey old buddy!”
Jim peeled open one sticky eyelid. The flesh-toned blur before him resolved into Toby’s face. Jim mumbled incomprehensibly.
“Tha’s right,” said Toby with a deep chuckle. “It’s light out.”
Jim looked around. The hard ground was as black, the sky overhead as impenetrable as before.
“No it ain’t,” he cried. “It’s no lighter than it was before.”
Toby laughed again. “No?” He reached up overhead, stretching his full height, his hands vanishing into the blackness. There was a mighty scraping screeching noise; Jim clapped his hands over his ears just as a blinding light came pouring in from overhead. The screeching stopped; Jim moved his hands from ears to eyes, peering cautiously through his fingers. A perfect circle of clear blue sky shone down above their heads.
“You remember where we had that tequila last night?”
Jim shook his head, still hiding behind his hands.
“Underworld,” Toby said with a laugh. “You got to remember not to use the back door.”
Slowly, memory dawned. Jim lowered his hands to his lap and broke out in a broad grin.
“We took the drunk’s exit.”
Toby shrugged. “Seems appropriate.”
Jim clambered to his feet and thumped his friend on the back. “That’s great! We’re not dead!”
“Not so far,” Toby chuckled.
They stared up at the circle of light.
“So…” Jim began.
“You readin’ my mind?” said Toby.
“Hair of the dog?”
Toby clapped him on the back with a reverberant guffaw. “You da man, Jim.”
Arm in arm the two friends sloshed through the muck back into Underworld.
© 2012 Elisabeth Flaum
Elisabeth Flaum is a new writer trying her hand at science fiction, and has so far been rejected by multiple well-known magazines. She also writes poetry on topics ranging from Mount Hood to Mars, with a touch of love and death thrown in. A sampling can be found at http://elisabethflaum.wordpress.com.