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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.

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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 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.

Mini Sledgehammer April 2018

This month’s winner had some really nice things to say, among them, “I really love these events and am honored to have had my story selected.” Thanks, Craig! We really love putting them on and are proud to feature your story.

Prompts:
Character: An explorer
Action: Finding a new job
Setting: A laundromat
Prop: A dark mood


Participant foster photo

by Craig Foster

There are two kinds of people in this world and the tourist was neither. Not yet. He’d settled on an idea for a big finish: run his one good credit card to the maximum while moving through a set of cities to the north, where his people were from. Although, again, he was not yet a person. Once he’d maxed out the card he’d call it quits by slipping quietly into the sea, trying not to make waves. Leaving nothing behind.

Didn’t want to be a bother.

It’s not that the tourist was in a dark mood. He just had certain notions. Had made a career of effecting bad ideas for good people and now felt he owed himself the same courtesy. It was his best bad idea for ages and the tourist couldn’t help being a little excited about it.

Since he wanted to end in the sea he made a calculation of how far his credit would take him, and for how long. He conjured an option of eating at expensive restaurants and staying at the most overpriced hotels. The tourist would travel directly to the seaside quickly. He’d heard you learn less the more you travel. It would be a good test of this theory, although he wouldn’t reveal his findings.

Another option was predictably the opposite of the first. And he took comfort in being predictable. Namely, the tourist would go on the cheap and live on the street, eat out of dumpsters. It would become a long trip unless he died as a result of that lifestyle, which would be very disappointing for him and probably lead to a cleanup for others, investigation of some sort, and short mention in a local paper.

The tourist lived at the extremes. You had to give that to him, if nothing else.

He picked what he thought was an auspicious day. August 8, 1988. 8/8/88. A series of standing-up infinity symbols. The tourist cracked himself up on rare occasions. Day One saw him at the laundromat, washing his mother’s clothes for her one last time. He liked the smell of the place. Reminded him of the time he’d singed his arm hair as a kid, waving both arms over a stove burner per a bet he’d made with his cat.

His mother asked if he was OK with her having a new job while he was away. She’d considered becoming a singing florist so that she could do two of her most favorite things – aggravating passersby and making a real stink.

The tourist said no. He couldn’t support bad behavior or novel concepts. His mother said, “Well, go off and be The Explorer then. Look around.” The tourist didn’t like being referred to as an explorer. He thought participant might be enough.

Maybe too enough.

He said goodbye and stepped into the limo he’d hired to take him to the seaside, opened a bottle of something that looked expensive, and considered charging an over-the-top tip for the driver. Some amount that would make her uncomfortable. Get mentioned far too often during fancy dinner parties she’d be able to throw for years.

Some hours later, as the water moved over and into him, the tourist thought, “I wonder if I turned off the gas at Mom’s. Did I lock the door?” His lungs filled and he remembered that she’d asked him to buy stamps. He noticed a light-green plastic bottle floating on the surface and felt some part of him being drawn into it. “This is what they’ll remember me for,” he thought, then realized such a possibility was counter to his plan.

He tried to cry but the salt water wouldn’t let him.

At the last second he realized he might be a person, and the bottle took him in.

©2018 Craig Foster


Craig Foster is an editor based in Portland, Oregon who has had stories and art published in Box and The Newer York, spouted commentary on a variety of perceived societal missteps via an odd folio called The Door Is A Jar, and created the online architecture/design magazine Peer. These ventures no longer exist, and he realizes the claims therefore beggar belief. Thankfully, he is not a proud man.

Mini Sledgehammer October 2017

This month’s winner says, “Thanks for keeping literature alive! I enjoyed the event. It was refreshing and novel—it gives writers a sense of community and a reason to be social.” Aw, thanks, Brad!

***

Prompts:

Character: Pilgrim
Action: Crashing
Setting: Secret Room
Phrase: “Don’t wait up.”

***

The Bus Chronicles

by Brad Baymon

Here I stand!

Upon a fast moving train
as it passes by residential buildings with
glimmers of light.

I notice 4 bystanders who look like tourists,
2 men, 2 women.
The women are conversating,
the men impassive as they stare out the window into a cool dark night.
I notice the train’s lights flicker!

The women’s dialect changes,
my body temperature rises,
I feel a strange sensation all over my body.

As I raise my head I catch the farewell of a dying sunset.

Boom! All thing converging into one.

Boom! Time becomes lost within the frames of a second.

Boom! I am everything.

Present in the secret room
I’ve just entered in the reality never found.

The pilgrim in a place conveniently hidden from eyes that envy the most.

I see a young boy lavish his girl friend with kisses,
my heart a viewer in the midst of love unfolding,
tears pool,  in the corner of my eyes.

If this is true love, life in all it’s conformities is a crime against humanity.

As the train rumbles
across paved track,  I hear the crashing of steel and iron.
Speak shall I.
Is the train going fast, I ask the tourist?
“Yes it does feel fast! ”
“But I guess if you have some place to be it doesn’t.”

Exactly, I say: That’s the theory of relativity.

As the boy’s lips pulls away from his heart’s attraction,
“I love you”, ” I love you”,  was his word,
conveyed to me by the quicksilver of the moment.

As a baby in the stroller yells: Wow!
Ooooo!

The train slows down and the conductor comes on over the loud speaker.  “Sorry we have to switch operators!”

So if you’re in a hurry and have to get home, call your loved ones and tell them don’t wait up.

© 2017 Brad Baymon

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Brad Baymon: Resident of Beaverton, from Chicago. I’m a poet, writer of fantastic realism. Aspiring author, playwright, and director of the avant garde. I’m writing a series of fantastic realism short stories, similar to the one that won this Mini Sledgehammer. Lover of life, complex thinker, avid wanderer. And a kindred spirit immersed in the world.

Mini Sledgehammer December 2016

We got our Mini Sledgehammer in just between Portland’s two snowstorms this month. Thanks to everyone who came out for it! Congratulations to Benjamin Gross, who got his pick of books from the recently boosted prize box.

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Prompts:
Character: Post Modernist
Theme: Containing an epidemic
Object: Oriental Rug
Phrase: “What are you doing New Years Eve?”

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post-modernism: what Is it?: an education On what Is And what Is not, Or perhaps what might have been

By Benjamin Gross ben-gross-hs

Jackson Clearheart rubbed his feet against the threadbare Oriental rug brought back to the graduate student lounge, as the legend held, in the early part of the 20th century by the man who made the Hawthorne University English department what it was today, the venerable Professor William R. Slopes, authority on the nearer east, as it was called then, and the modernist novel, as it was coming to be called, by the cultured and educated milieu in which people such as he, Dr. Slopes, ran in that sliver of time, now almost a hundred years gone. But Jackson rarely thought of the esteemed W.R. Slopes, despite the great doctor’s name christening the ferroconcrete archway that marked the delineation of the English department from the Philosophy department (which some, much to Jackson’s immature chagrin but a veritable nothing to his more refined, older cognizance of the world and its fickle ways, would call the pride of Hawthorne University), even though the renowned professor’s name was inscribed on a gold placard in the lounge to attest to the fact that this modern Renaissance man, as the placard said (and the irony here, Jackson always thought, should not be wasted) that this modernist modern Renaissance man had brought back the fine, but now tattered and worn, Oriental rug from one of his biyearly sabbaticals in Turkey, where the man studied like no other the connection between James Joyce (who happened, not without coincidence, to have been his off and on pen pal) and the crumbling authority of the Ottoman Empire, and regardless of the fact that the Hawthorne University English department was, in fact, called the William R. Slopes Department of English and Anglophonic Cultural Studies.

As he rubbed his feet against that hallowed rug – of history known but possibly apocryphal – the future Doctor Clearheart thought of his last encounter with the eventual Doctor Emelia Alberta, holder of one Master’s degree in Slavic languages, another in Folkloric studies, and a heart that Jackson Clearheart felt himself especially qualified to judge as just, honest, and true. Emilia also happened to be a member of Jackson’s cohort, that faithful seven, slogging their way, semester by semester, poor review on Rate-My-Professor by Facebook poke from an overly libidinous undergraduate, rejection from Post-Modernism today by acceptance at The Post-Modernist Quarterly: A Review, through the five to sixteen-year ordeal that it was to earn a Ph.D. from the William R. Slopes Department of English and Anglophonic Cultural Studies. Clearheart had Alberta on his mind because just before the cessation of classes for that semester (which was yesterday), he was hustling from his graduate seminar on the Post-Modernist position on theories of love and race in the plays of Jean-Paul Sartre, with the critical distinction in mind that in translating those plays from French to English they lost their essential being and became nothingness, to the undergraduate course he taught, for the final day, that semester, “Post-Modernism: What is It?,” and as he was making his way through the crowded academic corridor, Professor Clearheart (though he was, of course, technically not a professor, but was often referred to as one by the majority of his students who did not understand the fine distinction between doctoral candidate and doctor [a distinction Jackson was never too quick to point out, feeling his duty to his students did not extend to include an education on the finer points of modern day Academic hierarchies]) bumped into semi-Professor Alberta directly beneath the vaunted Slopes Arch, which apparently did not bare the same powers as mistletoe, and asked, “What are you doing New Year’s Eve, Emelia?” “Well,” she responded, with the voice he had heard so many times in his seminar on the intersection of 17th Century piracy and the tension in British literature between the cosmos and human sexuality, but only so rarely in more casual forums, “I’ve been contacted by the Princeton Review. Apparently there’s a modern epidemic going round! Students across the country are just bombing the Verbal Reasoning section of the SAT. And the good people at the ETS spent so much of their honest time and effort to make the test more equitable and fair! It’s such a…”

“But wait,” quasi-professor Clearheart interjected, “What does that have to do with New Year’s Eve?”

“Oh, Jackson, I’m sorry. I’m always so circuitous in my speech! They’re flying me out to Princeton for the next two weeks to help them overhaul the test. They think that I can help them, because of my skillset in different languages and cultures, make the exam a bit more approachable. What are you doing, Jack?”

“Well,” he responded, “to conjecture as to what I might be doing would be a relic of the modernist thought, and since I am a strict post-modernist, I guess all I can say is that I’ll be thinking of you.”

© 2016 Benjamin Gross

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Ben grew up on the east coast but is happy to now call Portland home.  He has an M.A. in English literature and enjoys studying and writing about the plays of Shakespeare.  Ben also writes poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction.  His current project is a collection of essays drawn from his experiences driving from South Florida to Oregon.