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Mini Sledgehammer September 2014: “The Vacation of a Lifetime”

Thanks to everyone who came out for 36 minutes of writing competition in September! Congratulations to winner Kent Nightingale.

Prompts
Character: An imposter
Action: The moon
Setting: Starting over
Phrase: “Don’t tell me…”

***

The Vacation of a Lifetime

by Kent Nightingale

“Don’t ever tell me this wasn’t exciting enough for you, Dale.”

“Okay, Chuck, I’ll try to keep that in mind. Honestly I thought there would be more mountains and caves in this place. It’s kind of like Kansas.”

“Well shit, I don’t know what to tell you. Next time we’ll buy tickets to Jupiter. I hear the weather there keeps one guessing.”

Flights to the general public had gone on sale in 2024, but it was another ten years before Chuck could afford two tickets to the moon, wealthy as he was. He was a practical guy in that sense. Always shopping for a bargain. He’d have bought a one-way ticket if it were more cost effective. Funny thing is, even in a far out place like the Earth’s only natural satellite, a tourist is a tourist. They began their days swimming in the hotel pool, gazing out the impressive walls of glass into the blackness of space.

After breakfast, a menu of UFO cakes and Marshan juice, they waited in the terminal for their daily tour. A vehicle not so different than a minivan, with enormous treaded tires, set forth on highway L62. Traffic was a bit thick getting out of Portland, the moon’s largest city, but once they got on the open road, the perspective was impressive indeed.

“You know,” said Chuck, “for years I’ve had the notion that I’ve wanted the chance to start over. I really feel this trip might be a turning point for me, now that my divorce is over with.”

“It is” Dale replied. “It really is.” This meant a great deal to Chuck, as there were few people on Earth, or elsewhere for that matter, that knew him as well as Dale.

Though English was the official language of the moon, few of the service staff were fluent, so the men reached for their headsets, to receive the audio portion of their tour.

“Ahead you will see King’s Crater, a place any man could call home. Inside it’s underground bunker are all the essentials a human requires to live in health and harmony. Most individuals find themselves well-adjusted within a month.”

Chuck removed his headphones and grabbed Dale by the arm. Inside his heart an alarm was sounding.

“I would have told you if I could,” Dale whispered. “I couldn’t come to live here by myself, with not a friend in the world.”

Chuck only stared ahead, his face devoid of any expression.

© 2014 Kent Nightingale

***

profile_pic_2013Kent is a musician, songwriter, and outdoor enthusiast from Portland, Oregon.

Mini Sledgehammer August 2014: Blackbird Wine & Atomic Cheese

While the judges were mulling over the big Sledgehammer stories, we held a Mini Sledgehammer in Portland. Thanks to everyone who showed up!

***

Prompts:
Character: The warden
Action: Peeling back
Setting: Train car
Phrase: “Do that again and I will…”

Congratulations to Daniel Granias, who took the prizes, not for the first time!

***

It hadn’t struck us that it was illegal per se to live in a train yard. When we first arrived we’d set up camp in an open freighter that had been retired from the coal lines from Union Pacific. We had nothing more than our matching denim frame packs that we’d been issued by the foster center in Colorado. Charlie, my little sister, and I had hitchhiked our way to the northwest after the Colorado wildfires had smoked us out of our center. It had been a week before we’d seen any trace of life in the yards, and when it did, it was in the form of an old, saggy bloodhound, jowels sweeping the gravel, having traced our soot footprints to our car.

“Shhhh—shhhh—shhh…. Easy there fella,” I said. The hound first glanced at me, swooped its head back to the south, then returned its drooping eyes to Charlie, and let out a “wooo-rooo-ruugh” kind of grumble.

“Shut up!” Charlie whisper-yelled, “Do that again and I’ll tie your ears to your tail!” Not a fan of this proposition, the bloodhound lifted its nose to the sky and let out a warbling bellow of a howl.

“Who’s ‘ayre, Buckeye?” came a sharp beckon from behind the line of tracked cars south of our camper.

At that we ran, sending a combination of coal dust clouds and gravel confetti at the dog and warden, who presented himself in hot pursuit, clad in olive security uniform and mirrored aviator sunglasses.

Dodging and weaving between cars, tracks, and gates, Charlie and I headed for the station, where we could get lost in the everyday traffic of passengers and pedestrians. But before we could get through the last stretch, Charlie tripped over a set of tracks and cried out. I had been leading, and y the time I heard her cry I was at least forty yards ahead. Peeling back, the bloodhound was making as fast a gain on my 8 year old sisters as I, and it was only a second before he made to pounce that I was able to grab her and throw her over my shoulder as I made way for the station.

After bursting through the door, we ran into the lobby, only to run straight into a team of officers meeting in the lobby.
“Where do you kids think you’re going?” One asked.

“We don’t know, sir.” I said, confessionally.

A second guard took a close look at the label on Charlie’s tattered frame pack, and mentioned, “You kids from Boulder?”

How did he know?

“Yeah I was stationed there not too long ago, my wife knew them folks that ran that youth center. We can get you back home there if y’like.”

By that time the original warden had entered the group.

“you left this behind.” And he handed my pack.

© 2014 Daniel Granias

Mini Sledgehammer June 2014: Blackbird Wine & Atomic Cheese

Sledgehammer founder Ali McCart got to host her only Mini Sledgehammer in Portland for the year this month. It’s great to be back, Portland! Thanks to Daniel Granias and J.B. Kish for coming out.

Here were the prompts, no doubt inspired by things Ali missed about Portland:

Character: A bike rider
Action: Receiving a message
Setting: During a summer storm
Prop: A guitar

Congratulations to J.B. Kish for taking home the prizes. Love the intensity in this piece!

***

What Comes Next?

By J.B. Kish
“A-sharp. G. Show him, Allison, show him.”

Allison, breathless and clothes sticking to her paper-like skin, repeated her mantra, riding the ten-speed up the lonely saguaro-riddled highway with strange determination. The monsoon rain was biting at her neck, the summer storm overtaking her faster than she’d thought something naturally capable. Here she was, a thirty-two year old bicyclist from Portland, Oregon, terrified for the first time in her life to be riding a saddle at three in the afternoon.

“A-sharp. G. Show him, Allison,” she barked to herself. “Show him you can do this.”

She kicked the pedals down, allowing the pendulum of momentum to suck her heels upward, then she repeated this process again and again. Soon, the rain came in horizontal sheets and slapped against the cracked pavement rhythmically. In a matter of seconds, her picturesque view of the Catalina Mountains was swallowed by gray—what was it, clouds? Fog? She focused on the road in front of her—the only three feet she could make out between eyelid-soaked blinks and bursts of air she ejected from her bottom lip in an effort to shake free her face from that unavoidable soaking.

“A-sharp. G.”

She plucked at the guitar strings of her mind, suddenly imagining herself in front of the mirror hidden in her childhood home’s attic. She was holding her father’s guitar in her arms, wondering desperately how to play the song he’d taught her. The one that he played for her when she was afraid to go to sleep at night. Afraid of the monsters of adulthood.

“Think, Allison,” she demanded of herself. “What comes after G. Think goddamnit.”

But she couldn’t remember. The storm yawned once more, spooking her toward the center of the road. A single pair of headlights approached, blinked, and soared past. She thought to herself how close she might have come to death had she accidentally steered in front of the car just moments before.”

“A-sharp. G. Show him you can do this.”

She closed her eyes and tried to shake the thundering clamor of storm. She pumped harder and harder. Running from something she wasn’t entirely sure of. Running from the message she’d received just five days earlier. Running from those words on the voicemail.

“Goddamnit,” she cried, taking a mouthful of rain. “What comes after G?!”

“Straighten your hand, and press here.”

She imagined her father, suddenly sitting next to her, holding her hand in his own.

“It’s important you learn discipline,” he told her, his words that special mixture of warmth and emotionless-instruction that only a father can produce. “It’s important you learn, Allison. I won’t always be here to help you.” He looked at her, his expression flat in the attic mirror.

“A-sharp. G. Then what?”

“Show him Allison.”

“A-sharp. G. Then what?”

“Allison, it’s your mother. Where are you?”

“Straighten your hand. Then press hard here”

“Allison, I’ve called you five times. Don’t make me do this over voicemail.”

“No, press harder here.”

“Allison, It’s your father. The doctors say he fought so hard…”

“Show him, Allison. Show him you can remember what comes next.”

“Allison. It’s your father—”

© 2014 J.B. Kish

***

J.B. Kish

J.B. Kish

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

Mini Sledgehammer March 2014: Blackbird Wine & Atomic Cheese

This month’s winner, A. L. Adams, used the prompts in interesting ways, and we love the twist this second-person story takes.

Character: The person no one expected
Setting: Where everything is topsy-turvy
Prop: Untied shoelaces
Phrase: Watch your step!

***

Watch your step when you go down to the boathouse. In the winter, the stairs are frosty; in the summer the top ones are mossy and the ones at the waterline are often beslimed. If you want me to escort you, Nan, I will.  I’ll hold your and and slip my arm under your elbow to support you as we climb.

The boats are closer now; the tide is higher so they make free with more of the space. The Tollycraft wears a green visor; the tugboat’s got that brick­red stripe, designed to disguise whatever rust. No, Nan; we’re not getting on them. Yes, Nan, they are “quite a sight.” The trees? We could cross the bridge to see those trees, but remember? You didn’t like that last time. Yes, Nan, the rocks are dirty but no, we can’t clean them. Those are barnacles. See how they’re so stuck­-on?

Now let’s go in the boathouse so you won’t get too cold. We’ll open the door so you can still see the boats. This door seems stuck—no, i’m creaking it open…Hey. Everything’s in disarray. The ropes are unlooped and flung like shoelaces. Our little skiff is turned halfway over, gagging on water. The other boat…Another boat? We don’t have one! But there it is, another boat, hull­up on the concrete walkway like a space invader’s pod. Wait…I know that boat. Oh, God! It’s rolling over!

Dad?

Oh, God; how long have you been here? We didn’t know your sentence was up.

What the fuck do you mean, “It’s not?” Pardon my French, Nana, but Dad. What the FUCK.

Nana—no, it’s okay Honey. This is Wallace. Yes you do. Your son.

Dad. Fuck. We never saw you, okay?

We’re just…okay okay. Nana Honey? We saw the boats and now we’re going. That’s it; very good. I’ve got your hand, Dear.

Watch your step now as we go up these stairs.

They can be slippery.

Yes. I know.

©2014 A. L. Adams

 

A. L. Adams daylights as an art spy for the Portland Mercury and Oregon ArtsWatch. She moonlights as many things, and has more than a few stories.

 

Mini Sledgehammer February 2014: Blackbird Wine & Atomic Cheese

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

 

Character: A Good Samaritan

Action: Seeing something that wasn’t meant to be

Setting: The eye of the storm

Phrase: Well, that was unexpected

***

Eye of the Storm

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

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

“What are you doing here?”

It was all she could think to say.

“I had to see you.”

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

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

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

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

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

 

©2014 Pamela Russell Bejerano

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

Mini Sledgehammer January 2014: Blackbird Wine & Atomic Cheese

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

Character: A reformed omnivore

Action: Choosing bananas

Setting: The bottom of the bowl

Phrase: Oh yes, I know the Muffin Man

***

The Difference Between Snow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey asshole, are you paying attention?”

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

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

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

©2014 J.B. Kish

J.B. Kish

J.B. Kish

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

 

Mini Sledgehammer December 2013: Blackbird Wine & Atomic Cheese

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

Character: Timekeeper

Action: Pencil it in

Setting: Calendar sales rack

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

***

Untitled

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2013 Daniel Granias