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Mini Sledgehammer April 2016

Laurel Rogers was brand new to Sledgehammer this month, and she walked out with a newly won bottle of wine! She says, “I really loved it. Such a great event. Thanks again.” Thank YOU, Laurel!

***

This month’s prompts were:
Character: A barber
Action: Parallel parking
Setting: At a bike rack
Phrase: “You gotta remember where you are.”

***

Extinction

by Laurel RogersLaurelRogersHeadShot

The icy wind wrapped around Kay like a vicious sneer, as if the islands themselves knew how much she didn’t belong there. Not now anyway. Not in this alternate timeline she’d lived for the past five aching years.

Bill’s face was, as always, immutable, but that was preferred to the blood-red anger that had overtaken him when she pulled the car up by the bike rack in a haphazard version of parallel parking near the beach. “You still just can’t do it, can you,” he fumed.

Well, fuck him.

The old Kay would feel the sting of his words. The old Kay, who had a heart that did more than beat.

A heart that stopped feeling years before.

***

You could only find a few references to it online, always tagged as the “Puget Sound Mini Tsunami.” No one really knew much about it—almost know one ever heard of it.

But it was the lightning rod moment for Bill and Kay. An extinction-level event, as tsunamis often were. And here they were at the spot, five years and a few months later.

Because coming on the anniversary would be cliche, Kay had said.

Too fucking impossibly painful, she meant.

Time supposedly heals all wounds, but it hadn’t proved to have an effect on the abject, utter loss of an entire world. And that’s what the “mini tsunami” had been—the Great Flood, ending of everything. Just a random late spring day, the kind when families play, lovers kiss, sailboats unfurl their spinnakers and hillsides fifty miles away don’t collapse into the sea, spawning a two-foot-high relentless, powerful ripple across the sound and around Spieden Island.

And funneled—“with surgical precision,” one newscaster described it—right into the spit by Davis Head.

Where Bill and Kay were.

Watching.

Watching in utter helplessness as their three kids looked in momentary shock as the water receded to showcase the crabs and sea slime and purple clams they had, but seconds before, longed to reach under the too-deep water.

“Mom, look!” Lina hollered. “A starfish!”

It was the last thing Kay would ever hear any of her children say.

***

“You’ve gotta remember where you are,” Kay’s therapist reminded her about once a month. “And that’s a lot further than you were last month.”

Was it? Was it really? Because it felt like a treadmill. Day after day, going through the motions of a life Kay wouldn’t wish on her worst enemy.

Bill was on a treadmill too. It just wasn’t the same treadmill. And gradually Kay realized it wasn’t even pointed in the same direction.

At first, there was still some kind of connection. The inconceivable grief, combined with a zombie-like onslaught of “helpful” opinions offered by friends and family, had given them at least the shared focus of survival.

No, they weren’t wearing lifejackets, they answered a thousand times. No, it wouldn’t have occurred to them. How could we possible know if it would’ve made a difference. NO, NO ONE IN THEIR RIGHT MIND WOULD PUT LIFEJACKETS ON KIDS WADING IN ANKLE-DEEP WATER SO FUCK THE HELL OFF.

Over time, the world went on. Other children died. A mom down the street died five weeks after being diagnosed with melanoma. Bill’s grandpa died. A truck driver on I-5 fell asleep and took out a motorcyclist heading home from work.

Death was everywhere, and after a few months, Bill and Kay weren’t special. Or interesting.

Or even alive, they realized.

But no one else really noticed.

***

Kay had heard of people “growing apart” or just “not having that spark” any more. People got bored. People got lonely. People got scared as the years ticked by closer to an unknown but certain doomsday looming—age 72? 80? Maybe 100? No one knew, but it was there like a barber holding a straight-edge razor, ready to cull a few more strands from the world’s tapestry.

But only three strands mattered to Kay, and they were gone. And over time, as she looked at Bill, he seemed more and more part of the memory of those family days—days that gradually became myth and legend, rolled up in the modern cave paintings of family scrapbooks.

And just as untouchable as an extinct mammoth.

Extinct. That was what their marriage was. They realized this quietly, she and Bill. Each on their own.

Out of habit she kissed him on the mouth on his way out the door to work for the first time since their world was destroyed. But there was nothing there. For either of them.

“It’ll take time,” the counselor assured them, first together, when they tried together, and then separately.

Gradually everything was separate. First, Kay tried a few nights on the couch, knowing too well her insomnia was keeping Bill from sleeping. “One of us has to get some rest,” she said as she left their plush king-size bed.

She never came back, in word or deed.

And Bill never asked.

Extinct.

***

Coming back to San Juan Island again was Bill’s idea. It wasn’t a romantic proposition. They both knew that. They hadn’t even driven together, although they decided to meet at the Anacortes ferry terminal and go that far together to save a few bucks. Naturally that was Bill’s idea, but Kay knew, in fairness, it was best. Lawyers cost money. Tax accountants cost money. Never mind the therapy bills, the online dating fees, an increasing amount of money going out the door separately.

The papers were ready, and they both were fine. It didn’t hurt, in the same way you don’t feel a thing when they remove your leg while you’re under general anesthesia. But they weren’t macabre enough to make some grand ceremony of it on the island.

That wasn’t the point.

Even though neither ever said it, Kay knew that this trip was a simple, quiet, strangely necessary funeral. A terribly cold one, inside and out.

***

Kay shivered again as she looked out toward Pearl Island. The Davis spit was so much the same—its swath of granite gravel and pearly clams. Million-dollar yachts still bobbed at moorages out of reach of the common folk. Yet it was oddly silent, shrouded in winter’s inescapable solitude.

Kay was grateful. The island she had known and loved was seared in her memory, an endless summer where her children played happily in their eternal youth.

She looked at Bill, whose stoic face was lined with ever more wrinkles even if they weren’t caused by grins and laughter.

Suddenly he looked at her, really looked at her, as if for the first time in all these years. And then he spoke aloud the epitaph they both had written in their hearts.

“I always thought I’d grow old with you.”

Extinct.

© 2016 Laurel Rogers

***

Laurel loves to make up stories. Sometimes she even realizes they’re fiction. Other times she fashions them into website content, blogs and twisted Facebook posts about her family. One day soon, she’ll actually get her own blog going at www.theclockstruckmidlife.com.

Mini Sledgehammer March 2016

We can finally see spring between the clouds! Well, every once in a while, we can. In the meantime, Mini Sledgehammerers continue to convene for wine and writing once a month, turning out a winning story like clockwork. Congratulations to Summer on her repeat win!

***

Prompts:
Character: A Doppelganger
Action: A sneeze
Setting: A marina
Prop: Roll of 2009 minted quarters

***

Untitled

by Summer OlssonSummer-3

She sat in the bar at Gino’s, her third greyhound sweating rings onto the mahogany. Through the glass she could see the whole marina, all the drooping sailboats and staunch yachts blotting out most of the blue.

The bartender had already come by twice more and she had gently rebuffed him. Normally she would have told a guy like that to fuck off and leave her alone, but her instructions were to not draw attention to herself.  She sipped her drink with her sticky red lips, and peeled her thighs off of the vinyl barstool to uncross and re-cross her legs. She fished her phone out of her bag. She only had ten more minutes to wait before the time was up and she could leave. In the beginning she thought this was kind of sexy and interesting, but it had turned out to be really boring. She’d been here for almost two hours. She decided she could take a quick bathroom break.

As she rounded the corner under the metal finger pointing the way to the “W.C.”, she was hit from behind. What cracked against her skull was a roll of quarters, freshly minted in 2009, that had been picked up at a credit union that morning, and would be dismantled and pumped into various pinball machines later that night. She did not know or care about this as her attacker dragged her unconscious body through a service door and into an alley. Blood trickled from the back of her head, but her long red hair caught it, mixed it into a sticky clot that never touched the floor. Luckily for her she didn’t regain consciousness when her assailant dropped her behind a dumpster. Certainly he did her a favor when he shot her twice, once in the head and once in the chest, before he removed the ring finger on her right hand, which he pocketed to send to his employer later.

“Did it work? Is it over?” Eddie asked, and then immediately sneezed. His allergies were really bad today. Dana knew she should feel sorry for him, but mostly she was annoyed. She was trying to concentrate. Looking through binoculars made her feel cross-eyed and gave her a headache.  She pushed some red hair behind her ear.

“Yes. It’s over.”

“Thank god!” Eddie said, and came up behind her. He put his long arms around her, pinning her arms and forcing her to lower the binoculars. Dana relaxed against him. She breathed deeply a few times. Her shoulders lowered. For the first time in two hours, she was aware of the subtle rocking of the boat. Through the window in the hull she could see gulls swooping to nip something off of the pier.

“I’ll make some drinks,” Eddie said. He went around behind the bar and took down two highballs.

She thought about how she and Eddie could watch birds now. They could sit on a beach somewhere without a constant buzz of tension. They could walk down the street in public somewhere- somewhere else at least- without being terrified.  Eddie handed her a drink. The first sip made her eyes tear up.

Dana wasn’t going to say anything to Eddie about the near miss, but it was bugging her and she knew it would get worse. “I’m glad he sent someone else. I thought he would. But we really lucked out.”

He raised an eyebrow.  “But she looked exactly like you. From a foot away he would have been fooled.” She raised her glass toward him.

“Yes, but she ordered the wrong drink. I only drink Manhattans.”

© 2016 Summer Olsson

***

Summer Olsson is a writer, director, actor, puppeteer and costume designer. She grew up in the magical high desert of Albuquerque. She did a turn as a music writer, and later the arts editor, for the Weekly Alibi. She holds a BFA in theater from the University of New Mexico and is a graduate of Dell’ Arte International School of Physical Theatre. She lives in Portland.

Mini Sledgehammer February 2016

Congratulations to Turner for winning this month’s contest!

***

The prompts were:
Character: A Butcher
Action: Putting on a necklace
Prop: A Ladder
Phrase: “Hours of the day”

***

Untitled

by J. Turner MaslandMasland02132014

If there was any day to visit a witch in southern Louisiana, it was Fat Tuesday. If I were in Salem, Massachusetts, the day would be Halloween. But today, history was flowing. The european, catholic, creole, black, first nation, cajun spirits were dancing. I was never sure if it was for jesus christ lord and savior or papa legba, put this day was full of a little bit of both gentleman’s energies.

You see, I needed some healing to be done. And this healing wasn’t going to be done by no medical doctor, not that I could afford one as a part time butcher with no health insurance. But this matter was a bit deeper. A bit darker. I needed to be cleansed and I needed justice.

I turned off the rural highway, about 5 miles outside of Lafayette, and drove my old pickup down the back swamp road. The spanish moss and humidity was oppressive. You’d think after 53 years in the south you would get used to it. But the further outside the big city you got, the more your balls seemed to sweat.

As I rounded the corner, the small trailer came into view. It appeared on the outside to be abandoned, stained green in some parts and others were buried under the swamp’s detritus. If it wasn’t for the crone sitting on the stoop waiting for me, I might have thought I was in the wrong place. Although under all her shawls and skirts, she seemed to blend into the surroundings.

“Well, you found me alright, boy,” the crone said to me as I killed the engine and slammed my door shut.

“Yes’em. Your directions were just fine.”

“You bring what I ask you to?”

I handed her the package of brown butcher paper, along with the requisite cash. The package was filled with the innards of all sorts of animals. Thankful for my job as a butcher: it wasn’t that hard to gather gator guzzards, but I was worried they would start to turn in the heat

“Climb up that there ladder and get me down some of those mushrooms growing on the roof. And be quick. We ain’t got all the hours in the day to kill. My next customer is due at sun down.” She turned on her heel, faster than I would have imagined and seemed to vanish into the trailer.

After finishing my task, I opened the door, and jesus christ it was hotter inside the trailer than out. Not only was every window closed, but a giant gumbo pot was on the ancient stove, bubbling away. It filled the cramped space with a putrid smell. Between the heat and the stench, I thought I would be sick.

The crone was still wrapped in her shawls, her back up to me and she chopped up the sweet meats to add to the mysterious stew. As she turned to take the mushrooms, she looked into my eyes, and despite the heat I felt a chill run up my spine.

“You are hear to be cleansed, ain’t ya?”

“Yes ‘em” I gulped.

“The guilt has taken root, and it’s rotting your insides? Turning your soul back as dirt, ain’t it?”

I didn’t need to answer. She knew.

“Don’t worry, boy. What I am cooking up will take care of ya. Have a seat right there.” She gestured her knife to a chair opposite her at the kitchen table. She started singing under her breath, in some other language. It sounded part french, part indian, part alien. I don’t think I was meant to know what she was saying. As she got lost in her tasks, my eyes began to adjust to the dim light and the heavy fumes.  I looked over the table. Covered in old mason jars and wooden bowls, full of flowers and spices and mysterious botanicals gathered from the swamp. Some were full of dead things, bugs and spiders and snakes, and some, under closer look were full of live critters, squirming and flapping, desperate for freedom.

The old woman plopped down a bowl of her stew in front of me, and the steam made me sweat more. My eyes started to blur, but I did my best to stay focused. Sitting across from me, she removed her shawls and lifted a brass necklace to her chest, with large natural stones and gems strung across her ample bosom.

“Your deed has been done, you came to me for redemption and sanctuary,” she said, her voice sounding a thousand miles away. As she lowered her arms from putting on the necklace her face seemed to transform. Wrinkles melt away. Hair deepen and glisten. I wasn’t sure if the heat was making me hallucinate or if it was the fumes I was breathing

“The authorities are after you. and you know Jesus isn’t going to save your ass, no matter how much you repent. so you came to me. To work my craft. To set you free. Drink boy. And all will be made right.” Her face continued to transform, it now appeared ageless. I was afraid, but there was no turning back.

I lifted the bowl of slop to my lips and retched.  But I had no choice. I choked it down. Kept it down. The room began to spin. The last thing I remember was her voice, laughing. While my stomach felt like it was on fire, the witches voice was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard.

Her spell worked, but not in the way that I thought it would. Rather than getting busted for the murder of Roy, the son of a bitch who beat my daughter, I was arrested for possession of narcotics. Intent to distribute. In louisiana, that was a long time behind bars.

You see, I went to the witch out of fear. The rage that had overcome me when I saw what happened to my sweet Jane was unlike anything I had expected. I thought I was possessed by demons. I thought I would get away with the murder, but I could have something like that happen again.

I called the witch, looking for protection. She promised she would put me in a safe place, spiritually, physically, guaranteeing that I would never harm another persona as long as I lived. And she delivered. When I was passed out from her stew, she stashed the drugs in my truck and called the cops, who pulled me over on my way back to lafayette. I have to give it to her. She delivered.

© 2016 by J. Turner Masland

***

J. Turner Masland is a librarian, currently working at Portland State University as the Access Services Assistant Manager. Originally from new Hampshire, he has lived in Portland since 2006. When not in the library, he enjoys hiking, swimming, trips to the coast, and working on his writing. You can learn more about him at masland.weebly.com or follow him on twitter @deweysnotdead.

Mini Sledgehammer January 2016

2016 got off to a good start with the year’s first Mini Sledgehammer. Summer Olsson claimed the winner title, and she says of the contest, “I love it, and look forward to it every month!” We love having you, Summer!

The prompts were:
Character: Cat Stevens
Setting: The Blue Ridge Mountains
Prop: $200 travel voucher with United Airlines
Action: Parallel Parking

***

Parallels

by Summer OlssonSummer-3

Trees put the blue in the Blue Ridge Mountains. And it was a tree that put the dent in my dad’s blue Chevy Impala, too. So many trees in the forest where we live, where I used to live until a couple weeks ago, and they release this gas, like, that the air looks blue, from far off.  My dad’s ‘63 Chevy got backed into a tree. By me, a’ course.

I’d been trying to take my driver’s test twice now, and it was frustratin’ my dad more’n me. He was giving me drivin’ lessons on the side because as soon as I was legal, he could stop cartin’ me and my lil’ sisters around so much and get back to playin’ his mando in the garage. These lessons stressed us both out and made me cry usually and there was a lot of yellin’ n’ stuff. The thing we were workin’ on, when I backed into the big oak along our lane, was parallel parking. That was what I messed up the worst on the last test. The first test we don’t talk about. But now I was pretty good at not screamin’ when an animal crossed the road in front of me, or missin’ stop signs altogether, or slammin’ on the brakes when the light changed to yellow. Parallel parking, though, was still causing me trouble. My dad kept saying we needed to work on my 19-point turn. After I bumped, which is what the bumper’s for! I yelled, he stormed into the house and didn’t come out again.

Later, in school, my friend Shuggs, who already had his license and drove his dad’s pickup on the weekends, said he knew a real good trick for parallel parking. Now this from a guy who thought Alan Ginsberg helped him find a parking space. I don’t know where he got that idea, but if we were ever in town, lookin’ for a spot close to wherever, and it was real busy and nowhere to park, Shuggs would start goin’ “Oh, Alan Ginsberg, we call on you to help us! Oh, Alan Ginsberg, great god of parking spots.” I thought he was makin’ a joke because we read that guy in English class and he was a hippy poet guy. But you know, most of the time we got a parking spot right away. Anyway, Shuggs said that Cat Stevens was the patron saint of parallel parking. All I needed to do was play his music while I was doin’ it and it would be like magic—I’d just be good at it.

My third time to take the test was comin’ and I think Dad was gettin’ a little worried about it, because he promised me $200 if I passed! “I promise,” he said. “I’ll give you $200 and you can guy a guitar or a whole bunch of whiskey or whatever the hell you want.”

What could it hurt really, so I got a Cat Stevens tape. I had to go to that place, Charlie’s Records and Tapes, which smells like a wet cardboard box, but my dad’s Impala only has a tape deck. I got The Best of Cat Stevens. I went out to the yard the next afternoon, after school, to practice parkin’ between two trees. Then the craziest thing happened. Maybe it was because music helped me focus more or somethin’, I told Shugg later, so he wouldn’t think I believed his weird stuff. But I really did get better at parallel parking. Like right away!

I convinced the driving test instructor to let me play the tape, real softly, just during the parking part of the test. I passed. And he even said I was real mature for liking Cat Stevens and he hoped I understood the message of the music.

When I got home I was thrilled about the $200 but also relieved that Dad would stop making me practice and yellin’ at me from the passenger seat. He acted all proud and hugged me and kinda shook my shoulders a little. And then here’s where it gets weird. He opened his wallet and took out this paper thing, and said, “Here you go, you earned this.” And it wasn’t $200; it was a $200 travel voucher for United Airlines. I’m pretty sure I looked crestfallen, because he got a little indignant, and started tellin’ me about how it was better than cash because it would encourage me to have an experience, and it was good for a lotta places with no blackout dates.

I took it, and I was so mad I stalked out to the Impala and when I saw the dent in the back bumper I got even more mad. I slammed the door good after I got the car, and drove furiously out of the driveway. I turned up my Cat Stevens tape really loud and let his voice just drown out everything else. Pretty soon I was at the Ashville airport and without thinkin’ I just went inside. I think I left the car in the no-parking zone, and maybe with the door open, which Dad was probably pretty sore about later. I hope he got it back without too much fuss and trouble.

I marched up to the United Airlines desk and slapped that $200 voucher on the counter. The lady looked pretty surprised but she asked me where I wanted to go. Then she showed me a list of all the places I could afford that still had flights goin’ today. My choices were pretty slim. I stood at that desk for a long time, thinkin’ about my dad and my sisters and the dent in the car, and all the stuff I seen and did over a long time just seemed to be going by in my mind. In the end I got the bright idea of provin’ Shuggs right or wrong, and I figured I’d be able to let him know somehow. The lady was real nice when she explained that I was choosing a one-way ticket, not a return, and there was no changing or refunding once I made up my mind. I told her I wouldn’t hold it against her.

When I got to heaven it was real easy to find Alan Ginsberg. He was hanging out in a dingy bar just like the one we got in town, only I can drink now because there aren’t really any age limits for alcohol and stuff. Or there aren’t really any ages. I’m not sure. It’s cool. Alan Ginsberg laughed a lot when I told him about Shuggs’ idea, but he didn’t deny it either. I was most surprised to find out that Cat Stevens isn’t here yet, but they do have his music so we’re enjoying that and waiting for him.

© 2016 Summer Olsson

***

Summer Olsson is a writer, director, actor, puppeteer and costume designer. She grew up in the magical high desert of Albuquerque. She did a turn as a music writer, and later the arts editor, for the Weekly Alibi. She holds a BFA in theater from the University of New Mexico and is a graduate of Dell’ Arte International School of Physical Theatre. She lives in Portland. This is her first published fiction.

Mini Sledgehammer December 2015

Blackbird Wine was bursting Tuesday night with holiday parties and devoted writers! Thanks to everyone who came out, and congratulations to Sarah Farnham for winning on her second try. She says she’s “100% hooked.”

The prompts were:
Character: Nobody
Action: Breaking and entering
Setting: A fireplace
Phrase: “Not as bad as last Christmas.”

***

The Givingprofile

by Sarah Farnham

the girl dangled her legs over the bed. her little brother sat in front of her.

‘whaddya think this christmas will be like?’ she asked.

‘worse than last.’

she chewed on the blanket and sighed. she knew he was right.

‘what’s for dinner?’

‘dunno.’ he slumped as he sat there, back caving over as he pulled out strings from the carpet.

 

their mother, dressed in skirts and elegant cardigans, started when they were three. ‘your only task in life is to give back,’ she would say, smiling. ‘it’s better to give than to receive.’ the only holidays they remember were spent volunteering at the shelter, passing out food for the homeless or the domestic victims of the gritty streets of philadelphia. their father, while still in the picture–he stayed home and watched football. he preferred not to listen to their mother.

they didn’t have any extended family. no cousins to play barbies with, no aunts to lecture them, no uncles to tease them. they were no good at making friends, either. two years apart, they much preferred the company of each other. teachers marvelled at it, but the other kids sneered. they teased her for hanging with her baby brother, and they tortured him for wanting to hang out with a girl.

but they were the coolest people they knew. everyone else was kinda dumb, and definitely didn’t understand the intricacies of their daily life.

they were not cinderella children–it wasn’t as if they counted lentils in the fireplace or peeled potatoes for days on end. they did, however, make their beds and wash the dishes. their mother asked them to, and they obliged, gratefully. if a grownup in their life, say at an uncommon party, would ever laugh at them, wondering how children were so well-behaved, they would stare blankly, uncaring, until that grownup wandered off. their eyes frequently glazed off in conversations with teachers–they always had the right answers, but there was more than one educator who thought ‘there was something wrong with those two.’

if they knew about it, they had shrugged it off long ago.

because they knew something no ordinary adult knew.

their mother, a kind and benevolent force, had taught them the secret to life.

she taught them to volunteer first. being small children, they thought of nothing but pleasing their mother. they went about, merry, caroling and passing out food and smiling at strangers, a tiny movement unto themselves. after school, they collected bottles for the men who would ride by and collect them late at night. they had an allowance, and it was spent on other people. coats for cold bridge people, hats for the dirty children who roamed the streets. a can of beans for the woman who always walked by at noon on Tuesday.

the girl asked first.

‘mother?’

‘yes, darling?’

‘other children sometimes–‘

‘what have i told you about other children?’

‘that they don’t know what i know.’

‘which is?’

‘that the world is operating on a different level entirely, and that they are wasting their time and money and energy.’

‘correct. you were saying?’

‘nothing.’

the girl sat on her bed at night, thinking. she knew some things, that was sure. she knew that the world was keeping score, she knew that someone was always watching, she knew that she needed to always do more.

she also knew she was not happy, because it was never enough.

he felt the same. they sat on the swings, bundled up in the cold. december was windy, but bearable. they allowed themselves a small break in collecting cans twice a week. he decided to ask her instead of Mother. ‘sis–why don’t other children do what we do? don’t they know better?’

she shook her head. ‘no, because they are silly. they might have a chance to change, but they’re starting so late…’

‘what’s going to happen to them?’

‘i’m not sure; Mother never told us that part.’

he chewed on his lip. he whispered, ‘do you ever think we should be doing more?’

she turned to him and looked visibly relieved. ‘all the time. i just don’t think it’s enough.’

he sat forward, excited. ‘i’ve been thinking about something.’ she nodded. ‘what if we–what if we did what He did?’

she frowned. ‘that’s blasphemy.’ she started to swing again.

he scooted forward again, irritated. ‘it’s not. He wants us to.’

‘why do you think that?’

he started to breathe faster. she looked over at him sharply. ‘don’t trigger an attack.’

he shook his head. ‘i won’t. just listen.’ he got off the swing and stood in front of her.

‘He started poor, right?’ she nodded. ‘He started with nothing, just by giving everything He could. and eventually He built a factory, and an empire, and He was able to really give everything.’ she nodded again. he folded his arms. ‘i think the only way we’ll ever truly escape death is if we do the same. He’s still alive, right?’

she stopped swinging. ‘we could live forever, just like Him. His power is what keeps Him alive, after all. the Giving.’

‘exactly. it’s just common sense.’

she frowned slightly. ‘i know we can always do more. i know we always have more to give. so what are you thinking? what’s the big thing?’

he leaned in, his eyes glittering. ‘we can do what He did.’

she gasped. ‘we–we could–‘

he nodded. ‘it’s not enough that we give what we can. we need to be invisible, like Him. we need to build His empire.’

‘what if he sees us?’

‘are you serious?’ he asked. ‘even better.’

‘what if we go to the same houses?’

he whispered. ‘then we would see him. maybe compare notes, see what we could do better. sis–we could see Him.’

she stood up suddenly. ‘i’m in,’ she said.

 

they began preparing that night. they had exactly one month to train. he had started collecting supplies (ropes, backpacks, climbing gear from his dad’s abandoned hobby) before he even had told her, but she added the fine details he knew he had needed her for. the small headlamps were her idea.

as smaller than average children go, they were pretty quiet already. but they practiced themselves to be downright silent. their mother beamed as they walked around the house, doing their chores and storing items like squirrels.

‘children,’ she said one day. ‘i just want to congratulate you. you’ve been working so hard, and giving so much–but i also want to encourage you to work just a little harder.’ she pinched their cheeks, frowning as she noticed the smudges of coal. using a thumb and her tongue, she rubbed at their faces. ‘death won’t escape itself.’ she twirled around the corner in a swirl of skirts and Chanel.

the night came. they were ready, and executed their task with skill and ease.

 

and as the police prepared to cart them off, they could hear the buzz of the radio.

’10-4, on your way?’

‘yeap.’

the window was open.

one policeman, standing outside of the car, turned to the other. ‘what happened tonight?’

‘coupla kids, breaking and entering. left a bunch of useless shit in the living room. fifth house this week.’

‘jesus.’

‘santa nuts. at least it’s not as bad as last year.’

 

the children smiled at each other in the back seat.

© 2015 Sarah Farnham

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Sarah Farnham is a bi-coastal wanderer. She loves writing, coffee, and sunshine. Poetry was her main squeeze until she accidentally started writing fiction. You can contact her at westcoastcharlie@gmail.com.

Mini Sledgehammer November 2015

Edward Gutiérrez took home the prizes this month. Congratulations!

The prompts were:
Character: Your high school sweetheart
Action: Removing a hang nail
Setting: Sonora, Mexico
Prop: A hot dog

My Little Fat Boy

The bell rings. It’s the end of second period. The teacher left the edward picclassroom door open for all the kids to walk out single file. The lunchroom isn’t far. I can see Andre through the window that faces out to the street. He’s speed walking toward the lunch line and all the other kids are two steps behind.

Andre loves to eat. just like his dad. I remember when I was his age, I would steal all the other kids’ lunch tickets on pig-in-a-blanket day. My nickname wasn’t El Gordo (the fat man) for nothing. Now Andre is walking the same halls that I did. Anyway I digress. Today I’m here to volunteer at my little fat boy’s school. I need to make up for the all chocolate bars we ate that we were supposed to sell for the school’s annual fundraiser. To be fair we only ate about half, we gave away a bunch to Andre’s cousins.

I’m making my way out of the school office and down the stairs over to the lunchroom. I look and Dre, short for Andre, is putting mustard and ketchup meticulously on his hot dog bun. As I walk closer I can see he has managed to put two weenies on his bun. How’d he get the second one? I think to myself and smile. That’s my boy! just like his papi. When he notices me Dre puts down his ketchup packets, steps off the cafeteria table, runs up and hugs me. What a feeling. “Go eat” I say, “Dre remember, 40 chews for each mouthful” … Yea right.

The joy in my heart quickly fades as I see the assistant principal, Mrs. Vasquez. I know her when she was just Vicky. We go way back, from middle school all the way to high school. We were sweethearts back then. “Come with me” she says. I gesture to Andre and walk up the stairs behind Mrs.Vasquez. We walk in her office. She grabs a hammer, gloves, and a plunger. “Your first task, unclog the boy’s bathroom.” “Thanks” I tell her as I reach for the hammer “no no” she says, “i’ll need this for later.” I think to my puzzled self, WTF? – for later? what’s that supposed to mean? She can’t still be pissed about prom night.

Ten minutes later i’m changing my socks in the maintenance closet. The boys bathroom was tougher than I thought and I’m a mess. I hear footsteps outside the door. Then I hear two knocks and the deadbolt locks. Suddenly I hear in Spanish, “Puto! Eres un Puto! Muerete!” (Whore! you’re a male whore! die!). Aw shit. Prom night, she’s still pissed.

I go for the door and it’s locked. No windows, no crawl spaces anywhere. I gotta open the door. No sense on banging on it, shoot, i’m in the school basement. I reach for the toolbox and think, if I can just pry the door hinges off with the…, damn that witch, no hammer! I look around and see a set of keys behind the furnace. It’s too hot. If I can just shut it off and reach for the keys. I just need the valve key. I look 10 feet up and see a gas valve key on a hangnail pinned to the wall. Shit, no hammer! That’s the last Mexican girl from Sonora I’ll ever cheat on.

© 2015 Edward Gutiérrez
***
Dedicated to the memory of my friend Bryan Tinti. 

Mini Sledgehammer October 2015

This month’s Mini Sledgehammer marked a slight changing of the guards. John and Daniel have been leading this fun monthly contest for over a year, and this was John’s last month. Thanks for all you’ve done for us, John! And thanks for continuing to lead us, Daniel!

 

Ashley Michael Karitis was our very deserving winner this month. Read on for her fantastic story. Congratulations, Ashley!

 

Prompts:
Character: Custodian
Action: Presidential Debate
Setting: Wedding
Phrase: “Why didn’t you tell me?”

 

***

The Abridged Memoirs of a Custodian

by Ashley Michael Karitis

Clyde was, in what might be considered, the loneliest of professions.

Each afternoon, he would arrive at the empty aisles of St. Jean’s Parish to tend to the multitude of custodial sins: cobwebs in the gothic arches, splatters on the stained glass (portraying the station of the cross), picking out lint in the oak and maple pews, and vacuuming the animal cracker crumbs left over from the little ones whose parents tried keeping them occupied with said simple carbohydrates.

Lonely these days may have seemed, but lonely, he was not.  Clyde was privy to moments that were important enough to call on those far and wide—friends and family, and even those who would need to forgive each other in order to come together for such special gathering.

In his thirty-seven years as a custodian, Clyde had attended more weddings, funerals, christenings, and masses than all of the priests combined who had rotated in and out over the years.

Special, these moments and gatherings were, but Clyde was still not part of them.  He was only an observer, sometimes unwelcome, on the fray, and always behind the scenes.  Nobody really wanted to see a spotted-faced, balding man in coveralls on their wedding day.  Yet, he was the unseen enabler, for one flick of a switch and the christening of Patrick Joseph or The March of the Brides would come to a crashing halt.

Clyde could recount every type of wedding you could possibly have under the roof of God’s House: painfully planned nuptials to ensure family legacies; unions to provide for an unexpected baby bump; marriages that had taken place during custodial hours, out of sight of forbidding parents.  He had seen groom and bride spat with each other as though they were in a presidential debate, sometimes ending with a slap in the face and a “Why didn’t you tell me!?”  Never assuming, Clyde dutifully clean up the flower petals, rice, and extra paper programs.

Usually, the tense, happy, or excited couples would return to the parish with a new babe to be doused with holy water, draped in a stale lacey gown.  Clyde would set up the bath and rearrange the potted seasonal flowers—just so the mothers would feel extra special—and afterward he would mop up the excess drops of bath water that speckled the altar.

Through all these celebrations, Clyde never feared, avoided, or felt sad about the funerals that came and went every week.  How could a funeral be any less important than a wedding or christening?  How could he feel sad for the dead, and for those that came to celebrate and memorialize their person’s life?

For Clyde, being a custodian had been his own ritual, just as these events in St. Jean’s had been rituals.  It was a ritual of living vicariously, and letting the joys and sorrows of others brim over into his world.

©  2015 Ashley Michael Karitis

***35_Inside the Orts

Ashley was raised in Bend, OR.  She is a documentary filmmaker based in Portland, OR that dabbles in travel writing.  She is currently working on her first compilation of short stories.