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Mini Sledgehammer February 2017

We had a very special Mini Sledgehammer this month, because it fell on Valentine’s Day. What better way to celebrate than with a glass of wine and some great stories?

We mixed up the prompt style a bit this month. Here’s what the judges came up with:
The velvet glove
Hysteria Drive
Blonde’s Heart of Glass
Umbrella

Congrats to J. Turner Masland for winning! Here’s how he incorporated the prompts.

***

Umbrella

by J. Turner Masland

Much like witchcraft, fighting fascism is an ancient tradition that will always find a place in modern times. Instructions are rarely documented, occasionally transcribed, and most commonly passed through the generations orally. There are periods of times when our activities feel almost mainstream, and other times it is necessary for us to go underground. Today, we are in a time of transition. We are shaking off the cobwebs, coming out of the shadow, and hitting the street.masland

That said, it’s still not safe to live out loud. Persecution can come from anywhere, at any time, swiftly and strongly. Our resistance must be nimble and most importantly creative. Like a tropical hurricane, members of the revolution are drawn together like charged atmospheric particles, rain down chaos and disruption and then disappear like a strong wind. We are unpredictable. We are dangerous. We are necessary for the survival of the planet.

A successful action will appear serendipitous to the public eye, but often take weeks of tactical planning. Our plans cannot be documented. In the age of electronic transfer of information, meeting in person is still less dangerous than snapchat. The key is to find a location to meet someplace public and innocuous yet a where we will go unnoticed. Members of the Velvet Glove have a long history of meeting in libraries. Much like revolutionaries, at first glance libraries appear serene but in reality are quite subversive.

I love that the local university is located on Hysteria Drive. It adds an element of feminism to its location. I walk in and pull out my earbuds, Blonde’s Heart of Glass is replaced by the dull murmur of a library at the start of finals week.

I arrive two hours early. It’s important that I blend in. I must look like a college student. I wander the stacks, pulling copies of Foucault. His original writing, critiques, analysis. I pull down bell hooks. And just for fun, some Alison Bechdel. No matter what city or state I am in, I know I will find my friends in the library.

I find an open table in a corner of the quiet floor and read. Even with an authority regime undermining American Democracy, there is always time to read.

I must have fallen asleep, as I am shaken awake by a soft hand.

“Excuse me, have you lost your umbrella?” says a soft voice.

The word umbrella jolts me awake. It’s the password of the Velvet Glove. Used to pass messages between members of various cells. For our protection, it best not to know every member of the organization. But usually, it’s used when you’re expecting a communique from another group. Hear it out of context instantly makes me paranoid. I don’t recognize this petite woman. I notice her name badge and I realize that she is a reference librarian here.

“Excuse me?” I ask.

“Your umbrella. I noticed you don’t have it with you today.”

Her eyes are sharp. There is a bead of sweat at her hairline.

“You’re right, I didn’t expect it to rain.”

“Oh dear,” she says “In the pacific northwest you really shouldn’t leave home without one. I have an extra in my office, why don’t you come and see if it will meet your needs.”

Much like a sex worker, a revolutionary must decide in a heartbeat if they can trust a stranger or not. I decide to trust the librarian.

“Ok,” I start to gather my books. I realize I am sweating, too.

“Please leave the books here, I really need to get you an umbrella. Follow me, my office is just one floor down.

For such a small woman, she moves quickly. Like a shark, she glides between tables. It’s almost like she is trying to lose me. The path through the stacks she takes me on feels like a path through the labyrinth.

I glance at my watch. I was supposed to meet my fellow operatives right now. I glance back at my table, hoping they will wait for me.

As I glance back, we pass two police officers. My heartbeat is in my throat. Cops in the library are never a good sign.

“Follow me through the staff entrance. Don’t stop moving.”

As she leads me to the door behind the circulation desk, I look out the big glass windows and see three young men sitting on the ground, hands behind their backs, with six officers standing over them in a menacing manner. One of the young men is sobbing. The other two have blank expressions on their faces. And, that’s when I realize, I’ve been saved by the librarian.

© 2017 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 October 2016

J. Turner Masland is back with another prize-worthy story. Thanks to all who came out this week, and congratulations, Turner!

Prompts:
Character: A mechanic
Action: Listening to Bruce Springsteen on NPR on Fresh Air
Location: Church
Phrase: “It’s just locker room talk”

 

***

Sanctuary

by J. Turner Masland

The sun danced down through the sugar maple tree leaves already yellowing on an October afternoon and now seemed to be saturated with the late afternoon light.

Jerry was walking up his five mile driveway, which wound through some backwood hills. He was walking back from the mainroad and his mailbox. Checking the post was how he justified his afternoon walks to his family: but in reality they were his afternoon devotions, his ritual to commune with the spirit. He replaced life with an institution with this mountain acreage, which has been his sanctuary for many decades now.

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His greasy hands carried a few bills and some seed catalogs. Toby the golden retriever raced ahead, on the scent of some woodland creature. He hitched up his sagging jeans and shuffled some pebbles out of his way. The cool mountain air and the breeze through the tree boughs brought him peace.

He crested a hill and rounded a corner and paused to take in the sight before him. Some cleared land, a full two acres of gardens, his garage, and an ancient farmhouse. His home: his pride and joy. Today it looked glorious bathed in the afternoon light with the trees in the distance just starting to turn. He left life as a minister, too fed up with the hypocrisies of the church and the faced paced speed of modern life, to start his life as a mountain man. His children at the time were just toddlers and loved their new life of homeschool and exploring the woods. But after years of hard work and farm chores, their enthusiasm vanished and they all ran away as soon as they could. His sweet wife, Gertrude, though, has stood by his side through tough winters and bountiful harvests.

As he approached the house, he could hear Terry Gross’ voice float across the homestead. Gertie insisted on the radio, one of the few connections to the modern world. It reassured her, while they lived their life off the grid, to have an umbilical cord of radio waves to know that the rest of humanity hadn’t totally imploded.

Jerry threw the mail down on the porch, let Toby into the kitchen, and made his way to the garage. He rolled up his sleeves, and started tinkering with the motor of his ford pickup. With a little ingenuity and a few old manuals, he managed to keep the old piece of shit running.

“How was your walk, hun?” He heard Gertie approach the garage.

“Just fine, my darling. Who is Terry talking to today?”

“Oh, she is interviewing that Bruce Springsteen. Can you imagine? Seventy-five years old and just released another album. This one protesting Trump’s second term. He called it ‘Locker Room Talk.’ Silly business, if you ask me.”

“Silly, maybe. If Bruce ain’t careful, he gonna wind up under one of Chris Christie’s secret tribunals. God damn, how did this shit get so fucked up….”

“I know, Jerry, I know. Any word from the kids…?”

Jerry looked up from the motor and shook his head. Gertie knows not to get her hopes up, but she just can’t help it.

Starting before the 2016 election, when things started to get real ugly, Jerry and Gertie began their preparations. Stockpiling seeds. Teaching themselves how to install solar panels. Expanding their root cellars. Talking about getting some horses and donkeys to help with plowing the fields.

When the unthinkable happened, and Trump took advantage of the missing Supreme Court Justice to weasel his way into office through a contested election, they gave up on all electronic communication. Their kids thought they had finally lost it. They indulged their parents’ letter writing at first, but turned down their invitations to return to the farm. Soon the letters just stopped.

But Gertie and Jerry knew: the increased oil drilling, the alliance with Russia, the centralization of power, the mass deportations, the increased militarization, the occupation of latin america were all signs of the end of times. Jerry may no longer be a minister, but he was still expecting the four horseman to appear any day now.

“Come on, hun,” Gertie prodded Jerry, “The sun tea is done brewing and I have a new batch of mint balm for your shoulder…”

Jerry wiped his greasy hands on the back of his jeans and followed his wife to the house. The smell of smoke from the woodstove put some worries out his mind, for the moment.

Jerry and Gertie spent the afternoon on the porch. He was helping her ball up skeins of wool, and Terry Gross’ voice lulled him to sleep.

“Jerry…. Jerry…” Gertie shook him awake.

“What, dear, what is it?”

“Listen,” She said.

He looked out over the field, now blazed with pink and reds as the sun set behind the hills.

“Gertie, all I hear are the evening swallows chirping in the trees. It’s a mighty peaceful sound.”

“Exactly, Jerry. The radio went silent.”

“You check the batteries?”

“We’ve been using the solar one and it was fully charged.”

Grunting, he got up and got the emergency radio down from the cupboard. He cranked it three, four, five time. Static. He walked over to the other radio, moved the dial up and down. Static. The radio has been on constantly, for years. Radio silence could only mean one thing…

Gertties eyes pierced him. “It’s time, Jerry. It’s happening.”

“I think you’re right, hun…. Let’s get out the guns. Pray to the lord we aren’t going to need them. And pray to the lord our children fiend their way back to us.”

© 2016 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 September 2016

The first Mini Sledgehammer was in September, so I guess that makes this month our anniversary! Congratulations to Joseph Aldred for winning the anniversary Mini Sledgehammer.

***

Prompts:
Character: A guard
Action: Blowing one’s nose
Setting: A factory
Prop: A cabbage

***

Untitledjoseph-mini-sledge

by Joseph Aldred

“I hate these late nights,” Jacob said, flicking the flash light on and of a few times before setting it back on the desk.

“Yeah, well you coulda guessed there would be a few of those with this job Earl,” Izzy said not looking up from the Batman comic she had read more than her fair share of times. “Personally, I prefer not having to be around people.”

“I didn’t expect I would be swinging the grave shift every week though.” He had been looking at one of the monitors, wondering briefly what all those machines meant. He sniffed and wiped his nose with the sleeve of the marine blue jacket. “I’ll be happy when the get done with my jacket, maybe you’ll stop calling me that. What do they do here anyway?”

“Make something–I don’t care; I just make sure nobody makes off with anything.”

“Anybody ever break in or cause problems?”

“Naw–well one time, some kids were fooling around in the parking lot, drinking, smoking–just fucking around ya know.”

“What’d you do?”

She looked up over the top of the page where Batman had just socked Joker one and was in the process          of tying him up.  She laughed a harsh laugh, “I joined em, what do you think?”

“Christ, how old were they?”

“I don’t know, high school or something. I didn’t buy them the booze and they were willing to share if I let them stay. Why don’t you take a walk around and check things out? I’ll stay here and hold down the fort.”

“Mom sent sandwiches and other snacks if you want.”

“What’s on em?”

“Turkey, cheese, that spicy mustard she likes. You know, the usual–I think she even threw in some Oreos for you.” Izzy had been an eternally ongoing love affair with them and all their artery clogging goodness since middle school, like many kids.

“Ha mom, of course she would add those. You’d think I was the one with a new job, not you. Why do you let her do that stuff anyway?”

“You know, she likes to feel needed,” Jacob said sniffling his almost perpetually runny nose. He turned to leave the security office, one hand pressing the door half way open before he turned back, “two of the sandwiches had cabbage, she didn’t have any lettuce and I don’t think she marked any of them.”

“I think I’ll be okay, you said Oreo and all thoughts of food stopped there.”

“She said not to let you eat just those.” He sniffled again and pushed open the door to leave.

“And I’m sure you’ll run right home and tell her. How’s she doing anyway?”

“She’s been holding up okay, talks about you coming over sometime for dinner ya know.” He sniffed again and rubbed slowly at his nose.

“You know that’s gross, just go blow your nose already.”

“I hate the way my ear’s pop.”

“Just do it and be done with already.”

“I’ll do it after you eat one of those sandwiches and take it easy on those cookies–they’ll give you a heart attack.”

“We’ll see, go have a look around, blow your nose in peace, and I’ll sit here keeping an eye on how Mr. J is doing.”

Jacob pushed through the door, pulling a handkerchief from his back pocket as he walked, hitched up his pants and put the cotton to his nose.

© 2016 Joseph Aldred

***

Joseph Aldred lives in Vancouver, Washington. By night he is a writer, by day he is a writer only when his boss isn’t around. He loves to eat sushi with his kids and to drink the occasional bottle of cider. He works freelance creating content for the web.

Mini Sledgehammer July 2016

Congratulations to Donald on his second win!
***
Prompts:
Character: A diplomat
Action: Going viral
Setting: Before the revolution
Phrase: “Gotta catch ’em all”
***

Only the Lonely

by Donald Carson

They call me a monster. And perhaps I am. Donald_Carson

They call me a lover. And I do have my moments.

I do not think they suspect that in my large and fiery heart lies the spark of sensibility. To them, I am just a large lump. A thing to take advantage of until no more advantages remain to be taken.

They talk about leaving me. I would like to see them try! They have hurled themselves away from my massive body but they always return, like fleas flick back onto a dying dog.

They give me no credit for creating them, and perhaps they are right. Perhaps it was not I who brought them into being, but something larger than myself. Perhaps there is a God.

I doubt it.

I was lonely. I longed for a mind to share my deep, dark cavernous thoughts with. And so I fiddled and I fidgeted. I sent lighting where lightning might not have gone. I crafted and I coddled. I was quite clever, if I do say so myself. Eventually things went viral, as they say now, and I sat back to watch.

It took awhile, but I had awhile. Fire burned, and cauldron bubbled.

And forth they came.

How they have disappointed me! I thought to have companions, but instead I have a mange, that spreads across my skin, leaving death in its tracks.

And they think me a monster. Oh, I kill them casually enough, as one brushes a mosquito from one’s shoulder, or poisons ants. Gotta catch ’em all!

So I am a monster. But I am also a diplomat. I want them to one day be my equal, so I try to keep them alive, but I despair how long it will take. Or whether I will have to start over.

They are the humans I birthed in my wet womb. And I, I am the planet they call the Earth. Brooding, scheming, and always hopeful that someday I will meet my equal. Before the revolution that is intelligence spread across my surface I had given up hope.

Now, I have a tiny particle of hope. Will they someday evolve into a companion for me?

Oh, I’ve reached across the emptiness and tapped Venus on the shoulder. I’ve called out to Saturn. But apparently I am the only sentient planet in hailing range.

And while they prattle, and dissect their minuscule existences, and give themselves hugs, and take selfies, I wait.

For a friend.

© 2016 Donald Carson

***

Donald lives in Portland, where he works in digital content and user experience, which is a fancy way of saying he tries to make websites and apps more useful for businesses and their customers. He is a food addict and must eat at least 3 times a day to sustain a metabolic high. He also enjoys avoiding things he knows he should do, working on the same novel for 10 years, and tending to the needs of 2 furry animals which for some reason have taken up residence in his house.

Mini Sledgehammer May 2016

Donald has cropped up to quite a few Indigo events lately—happy hour chats, write-ins, and now Mini Sledgehammer! Thanks for being part of our community, Donald, and congratulations on winning.

***

Prompts:
Character: A delivery person
Action: Taking x-rays
Setting: An ice rink
Phrase: “Heads up”

***

The Disappearance of Bobby Gond

by Donald Carson

Everyone searched and searched, but they could not find him.Donald_Carson

If ever a 7-year-old could have been said to have vanished, it was Bobby.

His grandmother, old Muriel Gond, who was raising Bobby after his mother had left town with a pizza delivery person Muriel referred to only as “that man,” stomped all over the property, looking in old refrigerators, rusting car carcasses, and oil drums.

She pulled things off of shelves.

She clattered in the garage, in the barn, in the overhang where the big RV had been parked for ten years without moving an inch.

She yelled until she was hoarse.

And she was not alone. The entire town of Ice Rink, Idaho (pop. 837) roamed the streets shouting Bobby’s name until the glow on the horizon disappeared and it was too dark to see. Many of them abandoned the search then, but a few of the brave flashlight owners got them out, dusted them off, and continued searching across the fields, rustling through the grass like a herd of migrating elk.

Muriel worried that Bobby had never spent a night out of his bed before, and would be scared to be by himself in the dark. The matriarchs of the town comforted her as they sat up into the night, watching Fox News and waiting for their own news from the search parties.

Morning came. The sun rose, and the town rose, but no Bobby. Muriel Gond finally fell into a troubled sleep. She was a religious woman, and in a dream God came to her, pressed a cold cloth to her brow, and, in the voice of Charleton Heston, told her not to worry.

They never did find Bobby.

The search went on for several days. In the second week, it became half-hearted. In the third week, it was quarter-hearted, and so on, until there was no heart left at all.

It should be said, and here is as good a place as any, that Bobby was no ordinary boy. You only know him as a missing child, but to those who knew him, Bobby was a delight. Most young boys you can take or leave. Mostly leave. They’re noisy, smelly, and fully of questions that don’t need answering. The best you can say about 7-year-old boys is that they’ll “probably turn out OK.”

But Bobby was different. Smart, funny, and kind, he made everyone around him glad to see him show up and sorry to see him leave.

And when he disappeared from their lives so suddenly and mysteriously, the town of Ice Rink was forever more subdued after that.

Muriel took ill, with a fever, and raged and groaned and was on the verge of cursing God, but thought better of it. They needed his help to find Bobby. She grew no better, and finally the doctor took x-rays to see what was the matter. He could find nothing wrong.

But one day Muriel sprang out of bed, exclaiming that God had come to her in a dream and told her that all was accounted for. That was all she would say. But she never was quite the same after that, fading like wallpaper in the sun as the years went by.

And the years did go by. Muriel, who had been old when Bobby went missing, grew even older.

And then she died.

Muriel had been something of a hoarder, saving the possessions of her late husband Josephus X. Gond in careful stacks as though his life had been worthy of furnishing a museum.

After Bobby disappeared, she became even worse. Perhaps she thought that by saving everything that came into her life she could somehow atone for having misplaced her grandson.

When she died, the town had a lot of sorting to do. The one Goodwill was strained to the bursting point with the detritus of Muriel Gond’s home and many outbuildings.

Before he settled in Idaho, Josephus had been a cook in the Merchant Marine, and one of the things he’d brought back with him was the taxidermied corpse of an alligator perched on a rock, swatting at a stuffed kingfisher flying overhead on a wire. No one knew how Josephus had managed to get the ridiculously heavy thing from God Knows Where to his home, but he had. And it had the place of honor in the middle of the garage, where it had lain, gathering the dust of the ages, for half a century.

When it came time to take the alligator out of the place, it took seven men and a truck with a winch.

As they were dragging it into the yard, it came apart. Turns out the rock that alligator was on was hollow—who knew?

Someone yelled “heads up” at the man driving the truck and he stopped tugging.

They all gathered around the rock that had split horizontally in two, showing the hollow space within.

Where the skeleton of a young boy lay, perfectly preserved, his empty eye socket pressed against a small hole in the rock, gazing eternally at the world outside.

No one could figure out how Bobby had gotten himself into the hollow of the rock without help, nor why no one had heard him yelling when they searched.

But there he was.

What was not widely reported, and only spoken of in hushed tones among the townspeople, was that the skeleton had grown small wings—just bones now—that curled against his body as he lay.

It couldn’t be explained.

But anyhow, there is so much in this life that can’t be explained, isn’t there?

© 2016 Donald Carson

 

***

 

Donald lives in Portland, where he works in digital content and user experience, which is a fancy way of saying he tries to make websites and apps more useful for businesses and their customers. He is a food addict and must eat at least 3 times a day to sustain a metabolic high. He also enjoys avoiding things he knows he should do, working on the same novel for 10 years, and tending to the needs of 2 furry animals which for some reason have taken up residence in his house.