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Mini Sledgehammer February 2014: Blackbird Wine & Atomic Cheese

Congratulations to this month’s winner, Pamela Russell Bejerano!

 

Character: A Good Samaritan

Action: Seeing something that wasn’t meant to be

Setting: The eye of the storm

Phrase: Well, that was unexpected

***

Eye of the Storm

Amber stood on the edge of the park, watching all of the happy people play and sled and run around in the snow. Her plan was to stand here long enough to erase the memory from her mind. She took in the huge Doug Firs, the happy dogs wagging their tails and chasing each other, the father bouncing off his inner tube and grasping at the jacket of his daughter who slid past him, laughing. The snow softly fell amidst the chaos. She closed her eyes and listened. She could almost hear the giant, fluffy flakes that changed the world around her.

Suddenly it was there. The image, again. When you see something that wasn’t meant to be it has a way of imprinting itself so deeply onto the brain that it actually makes a new ridge and settles itself in for life. His face. His deep, brown eyes. The tears welling on the rims, quivering, as if the fall would kill them.

“What are you doing here?”

It was all she could think to say.

“I had to see you.”

The storm had passed. Or so she thought. The weathermen always talk of the eye of the storm, that moment when you believe with false hope that it’s over. That you’ve survived. But then the other half of the storm rips through. This half, the one they always claim was unexpected, is the one that breaks down the fragile barrier that you thought would hold. But it never does. And when it falls, the Good Samaritan is nowhere to be found.

A loud screech pierced her vision, sending his face shattering into a million tiny pieces. She opened her eyes, too late. The toboggan slammed into her shins and sent her knees buckling in a direction that was not human. Another sound filled her ears. She realized it was her own scream.

“Don’t move!” a voice shouted in her ear.

It was the man, the father. His daughter sat by her side, her eyes filled with horror. Moving was not an option, so Amber stayed, the snow soaking through her pants, her jacket. It seemed hours before a medical crew arrived. Faces appeared in her line of vision, then disappeared, only to reappear again. A poke stung her arm. The world went black.

Seven months, three weeks and four days. That’s how long it took her to walk again. In that time she had been confined to a wheelchair, then crutches, and finally a simple cane. It was month eight when she stepped out into the sun and walked to the park. She stopped and turned in a 360 degree circle. It was all there, right where she’d left it. The happy people, the dogs playing, the Doug Firs swaying in the wind. It was the only thing she saw.

 

©2014 Pamela Russell Bejerano

Pamela Russell Bejerano is a writer who works as a school administrator in Portland, Oregon. Pamela has published a poem and was invited to read a short story at the Cannon Beach Historical Society; this is her fourth Mini Sledgehammer win. Pam has lived abroad several times and weaves multicultural issues and the strength of women throughout her writing. She is currently working on her second novel about a young woman living in Nicaragua whose tenderly crafted life and community are shattered by an atrocity that she alone must find the strength to overcome.

Mini Sledgehammer January 2014: Blackbird Wine & Atomic Cheese

We missed you, Mini Sledgehammer! In this first contest of 2014, two Sledgehammer veterans and two people new to the contest tackled the four prompts and the clock. Congratulations to this month’s winner, J.B. Kish.

Character: A reformed omnivore

Action: Choosing bananas

Setting: The bottom of the bowl

Phrase: Oh yes, I know the Muffin Man

***

The Difference Between Snow

He reached out, choosing bananas again. He always chose bananas on colder days, when the snow had drifted up against the front of his cabin like the lip of cake frosting. Jerking his massive wooden front door open, he welcomed a sharp, cutting breeze against his cheek and shook it off. Mother winter was kissing him awake. Kisses were always their brightest in the morning. Not like sundown.

Jack Shadowsong stepped out into the high-desert sunlight and carefully peeled one of his bananas from the bottom up. He took an enormous bite, and carefully wedged the rest of his fruit lunch into his parka. The others stuck out from his belly like lumpy tentacles, giving him a queer look. He chewed complacently, staring at the fruit in his pocket. He had a long day ahead of him. Longer now since he’d become a—what did his daughter call him?—a reformed omnivore. 75 years of sugars and elk and hamburgers down at the gas station had made him sluggish and slow.

“You’re an old buffalo,” his daughter Suzy told him. “You’ll die in these mountains an old buffalo, papa. You have to start eating better.”

And so, much to his chagrin, Jack Shadowsong had banana lunches and fruit dinners, and fruit breakfast, and fruit, fruit—

“Fruit,” Jack muttered. “God I hate fruit.” He spit the rest of his banana and it disappeared into the snow at his feet. And then he was off, to the bottom of the bowl, to watch the young skiers get in fistfights with snowboards and drink until they were red in the face.

“That was Justin Jackson new hit single, ‘Oh Yes, I Know the Muffin Man,’ and you heard it first, right here on KRSMACK Radio.”

The radio DJ’s voice blared through the speakers at the base of the ski slope near the ticket booth. The line was down to the parking lot. And the children were already screaming. Jack hadn’t even made it into the lodge for coffee yet before his boss was waving him to the chair lift for a quick relief shift. That’s what he called them. “Relief shifts. The only smoke break that took forty-five minutes, Jack thought to himself. But there he was, standing in line and checking tickets and thinking to himself about the coming night.

Jack could stand for hours at a time. He didn’t mind his job. He didn’t mind standing, and pressing the button when a child fell down onto its face. He liked picking them up, brushing the snow of their noses and helping them onto the lift. He didn’t mind all the money, and the white people, and the radio DJ, or the lack of coffee. What Jack minded was the snow. What Jack minded, was the spirit of the mountains.

“You’ll die in these mountains, papa. An old stubborn buffalo,” his daughter told him. And maybe she was right. There was no fruit for stubbornness. And so maybe he would die in these mountains. Hell, Jack thought to himself. Maybe I’ll die right here in line, taking tickets and listening to radio DJs. Maybe I’ll turn into a Popsicle and they put a flashlight in my hand. But he wouldn’t leave his mountains. He wouldn’t leave mother winter.

What Jack minded was the snow. The white snow. The perfect, white reclaimed snow that they made in machines so the money would come and the music would play and the snowboarders would fight. Jack hated the snow because he couldn’t tell what of it was new and what of it was old. He couldn’t tell what mother winter had brought him and what the lawyers made with their documents and their paper and their signatures.

Jack missed the days when he was a boy, and he didn’t have to think about the people on his mountain. When snow was snow. And winter was winter. And the cold was—

“Hey asshole, are you paying attention?”

Jack’s eye’s fluttered to life and landed on the boy holding out his ticket. Jack narrowed his focus, and then his expression fell. He feigned a smile, scanned the ticket, and the boy got on the lift.

When the sun dropped down, and the temperatures reached their lowest, the mountain emptied, and Jack found himself still standing at the bottom of the bowl. Mother winters kisses were at their darkest, and there was no shaking that kind of cold. Not until he was home and in his bed. But that night, Jack decided to stay a little while longer and stand in line. With no tickets to scan and no little children to help to their feet. Jack stood in the bowl and remembered the time when he was little. When the snow was really snow and there was no reason to think other wise.

“You’ll die in these mountains, papa,” his daughter told him.  “An old stubborn buffalo.” And maybe she was right. Maybe he would.

©2014 J.B. Kish

J.B. Kish

J.B. Kish

Originally from the Southwest, J.B. Kish moved to Portland, Oregon, in 2012. He spends his weekends in a walk-in closet turned office working on his newest novel, A Wall for Teeth and Stingers, and other works. He can be reached at jbkwriting@gmail.com.

 

Mini Sledgehammer December 2013: Blackbird Wine & Atomic Cheese

It’s the time of year for thinking about, well, time. This month’s prompts speak to that. Congratulations to this month’s winner, Daniel Granias, who wrote in memory of Elissa Nelson.

Character: Timekeeper

Action: Pencil it in

Setting: Calendar sales rack

Phrase: Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana

***

Untitled

Dedicated to Elissa Nelson, beloved friend and former Mini Sledgehammer facilitator, who first introduced me to the series.

In my dreams, my father rides on the back of a whooping crane. It flies through an amber sunset, its neck undulating in a long S. Together they splash and patter in the high tide while the rhino burrows its great iron horn in the glittering sand searching for nematodes. The crane takes my father’s belt in its long beak and throws him into the dusty lavender thickets, where he rolls across their dense beds under the cattail reeds that tower eight stories high. The king of the nematodes carries an hourglass with three bulbs; one for red sand, one for yellow, and one for green. When he turns the glass, the sky turns grey and my father and I are sitting in a doctor’s office, waiting for the nematode secretary to call our name.

“Bastille! Bastille! I’ve been calling you for the past century! Where have you been? You’ve missed your bicentennial treatment again, now we must pencil you in for the next millennium, and we’re booked through Julaugustary!”

The day-by-day calendar on the desk curls its pages into lips that say, “Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana!”

With a flourish, my father throws on a lime green doctor’s coat and lifts me in its folds. He takes me to the bookshop he owned, to the corner where my mother quilted the pillows and blankets in so many shades of violet, plum, and indigo.

It is there I wake, beneath the cherry-cedar rocking chair where he’d take me in his lap and read me tales of places near and far, while I stared at the pictures of birds and mammals on the calendars we sold on the rack by the register. The pillows still smell and feel like my mother’s bosom; it was so long ago I fit in the linen nest of her apron before her cancer took hold for the year that followed, each day feeling like a month, each visitation hour like a second.

Now I’ll sort and stack the pillows, activate the register, and flip the paper clock in the window back and unlock the doors as parents and children visit our rows of pop-ups, pictures, and puppets, and I’ll assume my place in the cherry-cedar rocking chair and read the next tale to this afternoon’s visitors just as my mother and father did.

©2013 Daniel Granias

Mini Sledgehammer: St. Johns Booksellers Birthday Edition

Happy Big Six, St. Johns Booksellers!

Before her store celebrated its birthday this past Saturday, June 25, Néna Rawdah messaged us to ask if we could work with her to host a Mini Sledgehammer as part of the celebration: “If you’re up for it, that would just round out the day for me.” How could we turn down something like that? Not that we’d want to anyway–we heart this Portland bookstore and appreciate the many ways it supports us, and all of its neighbors.

What a great turnout! Writers and friends of writers both. We judges had to debate the many merits of the four submitted stories, which ranged drastically in tone and topic. In the end, though, we were unanimous: congratulations, Brynn Tran!

Thanks so much to everyone for coming out. Those who did also learned that that evening launched our second permanent Mini Sledgehammer series. Now join us every second Thursday at 7 p.m. at St. Johns Booksellers!

***

Prompts:
Character: A cute girl bass player
Action: Nibbling on a pen or pencil
Setting: Over yonder
Phrase: King me!”

***

The Professor

By Brynn Tran

She could taste the salt on her upper lip, feel it stinging her right eye. The setting sun burned orange and she glared at it as she dragged the cumbersome case up the gravel road. It was hot. Too hot for eight in the evening. To hot to drag her bass over every dusty, dry hill. Too hot to hurry. Her car thought it was too hot, too, and gave up three miles back. Now her makeup was running and her hair was plastered in golden snakes to her forehead, and all she could see was a mire of green-black retina burn. She glared at the sun, daring it to set. “Fuck you, sun,” she said.

A figure shimmered in and out of existence between heat waves over yonder, perched atop the next hill. The girl hesitated. “Hey,” she called. The figure’s head snapped to. “You have a car?” she asked, immediately regretting it. If he had a car he would be in it, anywhere but here. It was unusual, standing alone in the middle of nowhere. Then again, she was the one with a tube top and a fourth of a string quartet.

“Not anymore, miss,” the figure replied. The notebook he was holding snapped shut, and his pen played about his lips. He smiled wanly. “Are you headed over there?” he jerked his thumb over the crest of the hill and, as the girl approached him, the lights of a town winked at them both.

She felt like a triumphant checker. King me, she thought. Please.

The man laughed good-naturedly at her relieved face. His eyes crinkled up at the corners, a cool blue, like a teacher the girl had once known. He reminded her of her high school orchestra conductor and she reminded herself why she was walking. This was her dream. All she wanted was to make it. To make it big, to make it to this one gig and be golden.

“Let me carry that for you,” said the man. He reached over and took the bass from her. She suddenly felt lighter than air. Perhaps it was his cologne. “What’s your name?” he asked.

“Jen,” said the girl. “You don’t have to do that, really.”

“I insist,” said the man. “What are you doing out here all by yourself?”

“I’ve got a show tonight with my band. There’s gonna be some big names there. Producers, that kinda thing.” Jen was getting ahead of him, speeding up. She figured she had about twenty minutes to make it to that great hulking blob in the distance. Since it still looked like a blob, it would likely take much longer. “So… what are you doing out here? Writing?”

“Sure,” he said. “Notes. Observations. That sort of thing.”

What could he be taking notes on? Jen wondered. There was really nothing for miles, except the town.

“I’m a scientist.” It was as though he knew her thoughts. “A professor,” he added, as an afterthought.

“Where do you teach?”

“Oh, I don’t teach anymore.”

“Why?”

Jen whirled at the sound of a heavy clatter and found herself staring down a cool blade. A knife – no, a scalpel. Her instrument rocked from side to side where it fell. It was the only sound. She didn’t scream. She didn’t even breathe. His icy fingers gripped her by the hair.

Why?” the Professor parroted. “Because I’m starting my own project,” he said.

The obsidian scalpel flashed. She didn’t even scream.

Very carefully, the Professor lifted the latches on the case and removed the bass. He placed it on the side of the road. Then he folded up the girl, stuffed her inside, closed the lid, and continued on his way towards the lights of the town. The sun slipped below the horizon.

© 2011 Brynn Tran

***

Brynn shares about herself and her story: “I just turned eighteen and graduated from Lakeridge High School in Lake Oswego, and I’ll be attending Reed College next year to study English. The Professor in this short story is actually a character I made in my creative writing class this year, who I had no intention of writing about. The ironic thing is that his last name is St. John.”

Mini Sledgehammer: June 2011

If you’ve ever thought the judges have an easy job choosing these winning stories, you’re very wrong. Three of us debated for a very long time this month–so many of the stories were incredible! We finally decided on Amy Seaholt‘s story, and it was thrilling to watch her reaction. It was as if she’d won a game show!

Thanks so much to everyone for coming out. We hope to see you next month, and the month after, and of course at the main event in September.

***

Prompts:
Character: A water park attendant
Action: Adjusting a telescope
Setting: An eerily empty freeway
Phrase: “You’re never going to believe this.”

***

Untitled

By Amy Seaholt

Justin’s shift ended at 7 p.m., though Raging Waters stayed open until 9. His dad said it was called that because the waters were raging with bacteria. Justin always chuckled at this, not because it was funny, as his Pop thought, but because it came from a man who only cared to shower once every few days and who Justin knew didn’t properly wash his hands after using the toilet.

Justin was far too old to be attracted to any of the high school kids who would flip their ponytails or snap their gum at him in an unpracticed attempt at flirting. They seemed to think that the job held some glamour. Or maybe they were just looking for free admission to the park.

Anyone his own age thought that it was a menial position and that he was incapable of impressing any girls with it. He knew this was true, so he didn’t tell anyone he knew at the State college about it. He even took pains to wash the chlorine smell from him as completely as he could before going to classes.

When Susan, his biology lab partner during summer term, got close to him to do a fetal pig dissection, he felt sure that she wouldn’t smell the chlorine over the formaldehyde. She had a good nose.

“Do you lifeguard?” She had asked.

“Yes, part time,” he replied, not wanting to go into more detail.

Where?

He pretended not to hear, he was so focused on the pig.

“Where do you lifeguard?” she asked again.

“Oh, just a place.” He was trying to be vague.

She narrowed his eyes at him. “Why are you avoiding the question. Do you work at Raging waters or something?”

He gave a slight nod.

“I used to love that place! I went about ten times every summer as soon as my parents would let me go by myself.”

Shhh! We’re going to get behind what everyone else is doing. He said. It was the first time he really noticed her long, smooth brown hair, wide eyes, her long neck. She was cute.

“I think it’s cute.” She said. “I just work at Starbucks. Boring.”

It was the cute comment, and that he was thinking the same of her at the same time, that gave him the courage to ask her out.

“You’re never going to believe this, me being a professional water park attendant slash biologist, but I know a cool place where you can see billions of stars. You have to get out of the city, though. You want to come with me sometime?”

Her eyes crinkled up when she smiled.

So after Justin’s shift ended at 7 he took a long shower to get rid of the chlorine smell and the stray bacteria that his father would suspect was there, and he picked up Susan for the drive up 99, then 70.

They spoke about high school for a while, and he explained that he had taken Dr. Greene’s astronomy class during the previous semester and had really gotten into it. Now he liked to take time-lapse photos of the stars. He was a little worried, revealing this to her, but she listened intently and the conversation was so easy that time passed quickly. Before he knew it he was pulling over.

“You can’t stop here, it’s the middle of the highway!” She had another one of her grins that pinched the edges of her brown eyes.

“Don’t worry. Nobody comes this way this time of night.”

He got out the tripod and telescope and began to set it up. “What do you want to see first. Saturn? The Orion nebula?”

“Yes. Any of that.” She said genially.

The more time he spent with her the more relaxed he felt. It was going really well.

“Okay, he said. Come down here and take a look.” He indicated to the telescope.

She bent her head to the eyepiece. Can you see it ok? He asked. She said it was a bit blurry. As he adjusted the focus he inhaled the fragrance of her curtain of hair. His heart beat a little faster and he wondered if he should kiss her. His palms began to sweat and he could feel himself getting red.

At that moment, headlights, coming fast, swept around the bend. His nerves already on edge, he failed to warn her, verbally, to move out of the way. Instead, he yanked the telescope up and pulled her arm to direct her to the edge of the road. Except that he did it too quickly, out of order, and slammed the telescope sight into her beautiful brown eye, tumbling her to the side of the road.

She was holding her eye, lying on the side of the highway, he was hovering over her, as the intruding car came to a stop to see if all was all right.

© 2011 Amy Seaholt

***

Amy Seaholt is a realtor by day and a writer by night. She is learning that if you actually want to get published, you have to let people read your work. You can read a little of hers here: http://brandofcrazy.blogspot.com/. She lives in Northeast Portland with her husband and two young children.