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Mini Sledgehammer February 2020

Laurel Roger’s February Mini Sledge winning story is a wonderful, detail-laden scene. Congrats on the win, Laurel!

Prompts:

Character: Politician

Action: Sitting in a rocket, waiting for liftoff

Setting: Underwater

Phrase: “I still left early.”


Rocket Powered
by Laurel Rogersthumbnail_IMG_6168

Her over-processed blonde hair reflected the brassy Florida sun with a glint that made the admiring men around her glad they had donned their Vuarnets and Ray-Bans. Cloaked in dark glass, their eyes tracked her breasts as they bounced gently with every stride of her long, tan legs.

Blonde or not, she wasn’t stupid enough to be unaware of their stares, but today she was too busy to bother with her usual sly tip of her head and knowing smile of her hot-pink lips. Today, she was on a mission–just like the men who would be sitting and waiting for liftoff in the rocket that rose in full phallic spectacle from the sandbar they called a cape. The boys and their stares would have to wait, even if she was more than a little pleased that her bra size was still larger than her age, even if the two were getting dangerously close the same.

Determined, she yanked hard on the handle and the heavy glass doors opened with a swish of cool air. She shivered from the contrast of temperature inside and out. Or was it from the thoughts in her head?

Her heels clicked across the terrazzo floor until the security guard and a velvet rope halted her progress.

“Badge?” the guard asked.

“Don’t you know who I am?”

Just to be sure, the guard looked her over, head to toe with a brief stop at her chest. For security purposes, of course. “Nope, sure don’t,” he replied finally. “Step to the desk.”

She went where he waved, and what seemed like a perky 12-year-old greeted her with too much familiarity. “Welcome to NASA. Do you have an appointment?”

“I don’t need an appointment. I’m Mrs. Lefterly.”

The receptionist started to reply her usual “appointments are required for everyone…” but wisely stopped herself as her memory kicked in. “Ohhhh. Lefterly. Lefterly? THE Lefterly?”

Estelle Lefterly just stared at the poor girl as she struggled to collect herself. When the girl finally gave up speaking, Estelle replied quietly, “As I said, I don’t need an appointment.”

“Y-y-y-yes, yes, of course, I’m so sorry, Mrs. Lefterly.” The girl tried to hand Estelle a visitor badge, but Estelle had already started clicking her way across the lobby to the executive elevators.

“George, I know we’re already underwater on this mission. But we can’t just….” The elevator doors only had to open an inch for him to see who was inside, and he knew what he had to say had no more value.

George turned around to see what had so derailed Bob’s thought. His eyes widened, and his body tensed. As the elevator doors finished opening, George inhaled and willed his body to relax as he lifted his most practiced Southern smile to his face and flashed his too-large teeth too-largely toward the once-bombshell. “Estelle! Sweetheart! It’s been too long!” He took the manicured hand she presented coldly and tried to warm it with a brief kiss.

“George, you’re sweet as always, but you know why I’m here, and it’s not to listen to you blow sunshine up my…skirt,” Estelle replied. Then she turned slightly to Bob. “And who’s this?”

“Ah, right,” George answered. “This is Bob. He’s the chief engineer of…”

Estelle cut him off. “You know I have no interest in that engine stuff.” She waved her hand at the meaninglessness of Bob’s position while emphasizing the importance of the hefty diamonds clustered on her fourth finger.

Bob squirmed and turned away toward some suits over by the floor-to-ceiling windows. Unable to flee with grace, George had no choice but to see to Mrs. Lefterly. “Well, Estelle, how about we just step over to my office and have ourselves a little chat.”

“Oh, I don’t think that’s necessary,” she replied with a saccharine smile. “There’s just one thing I want, and that’s my boy up there on your big rocket tomorrow when it lifts off.”

George feigned an understanding chuckle. “Well, Estelle, darling. Oh, you know I’d like nothing more than that, but Johnny is still in rotation for next time. Of course if we need him as a sub for this mission, he’s first in line for that. But this isn’t his turn.”

Estelle looked hard in George’s eyes, then scanned the room. She nodded her head to a few of the suits and shot a knowing smile at a couple more. The room grew quieter as some of the most powerful politicians from Washington and their wannabe counterparts in NASA shifted uneasily from foot to foot.

She knew George was watching. She knew he knew the power she actually had. She knew he knew she held the same sway over him. So she just let him think about that for a moment, before she leaned in close, her pink lips almost touching the soft peach fuzz of his earlobe, and whispered. “My boy, on that rocket. Tomorrow, George.”

Then she pulled back and smiled warmly at him. “You look a little pale, George. You need to come out to the beach house sometime soon.” With that she waved and turned back to the elevator. As she climbed in and the doors began to shut, she overheard Bob begin his thoughts again.

“George, seriously, the launch is tomorrow, and this is about safety….”

© 2020 Laurel Rogers


Laurel Rogers was surprised to win her third Sledgehammer this month. When she’s not playing with fiction, Laurel is busy providing content strategy, writing and editing to a variety of clients throughout the West Coast. Her blog and podcast are underdevelopment at theclockstruckmidlife.com.

Mini Sledgehammer January 2020

January’s Mini Sledge is another fabulous piece from Jeremy Da Rosa. Congrats, Jeremy!

Prompts:

Character: a secret friend
Action: going into labor
Setting: a coal mine
Phrase: “It’s just a word.”

Jeremy Da Rose_thumbnail_IMG_2824Untitled

by Jeremy Da Rosa

I checked my watch. My haircut was already an hour in. The electric clippers kept popping the fuse and she’d grab a pair of black handled scissors, open them, and stab at the red tab in the middle of the socket the way my mother used to poke at possums playing dead in our yard. Everyone once and a while I’d realize I was holding my breath, and I’d exhale. After three of these, she shook the clippers at me in the mirror.

 “Why are you sighing? I’m the one doing all the work!”

 I felt my skin turning hot, and before I could answer she sneezed. It sounded like someone threw a bucket of water balloons into a coal mine.

 I sighed again. “Bless you.”

 “Thanks sweetheart. I swear, I’m going to grab a box of those nurse masks the next time my younger sister goes into labor.”

 We made eye contact through the mirror. She raised her eyebrows. “Every two years her and her husband have another baby. No protection, those two,” she winked at me. “Or TV I guess. I’m getting to know the delivery room folks pretty well. They’ve got those masks just lying around.”

 “They don’t provide you with any here?”

 This time, it was her turn to sigh. She placed her hands on my shoulders, and the index finger of each hand brushed gently against my neck. I felt a tingle in my groin. If her grip had been a little bit tighter it would have been full on arousal. My cheeks grew hot again. “Baby, this is Supercuts, not Air Emirates.”

 “Anyway, you know who’s expecting? The president.”

 I jerked a bit in the chair, and her hand pressed me into the seat. “The president?”

 “Yep. Can you believe it? We’ve been waiting all these years for a female president and what happens when we get one? She gets pregnant a year into her term.” She grabbed a small black brush and cleaned the clippers.

 “I guess that’s to be expected though. I’d want to christen the place if I made it in too!”

 She frowned at me. “Honey, you sound like my sister. I’ll tell you what I’m looking forward to: can you imagine what a female president will do for maternity leave? Rumor has it it’s going to be three months paid, mandatory. Don’t matter what job, as long as it’s full time. Paid for by the government.”

 I blinked at the mirror. “Paid?”

 “It’s just a word I heard on the street. But I’ll tell you. It’s been a long time coming!”

 She’d switched to the black-handled scissors, and was vigorously clipping around my head. I wasn’t even sure if she was cutting any hair, but she looked to be in deep concentration.

 “So what about you? You married?”

 I started to shake my head, then caught myself. “Nope. Not yet.”

 “I see. A secret friend, maybe?” She winked at me again, then shivered slightly and let out another colossal sneeze before I could answer.

 “Bless you!”

 “God, I’ve got another year or so before she’s due for another visit. Guess I’ll have to buy some of my own.”

© 2019 Jeremy Da Rosa


Jeremy Da Rosa is a writer and teacher in Portland, Oregon. Like everyone else, he’s writing a novel

Mini Sledgehammer December 2019

Our hosts got into a holiday mood with the prompts this month. Check them out:

Character: A mythical creature
Action: Stealing Christmas lights
Setting: A family gathering
Phrase: “I can see my house from here.”

As we have always seen, even when it seems the prompts will take stories one direction,  stories have minds of their own. Congratulations to Mike Parker on his first Mini Sledgehammer win with the following take on the holiday prompts!


Slightly Out of PhaseMParker

by Mike Parker

The smell rose from her seat. It was neither pleasant nor unpleasant. It was simply grandma, and neither the vapors of mulled wine nor the scent of the Christmas tree could mask the fact she was here. Not in sight at the moment, but she was somewhere, folding her face into contortions of disapproval while she moved through the rest of the family, parting before her like crackling ice floes before an arctic ice cutter.

Despite all efforts to place the vodka high and behind the Fruit Loops, she found it. The bottle came down on the counter with a resolute clunk, and glugged a heart sickening three times. She gripped her glass and placed the bottle in a choke hold, retracing the path she’d cut back to the BarcaLounger where she sipped and frowned at the TV. The kids were watching Frozen. Her pupils contracted.

Granny shifted her gaze about the room, landing on the sweet, homey, and cozy. She moved on. The bottle rose and fell. The glass came up and down. Children walked back and forth, but semi-transparent, like things slightly out of phase with her world.

Granny mumbled. No one stirred. She lifted the blue veined crepe work of her hand and pointed out the window.  “I can see my house from here.” But the shifting forms took no note. “I cn she fouse fmere.” She said, louder.  A shape moved her direction, applied pressure to her shoulder, said something, then moved off.

The bottle came up.

She looked back out the window. The bobbling colored lights in the night, the way the wind stirred them. How they bounced. The way they jerked this way and that. How some would just go out. More silvery shapes in the room blocking her view. The way they go out in the rain. A trail. No, more of a tail. A long tail of the Minotaur who will hopefully come back and burn this damn house down.

The bottle came back up.

© 2019 Mike Parker


Bio: I am a geologist, volunteer science educator at OMSI, father and husband, writing and living happily in Sherwood, Oregon.

Mini Sledgehammer November 2019

Chris Smith’s stories are regular favorites. Check out his latest winning story below, and if you haven’t read his others yet, search his name in the search bar. It’s like you’re own mini-collection of Chris Smith flash fiction!

Prompts:
Character: A traveling Evangelist
Actions: Forgetting the song lyrics
Setting: Inside a cup
Prop: A rejected manuscript

Congrats on another win, Chris!


Electric ChapelAventures in Portland 2019 (223)-Edit

By Chris Smith

Her hands gripped the steering wheel tight. Her long red nail glistened in the moonlight like talons of an eagle. She descended to me when I was in a dark place in my life. She first came on the television and was I was hypnotized. Her words touched my soul and lifted my spirit to a realm I never knew existed. It was only minutes long but the goosebumps lasted hours.

I had to find everything I could about her. Her past, her present, and our future. I was devoted to her! I found a small, yet growing following online. We were close knit and support each other. A group of societal rejects bowing at her feet. Worshipping her every move like God herself.

We tried to spread her self-written gospel far and wide but rejection came at every turn. She was too much, too different, too…weird. People would turn from her grace, her commandments, forgetting the words of her hymns in a few months declaring them a one hit wonder. But we, especially me, knew better.

Soon she started spreading the word across the nation; hitting every city big and small. She preached on stages, then theatres, then stadiums, then whole arenas. People started to take notice and see the talent some of us always knew was always there. We were so happy to see the small, nurturing cup of joy that is our star grow into a fully-fledged Queen. She rode our love and worship to the top of the charts. We owe our salvation to her, and she owes her fame to our devotion.

© 2019 Chris Smith


Chris Smith says, “I’m an aspiring filmmaker, photographer and writer. I enjoy crafting stories about the weird yet interesting mundane parts of life, whether it is visually or on the page. When not writing, I can be found taking photos around town or binging on TV show and movies.”

Mini Sledgehammer October 2019

This month’s Mini Sledge brought out a supernatural flash fiction piece from Jacin Harter. Congratulations on your first win, Jacin!

The prompts were:
Character: A psychic
Action: Hitting the brakes
Setting: Beside an old tree
Phrase: “That’s incomplete.”


Beyond Belief

By Jacin HarterJacin

This was the last straw…  Weeks of forensics had led nowhere, but the frustration had not driven Sgt. Troutbottom mad enough to resort to supernatural bollocks.  Every promising clue had turned into a dead end, with Chief Inspector Pillows insisting his psychic premonitions would guide them to the answer.

Sgt. Troutbottom stood by a withering, old oak whose naked limbs cast clawing shadows over the latest victim.  He peered at the corpse without stooping.  This was simple: a hit and run, driver didn’t hit the brakes in time, no witnesses this far out in the sticks so he drove off.  Open and shut.

He could hear Pillows shouting at the other officer, ‘This evidence log is incomplete!  I want all these metal filings listed by length and weight.  Nothing near the body is inconsequential.  Am I clear?!’Clear as a cracked crystal ball, Sgt. Troutbottom thought.  The inspector’s current hypothesis: an extraterrestrial made of intangible psychic energy (which only he could detect) had descended upon this lonesome pasture to study cattle from the inside out.  The metal filings, along with an assortment of bottle caps and rusted nails, were among an assortment of ‘psychic instruments’ used by the alien in its dissection study.

Sgt. Troutbottom peered again at the dead cow.  ‘Waste of fucking time.  Waste of good beef.’

© 2019 Jacin Harter


Creativity is like a tiger on a string – hardly captured and just a few frightful fuffs away from devouring Jacin Harter whole. For the past six years this Jacin and this tiger have been sighted in Portland, OR, randomly strutting through radio theatres, travel videos, vasectomy parties, and dog buses.  Exactly who is leading whom is ambiguous indeed, and one is advised to take caution when approaching either.

Mini Sledgehammer August 2019

Let’s hear it for Aaron Wheeler-Kay’s first-time win! Thanks for coming out, Aaron, and great work.

Those of you reading at home, our contest is every second Tuesday at Blackbird Wine and Atomic Cheese (4323 NE Fremont St.) in Portland, Oregon, 6:30–8:30 p.m., FREE. Join us!


The August story prompts were:
Character: A birdwatcher
Action: Slicing a hotdog lengthwise
Setting: A Dumpster
Phrase: “The rarest one of all”


Excerpts from a Watchers DiaryAaron mini sledge

by Aaron Wheeler-Kay

September 17 – God sometimes you see one that just makes your breath stop. It’s a difficult kind of beauty to explain to folks who don’t already get it. I know for some it’s about certain colors, or the stillness, or the glimpse of something that startles with its unexpected beauty and presence. The chance to see “the rarest one of all”. For me, surprise is a big part of it. Even after living in this city my whole life, I find myself in some alley, stunned, looking at something that makes me see with new eyes.

 

October 24 – My parent was a bird watcher. Before I was school age, they would whisk me off to some local bog, or patch of field, or treeline, binoculars in hand. It wasn’t a scene of natural tranquility and perfect stillness between an adult and a kid that floats a certain type of romantic cinematic boat. There was a lot of laughter. A lot of questions, a lot of snacks, including a special they called a Quonset Hut. Cut a Ball Park Frank lengthwise and serve it, cut side down, on the side of a butter knife. For desert, dip the knife in a jar of Jiff Peanut Butter. Heaven. Uneaten Quonset became food for the birds.

I remember learning that most fowl cannot move their eyes, so they constantly move their heads to see important objects from different angles.

“You do it too, when you look at things. All humans do.” They said, hoisting the binoculars. “If you track human eyes as they look at a face, they go back and forth from one eye, to another, to the mouth, and then back to the eyes. People don’t look at a thing all at once. We look at different parts of it and arrange it as a whole in our minds.”

 

November 11 – New location for me today. I found a parking lot behind a toy store, book shop, and taqueria. The watching is good. Three dumpsters, all different, all beauties. The patina on the far one is stunning, it could be 15 years old. Pretty rare, these days. Dumpsters seem to get replaced a lot more frequently than even five years ago. I wonder where the old ones go? Is there a dumpster graveyard somewhere, with gorgeous, rusty dented old bodies stacked up five high, with only narrow footpaths between them? I’m such a romantic.

Dec 15 – The Dumpster Graveyard is real! Got a tip from a fellow watcher. Seems there’s a private train yard in Hermiston. An old watcher lives there. A collector they say. God I hope it’s real.

 

Dec 23 – Spent the night under a bridge over the track, awoke to the wail of a train. Was able to get above the freighter before it slowed to pass under the bridge, I managed to drop down inside what can only be an old construction hopper. Drywall dust, a few rusty nails. Not a bad place to pass the next hour. Eventually we got diverted to the private track that led to the Graveyard.

It was better than a rumor. Better than a fever dream oil painting, better than a hobo poem about it. It wasn’t what I imagined either. But to an old dumpster watcher like me, it was a kind of Galapagos, or a museum or something. Old roofing dumpsters leaned against gigantic industrial behemoths. There was a rare Japanese Fujimitsu next to a German Eartbaum. Even a chorus line of Old Chicago 4-Yarders. You could feel all the shit they took, all the waste they held. Now  they finally had a place to be together. Done. Empty, maybe.

But to me, they were all filled with sky.

© 2019 Aaron Wheeler-Kay


Aaron Wheeler-Kay is a Portland native who learned creative writing at Jefferson High School for the Performing Arts. He is Creative Director at Echo Theater Co., a Portland social-profit focused on facilitating inclusive community through circus, movement and ensemble theater arts.

Mini Sledgehammer June 2019

Congratulations to Anna on her first-time win!

We love to feature new writers’ words, so thanks for coming, Anna. We hope you come back and bring your friends!

Those of you reading at home, our contest is every second Tuesday at Blackbird Wine and Atomic Cheese (4323 NE Fremont St.)in Portland, Oregon, 6:30–8:30 p.m., FREE. Join us!

Character: A lost_____
Action: Leaving town
Setting: A favorite place
Prop: Clip-on sunglasses


Moving

by Anna S. King

Because she was finally leaving town, a wasp finally stung her. Housed between the forever-closed shutter and the wavy glass in her farmhouse bedroom, the wasps hadn’t bothered her in the years she’d lived with her father. But on the morning she was to leave, a lost one emerged, and stung her before she could shoulder the last bag.

She’d also woken up sick. It was another in a long list of circumstances that seemed to want her to suffer through another Michigan winter: the radiator in the old VW hatchback rusted out. “Maybe you should stay a few months to earn the money for a new car,” her dad suggested. “I won’t make it through another winter, Dad,” though she wasn’t able to actually say she’d die.

The moving van cost more than expected. The original friend who said they’d help drive south had backed out. She’d had to leave her apartment sooner than expected, forcing an interim stay at the creaking farmhouse, in her old room. The sore throat. The wasp.

She watched the circle rise up on her arm, and wondered if she could have an allergic reaction, as she did with bee strings. No. No throat closing, no dizziness.

“I’ll be damned if I’ll spend another day here,” she said to the torn wallpapered wall. It’d once been upholstered with her batik Indian bedspreads, a cloud of an old parachute tacked to the ceiling. Now it was just as sagging as the rest of the house.

She decided not to tell Jane, her new traveling companion, who she could hear talking to her stepmother downstairs.

Grimly she toed the body of the wasp that had fallen to the brown-painted floor when she convulsively swatted it to death. Another sign to leave, she thought, not another warning to stay.

The old stairs seemed steeper than five years ago, when she’d last taken a final bag away. She stepped carefully, knowing a fall was just waiting.

Jane and her stepmother were sipping coffee in the hand-made kitchen—Dad always certain he could make anything better, and cheaper, than any store—clutching the uneven ceramic cups, chatting. Jane had that gift of getting people to talk, even the stepmother, who usually kept her passive-aggressiveness housed in sidelong looks and slammed doors.

“I got stung by a wasp,” she announced, despite her best intentions.

“The ones upstairs?” Jane was excited. “Let me see! Oh cool, look at how red it is!”

She shrugged, reached for a cup. “It’s fine. Where’s Dad?”

“He’s checking the van.”

“Oh shit—he’s not repacking it again, is he? We have to get going!”

The van cost $50 a day. After 600 miles, it was ten cents a mile. The clock had started ticking before the wasp had emerged.

The stepmother shrugged.

“I’ll go see. Jane, get ready, ok?”

Jane, a great friend but a second choice for a long trip companion, didn’t actually know how to drive, and thought the trip would be as easy as the lines drawn on the AAA TripTik maps.

She went out the back room, thinking it might be the last time she’d hear the pump for the water well, the one that gave out every winter, forcing them to flush with buckets of water.

The van doors were open; her dad’s flannel-shirt back heaving as he tugged on the ropes that held the mattress in place, the dam keeping everything else in place.

“Dad, come on—we got this last night.”

“I’m just checking, honey,” still faced away.

“Really, it’s fine. Let’s close the doors,” she tugged at his arm.

He didn’t look up as they swung the doors shut, but as he clicked the padlock on, she should see he was struggling.

“Dad. What.”

“Are you sure, honey? Is this the right thing?”

Exasperated, she huffed, “Come on—I’ve spent just about all my money making this happen. You know I can’t stay.”

“I guess so. I hope there are more opportunities for you there.”

“There has to be,” she said.

He scuffed at the dirt, as she’d scuffed at the floor, and looked up into the browning catalpa tree.

“You know, when you were younger, this tree used to be your favorite place.”

It was one of the few good memories she’d take—climbing the low branches, reading under the umbrella-sized leaves, surrounded by the fingers of seed pods.

“Yeah. It’s okay, Dad. I’ll be okay.”

Her dad gave her an awkward side hug as Jane came out, lugging her army duffle bag.

“You ready? Let’s get going. Toss that in the back.”

The stepmother watched from the door, arms over her chest.

“Be careful on the highways,” she called out, and backed away into the house, the screen door slapping behind her.

Jane was in the cab, playing with the radio knobs, pulling down the visors.

“I guess this is it, honey,” her dad murmured, following her around to the driver’s door.

She hauled herself up, settling into the too-tall seat.

“Jane, cut it out, just leave it.”

She leaned down to her dad, gave him a kiss on his unshaven cheek. He closed the door for her, then motioned for her to open the window.

“Here, baby. I got you these. You might need them when you get near the coast. I hear it’s sunny there, ya know,” he chuckled.

He handed her a pair of oversized clip-on sunglasses. They’d never fit her glasses, of course.

“Thanks, Dad,” she said more nicely than she thought she could. “These are great.”

She made a point of putting them carefully on the dash.

“Call me when you get to hotel tonight. Don’t drive at night!” he said.

She cranked up the motor.

“Okay, Dad. I won’t. I love you.”

“I love ya honey.”

“I love you too—we gotta go now—”

© 2019 Anna S. King