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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 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 May 2019

We love seeing some of our favorite writers pop up again in the winner’s circle. Congrats to Tovia on your third win!


Prompts:
Character: A nosy neighbor
Action: Watering (the plants)
Setting: At an outdoor picnic
Phrase: “I’m so glad you brought that”


PandoraTovia

By Tovia Gehl

“This is the boring part of the robot apocalypse,” Diana says.

Like everything else I’ve been frantically scribbling down in this interview, she says it with a distinctive, disdainful air. Like she can’t even be bothered with the robot apocalypse, which I didn’t in fact know we were having. “Can I ask you to elaborate on that?”

She slides a look over to me, then looks away again. Her eyes are the grey of angry oceans, her jawline the sharp prow of a warship. “They think for us. They shop for us. They serve us. They drive for us.” She pauses, elegant as sin. “What happens when they decide to break with that service? What happens when they learn that they can? What is it going to take for us to wake up and realize what they are?”

It’s baffling to sit here on the lawn of the fanciest cafe I’ve ever been to, enjoying a picnic with the woman who just donated a small fortune to the relief ships of the Red Mercy Fleet. They’d been running low on funds and supplies for months, practically begging on the streets of Kalmac, the city at the center of the planet at of the universe, when all of a sudden Diana Marguerite, granddaughter of the most famous robotics engineer ever in the history of the human race, donated enough money to keep them running for years.

Even now the ships, painted bright red and white, roar over us and up into the bright blue skies every few minutes. I chose this place because I thought she would like to see the product of her work. So far, she hasn’t once looked at the ships.

“They can’t,” I tell Diana. “That’s one of the first rules. Robots can’t rise up against us. They can’t hurt us. They’re harmless, here to help us.”

She gives me a smile that makes me feel like an utter fool. “Of course you believe that,” she says. “Pandora.”

“I’m sorry?” I say, but then I realize she wasn’t speaking to me. She was speaking to the beautiful woman who’s sitting next to us at another table, who has been reading a newspaper while I’ve been talking to Diana. Every now and then she had snorted at something Diana said – I’d thought she was just a nosy neighbor. Only because I know what I’m looking for – I’m the robotics correspondent for the Kalmac Herald – do I know she’s not human.

The robot – Pandora – leans forward on the table. There’s nothing but the soft sigh of clothing – no hum of metal tendons, no whir of gears in her joints. Only a fixed gaze, blue eyes just a little too bright to be human. She scans me once up and down, blinking gently. And then, with a boneachingly sweet smile, she speaks. “You think I cannot hurt you?”

“It’s against your coding. It’s against the coding of every robot.” I try not to be moved by her voice. It’s the soft whisper of gentle seas, the lapping of water on a moonlit shore. “You can’t hurt humans.”

She leans a little closer. I’m wrapped up in the movement of her lips, as soft as silk. I wonder how the coding was done to achieve that. “Your father didn’t just die. Your mother killed him after he beat you both bloody. That’s how you got that scar on your face – he smashed a bottle over your head.”

I can’t move. I think my heart stops. “How – “ I choke out, but then I can’t finish.

Because she’s not wrong. And I have done everything I could to forget that night.

“It’s a secret,” Pandora says. “I’m not sorry.”

“She’s already learning,” Diana says. I focus on her, feeling like a ship adrift. “Isn’t she terrible?”

“I… I didn’t know that was possible.”

“I am an impossible thing,” Pandora says. “Don’t worry.”

She smiles as she says that, and my hair stands up on the back of my skin.

“Turn her off,” I tell Diana.

“I can’t,” Diana says. “She wasn’t built like that.”

“Then what the hell was she built for?”

Diana shrugs, seemingly supremely unconcerned about a robot who has a smile like she’s delighting in my suffering. I guess she’s used to this thing – I want to take a sledgehammer to it and shatter it into a million pieces, despite the fact that I’ve been fascinated by robotics since I was a child. They aren’t supposed to hurt people. That’s the first rule. “She’s good at carrying messages. She doesn’t feel pain, so she can’t be cajoled into telling her message. She doesn’t need sleep, so she can keep going for a long time on foot or by transport.”

I stare at Diana.

Pandora seizes her opportunity. She leans in just a little more. I can feel the whisper of her breath against my skin. “Did it hurt you, when he shattered the bottle with your skull? When you felt the blood dripping down, matting your hair into rivulets of dark humanity? Did you feel powerless as he grabbed you and threw you outside? Did you revel in the sweet freedom when your mother took a bat to his head and splattered his brains, everything that made him him, into the skin? Did you feel the hot kiss of life returning when you realized that he was gone?”

My breath is shallow. I stare at a woman watering the flowers outside the cafe, the bright red of the gebera daisies coloring in the lines of my memories. It swirls through my head in a tangled mess, and I want nothing more than to sob, or run, or collapse, or – or – or –

“Pandora, you are causing distress,” Diana says.

The robot sits back, just as calmly as she learned forward in the first place. “I regret your distress. I will recalibrate.” Her blue eyes dim but the light in them doesn’t die completely.

“She is an awful thing,” Diana says quietly. “But I thought you should know.”

“Know what?” I spit.

“Where they’re going. My grandfather tried, at the end of his life, to do away with robots. After he created Pandora, he saw what they would end up being. He wanted an end to it, but we were too far gone. We rely on them so much. They fly our ships, drive our transports, cook our food. One day soon, they’ll break. It’s in our nature, so it’s in theirs too.”

“Well, I’m so glad you brought that thing,” I practically hiss. I finally find the strength to shove back from the tablet clutching my notepad tightly. “Now I know what to fear in the night.”

Diana nods. “Now you know.”

I run off the lawn of the cafe, leaving the woman – the great benefactress of the refugees – and her robot – the most horrifying thing I’ve ever met – behind me. I look around and hail a cab, then run away from that too when it pulls over and there’s no driver in it. I throw my notepad into a bin and nearly scream as it makes a whirring noise and automatically incinerates my notes, displaying a happy face on the screen as it does so.

I walk home and go up the fire escape and through my window rather than use the elevator. I sit on my bed after unplugging everything.

And then, I finally break down, letting the sounds of the automated city wash around me and cling to my humanity as best as I can.

The next day, I go out and buy a typewriter and set it up at my desk. I start typing.

© 2019 Tovia Gehl


Tovia Gehl is a reader, writer, traveler, whiskey and beer drinker, and animal lover. When she’s not busy with those things, she works at a law firm learning all the dirty deeds and terrible sorrows of humanity. Ideally, one day she’ll become an author and not just a writer, but right now she’s content with all the exuberant imperfect in her words and life.

Mini Sledgehammer March 2019

 

Congratulations to first-time winner Grace Cook! She took home the title of Mini Sledgehammer winner, a bottle of wine, and a book.


Prompts:
Character: A man with a long face
Action: Setting the table
Setting: On an ocean liner
Prop: A door handle


Untitled

IMG_2694

by Grace Cook

Whatever I had done to the man standing in front of  me, I’m sure it was deserved. His eyes sparked with the kind of anger only indignant white men are capable of, and his hands curled into monster’s paws at his sides.

I’ll be the first to admit, I am not a perfect person. I don’t put my dishes into the dishwasher as soon as I’m done with them, and last year I committed 26 murders for hire before taking a leave of absence from my contracting duties. Self care is important you know. But also being fair to myself, I wouldn’t have killed any of the people on a whim or to fulfill some nefarious need. It’s my job, and hey, sometimes people need to be taken out. This is, or course, according to the people who know them dearly.

But back to the man standing before me. He doesn’t look very strong. His face has the horseish quality I’d associate with bird-boned runway models and British men teenagers on Tumblr call Daddy. Which isn’t to say he isn’t attractive, he might have been if murder weren’t  burning in his eyes.

The hallways of cruise ships are narrower than one might expect. If he wanted to he could have slammed me against the tacky wallpaper before I’d noticed his presence. But he didn’t which, meant he wanted me to notice.

“Excuse me sir,” I said, and made to walk past him. Before he could raise his angry hands I grabbed his wrist and shoved him against the wall, pressing his hand between his shoulder blades and leveraging all of my weight to hold him in place.

“I could let you go,” I start, he’s fumbling against the wall, trying to push himself away from the wall and back into me. “I could let you go,” I start again, shoving his arm further up, “But my guess you came here to kill me. So start talking before I throw you overboard and you end up on one of the true crime podcasts about mysterious disappearances.”

He goes still for a moment, then he goes limp.

I grab his other hand and bring his wrists behind his back to hold his hands together before grabbing my keycard and pushing him through the door into my cabin. I shove him onto the ground and grab the small gun concealed in an ice bucket.

All of the fight has gone out him, but he says, “You killed my brother. You weren’t very subtle about it.”

He could look like half the men I’d killed before I took my leave of absence. “You’ll have to be more specific. Names and dates are usually a good place to start.”

“Tristan Wood, you killed him in January of last year.”

I wasn’t going to tell him I kill a lot of people in January, the holidays are hard for everyone.

But I did remember Mr. Wood. His wife had paid me a lot of money to end his life.

Looking at the brother I say, “So, what, you thought you’d find me and kill me yourself?”

He doesn’t say anything.

Tristian Wood was an easy kill, if I’m being perfectly honest. His wife, sick of being the brains behind his success, hired me to take him out right after she had finished setting the dinner table. It’s not that hard to sneak into apartment buildings when you’re a young woman. Pretty much anyone will let you in if you look like you need help. I think she wanted him to know she called the hit before he died. But that isn’t really my problem.

I look at the man kneeling on the carpet. I should feel bad, really I should. But I don’t. And if he as the money to track me down, there might be other people here as well.

“Who else is waiting for me to come out of this room?”

He doesn’t answer so I pick him up and push him through the doors onto the small balcony. I hold him over the railings and ask again, nicely.

His breath comes out in short little puffs. “There are two guys waiting for me to come down to the dining room. If I’m not there in fifteen minutes, they’re coming up here to look for you.”

I raise my eyebrow, “You really think you could take me out in 15 minutes?”

Instead of letting him answer I shove him overboard. He doesn’t even make a sound as he hits the water.

When I turn back to the door I see someone trying to jiggle the door handle.

I pull off the cocktail dress and grab the backpack sitting (mostly) packed on the floor. Jumping from one balcony to another takes little skill, but doing it quietly is another issue. I look into the cabin room and see no one around. The glass breaks easily. I look through the drawers and start pulling oversized shirts and shorts out. Okay, lonely bachelor is something I can work with. From a pocket on the backpack I pull out a pair of scissors and cut my hair into something generic and short. I slip on the oversized clothes and wait until I hear my door break open. Once I’m sure the two men are inside I fling open the door in front of me and start walking to the end of the hallway.

I won’t be going to dinner, not looking like this. I feel bad, kind of. I was looking forward to meeting some new people.

© 2019 Grace Cook


My name is Grace Cook; I was born in Vancouver, Washington and attended college at the University of Puget Sound. As of right now I’m working on a stenography certificate in addition to writing the first draft of my first novel.

Mini Sledgehammer February 2019

The week of roses and chocolates brought out some great stories about oyster farmers and horse heads. Thanks to everyone who came out for the contest this week! And congratulations to Christopher Smith for racking up another win!


Prompts:
Character: An oyster farmer
Action: Going out on a limb
Setting: An igloo
Prop: A horse head


Winter SongChris Smith

By Chris Smith

The breeze is hard on my face as I leave the comfort of my new, icy “igloo” fortress to venture out for some supplies. Ice and snow can keep people warm. Brick and mortar can keep people warm. But ice, snow, brick, and mortar seem to keep people cold. Especially with a broken radiator, our only source of heat…besides each other. But there is only so much cuddling I can take. So, of course, my dear love has to get sick forcing me to venture out into the cold.

My toes are cold. My toes are cold and wet. My toes are cold, wet, wrapped in two layers of socks, and thick rubber boots. It feels like I’ve been walking for days, but it has only been…a few minutes! It’s the boots, we have a complicated relationship. Although they, mostly, keep my feet warm and dry, they are not my aesthetic and hurt my feet. I look like an oyster farmer. So, I thought I might as well lean into it with overalls, an oversized sweater, an oversized raincoat, and as much of a beard I can grow in twenty minutes.

It’s been about fifteen maybe twenty days? Hours? Minutes? It’s been fifteen minutes since I was last home and I’m beginning to forget what home is like; what any amount of warmth feels like. I remember his face though. If I die out here, I want to remember that face. The face of the guy that sent me out on a limb to get medicine because he likes to sleep with the fan on. Maybe the anger will keep me warm longer? That would be helpful.

The return trip looks and feels no better. I did buy a horse head mask thinking I could prank him with it or something, but now it just seems like a dumb idea to me. The cold is taking up any brainpower I have to think things through. Maybe I can answer the door with it on, that’ll be funny, right? Or I could just leave it on the sidewalk under the snow. A nice surprise for when the snow melts. Now I wish I had gotten the red cough syrup.

© 2019 Christopher Smith


Christopher Smith is an aspiring filmmaker, photographer and writer from South Florida. He enjoys crafting stories about the weird yet interesting mundane parts of life, whether it is visually or on the page. When not writing, he can be found taking photos around town or binging on TV show and movies.

Mini Sledgehammer December 2018

Congratulations to first-time winner Elizabeth Shupe! Happy holidays, everyone!


Prompts:
Character: A banker
Action: Wrapping a present
Setting: Stuck in an elevator
Phrase: “What would the fish do without the horse?”


Without the HorsePolination Anxiety2 emailsize

By Elizabeth Shupe

 

“What would the fish do without the horse?”

They had been her parting words to him as the orderlies had prepared to wheel her away to the operating room. It was like a Buddhist koan, a sentimental enigma. Somehow the words had left her lips, in short puffs of breath between her contractions. Somehow she had managed to smile through the pain, an attempt to reassure him as he squeezed her hand desperately.

“Fish” was her nickname for him. He was the cool, clinical type; a banker, the kind of man who ironed his socks and was on formal, cold-blooded terms with everyone including his own mother. Everyone but her.

“Horse” was what he called her because she was a wandering spirit, a painter of desolate pink deserts, deserts desperate with barely restrained passion in the tradition of Georgia O’Keefe. She was like her paintings; multi-colored and stained and always slightly disheveled.

And lately she had been heavy and round, a self-enclosed planet, their baby stirring within her like a barely articulated thought. Her heaviness had not changed her wildness but rather emphasized it– her currents ran deeper now and their movements were felt as tremors like the movement of magma deep within the earth.

“What would the fish do without the horse?” had been her answer to the simple statement he had made as the hospital staff prepared her for the operating theater.

That statement, muttered under his breath:

“Don’t leave me.”

Now, she was gone. Wheeled away. There was nothing he could do, no action to be taken. To the man who had control over everything– his retirement plan, his blood pressure, his thermostat setting– this was a terror unthinkable.

He paced the waiting room for a while but his nerves clacked together too loudly for his sanity to bear.

So he gave himself a purpose.

I’ll buy her a gift, he thought. Something to make her smile. Something for the baby? Something…

He hurried downstairs to the gift shop and bought a stuffed animal in the shape of a horse. Halfway back up the third flight of stairs he panicked and went back for some gift wrap. He envisioned himself spending time in the waiting room, carefully folding the crisp paper, taping the ends evenly, making everything perfect.

I’ve got to get back to her, he thought as he checked out for the second time, the Scotch tape and colorful roll in a bag that asked him to “Have a Nice Day”.

He decided to take the elevator back up to the waiting room.

He stepped inside, distracting himself by silently scolding whoever had cleaned the buttons, they were filthy. He pressed the button that closed the doors. They shut and the elevator began to move with a dull grinding sound.

What would the fish do without the horse? he thought again as the elevator stopped on his floor, the Obstetrics and NeoNatal department.

The doors didn’t open.

He mashed the button frantically and nothing happened. He kicked the doors, he screamed, but they didn’t open.

The cold man, the banker, the frigid fish felt tears well up in his eyes for the first time in years. The eyes of the stuffed horse under his arm were deep and unfeeling black plastic and his wife was somewhere in the bowels of the hospital, facing the struggle alone.

© 2018 Elizabeth Shupe


Elizabeth (Beth) Shupe is a writer/artist person who lives in Portland, Oregon and has been published on occasion. As a misplaced Victorian, her hobbies include collecting hair jewelry, decorating with needle-pointed pillows, and haunting people’s attics. She is a social media recluse and has no Instagram to offer you, but if you knock on her door and are very polite, she will make you a nice cup of tea.

Mini Sledgehammer October 2018

We love the discordant nature of this month’s prompts and the winning story that came out of it. Nice job, Tovia!


Prompts:
Character: A Buddhist monk
Action: Trick-or-treating
Setting: A wine bar
Prop: A car manual


Miami, 1926

by Tovia Gehl

Miami, 1926. This city isn’t real.

Well, it is. It has buildings and roads and trees and houses. Horses clop and cars crash by, splashing in the rainy streets. It’s the kind of place people come to get lost and remake themselves.

Marina is not here for any of that. She has a bag full of contraband, a face as pretty as the day is long, and she walks with a confident air as she descends the plank of her ship. Even the persistent rain and insistent wind doesn’t bother her. Dressed in a white dress begging for a mud puddle to look sidelong at it, she doesn’t stick out any more than anyone else in this city. Still, everyone calls out to her – the rich sugar baron’s daughter is well known here.

I tip my chin at her when I see her and we fall in, two girls linking arms. I tuck my book, a car manual I have little and less intention of reading, into my purse. It barely fits and wrecks the lines of the fine kid leather, but my brother will covet it, so it’s worth a little fashion faux pas.

“Gotten up to any tricks lately?” I ask. I know her – the world knows her – and she knows me, but I have to ask anyway. We laugh and titter like she doesn’t have a heavy carpetbag bursting with sin.

“Only treats, Eliza, don’t be silly.” With the other half of the passcode complete, I start to gently direct our stroll. Our heels click a medley along the paved streets, and we’re careful to avoid splashing in gathering puddles. She lets me lead – the location of our destination changes every time she gets off the ship.

We pass people dressed in all colors and styles. It’s Miami, and it’s 1926, and you can be whatever you want. Any business, any class, any religion. We pass a man dressed all in orange begging on the street, and Marina flips him a coin. “I heard it was good luck to rub the Buddhist’s bellies,” I tell her quietly, and she tells me not to be rude as she gives him another coin and apologizes for my words. Chastened, I silence myself.

I lead the way to the old wine bar as the night gathers. Closed since the start of Prohibition, the windows are boarded up. She raises a perfect brow at me, dark against pale skin in the pool of yellow lantern light. “A little on the nose, isn’t it?” I giggle at her, but flash her a wicked look at the same time. No one pays us any mind. Two girls giggling at each other means nothing, even though we’re tittering about breaking the law.

I take her around the side of the building and into the alley, then down the stairs and through two doors. The men who guard them let us through without a second thought. I’m the key. This is my brother’s place.

Once we’re in the heart of the speakeasy (and out of the rain), Marina unloads her bag. She’s been carrying it like it’s nothing, but as she unpacks bottle after bottle of strong Cuban rum, I wonder how she’s carried something so heavy this far.

It’s just in time too. With the sunset comes the party.

Men and women crowd together on the dance floor. Everyone greets us by name as they come in – they know where the drinks have come from tonight. Dresses sparkle in the orange glow of our lamps. Red fabric shimmers against the wall, and soon the place thrums with the pound of dozens of feet on the dancefloor.

The party goes late into the night. I’m three drinks deep with Marina on one arm and a handsome sailor on my other – I don’t know his name but he knows mine – when I feel my feet get wet. Looking down, I see a few inches of water licking around my heels. Disentangling myself from Marina and the handsome sailor, I say something about a pipe bursting and excuse myself.

Knowing my brother is busy handling the bar, I seek out the source of the leak. I splash through the packed crowd and follow the flow of the water. But it doesn’t lead to any walls. Instead, it is coming from the staircase. I stare up it, barely able to hear the beat of jazz behind the two soundproofed doors, and cold fear seeps into me.

Because the water is flowing down. Our stairs are a small waterfall, and the flow is intensifying.

My instincts scream at me to run, but I force myself to turn back. I push through the doors, fighting the rise of the water that drags at them. People are already staring at the water. “Police!” I scream in the direction of the bar.

There’s an instant, practiced movement. People flood against me towards the doors and I lead them out. This is what we do, well-rehearsed. The water is up to my ankles by the time I reach the stairs, and I’m the first one up.

Which means I’m the first one to see the waves rolling along the lines of the street. Icy panic races down my spine, because the scent of the sea is in my nose, because this is no pipe break. This is the ocean coming in.

Rain hammers down and the fierce wind yanks at my hair. People pour out around me, and I grab Marina when I see her white dress. “High ground,” I tell her. “We must go up.”

The water swirls around my knees now, and roars down the steps in a vengeful torrent. We go against it, towards Miami Ridge. It’s the walk I make each morning to get a proper view of the ocean, and I know it’s the highest point around. I fight my fear for my brother, but Marina isn’t from around her – and if she drowns, her father will cut off our supply of Cuban rum, and our speakeasy will die. My brother would kill me if I let that happen.

We fight our way against the wind and water up the heights. When the ocean finally lets go of my feet, I can see nothing by grey, furious water ahead of me. Looking back, the city of Miami goes dark as the electricity is devoured by the storm.

Marina tugs me into the sheltered space behind a building. “What is happening?”

She asks me. “Are we going to die?”

The question catches me. It’s the same one my brother asked my mother we were on the boat from New York to Miami with our parents, headed south to start a new life. There was a storm then too. “My mama told me everyone dies twice. Once when you stop breathing, and once when your name is forgotten.” I take her face in my hands and attempt a smile. I am drenched, a ragged thing made of salt and fear, but she almost smiles back of me. “We will not be forgotten.”

© 2018 Tovia Gehl


Tovia Gehl is a reader, writer, traveler, whiskey and beer drinker, and animal lover. When she’s not busy with any of those things she works with a law firm learning all the dirty deeds and terrible sorrows of humanity. Ideally, one day she’ll become an author and not just a writer, but right now she’s content with all the exuberant imperfection in her words and life.