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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

***

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. 

2015 Sledgehammer Submissions

Congratulations to all the 2015 Sledgehammer finishers! All twenty-nine stories are now posted. We’ll get the Readers’ Choice poll for the Elissa Award up on Thursday, and it will be open until August 21.track-finish-1442273-640x480

As you read the stories, watch for these prompts, which the contestants had to complete a scavenger hunt to find:

Character: The ex
Action: Singing karaoke
Setting: A discount department store
Prop: A balcony rail