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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 February 2018

We had a great crowd this month!

Prompts:
Character: An old man
Action: To electrify
Setting: In a recording studio
Prop: A heart-shaped box


Ron the ManEversmann SH photo

by Bobby Eversmann

Ron has two hearts. Ron is strong now. Ron used to leak cheese-colored spit from his lips. Now Ron’s blood runs strong like black-red ox blood. Ron’s other heart he keeps in a box inside of a box shaped like a heart, a real heart, a box made for a heart, an actual human beating heart, the box on top of his pillow. The one he doesn’t sleep on. The other side of Ron’s big lovely queen. Ron dreams dreams where he holds his heart in his hands, electrifies it with plier-wires, wires into his car, car wires, wires he pulled out of his radio with his bare hands, his hands wrapped deadly in copper wires, his wired hands holding his butterfly beating heart, running high beating with his car engine running. AC/DC, AC/DC, Ron loves AC/DC, rock and roll and swift communication. See Ron. See Ron love. See Ron’s heart beat like ten thousand hot wings of the eagles of freedom. Wow! Ron. See Ron hold his heart in his hands, kiss his own heart, wink. Hi Ron! What a heart Ron! What a heart Ron’s got, what a love, what a love for the world, what a big heart, how gracious is Ron, loves every boy and girl. Ron’s new heart is a little girl’s heart. Three AM Ron nuzzles his heart, his own nose in his own artery. Smells like me, says Ron. Smells like I used to smell. Smells like an old can of beets, like an old cat, like world famous stilton. His lips mixed with his flesh bloody heart, cold red, lush, velvet wet his heart, kisses his own heart, his old heart. Ron’s new heart is a little girl’s heart. A little girl who could have been a doctor! A teacher! But most of all could have been a singer, that girl had a voice. That girl sang like dribbled gold, a desperate grabbing voice that girl, and then that live wire left alone at the pool, the downed one nobody noticed. The little girl—Ron’s not privy to the name—put her feet on it, stepped on it, stepped onto the wire, an eel, an electric eel, and—zap—died. There at the pool. Swam all day at the pool. Climbed out of the pool. Died. And now she lives on in Ron. She could have been a singer. And now she lives on in Ron’s home recording studio, Ron, the podcaster, Ron, Wolf-man Ron coming to you live from Fresno, California, this week we’ve got a great show for you folks, this week we’re dialing up old loves, old flames, old trophies. This week we’re in love. I’m in love with you. And you’re in love with me. Listeners, oh faithful listeners, let me hold you in this little girl’s heart while I kiss my own heart to sleep. Ron the Faithful. Ron the Bold. Ron of Oak Meadow Lane. Ron, what a man, what a man, what a man with a mighty young heart.

© 2018 Bobby Eversmann


Bobby is an editor for the IPRC’s 1001 Journal and the national bookseller journal, Deep Overstock. He works at Powell’s Books and has published in Portland Review, Fiction Southwest, SUSAN/The Journal and fog machine. He runs Late Night Pomes.

Mini Sledgehammer November 2017

Mini Sledgehammerers say the nicest things. This month’s winner says, “Thank you so much for offering this event!  Everyone is so supportive and creative. You’ve got a good thing going here.” We’re glad you’re part of it, Dana, and congratulations on your win!
***

Character: An angry jogger
Action: Delivering a package
Setting: Airport
Prop: Stuffing

***

Testing

by Dana StepletonDana

I scheduled the test between two mundane errands. That way I could pretend that it was just like any other boring day, as if nothing of note had really happened.

“What did you do today?” Someone might ask.

“Oh you know, went to the grocery store and the dry cleaners. Oh, and I went in for my test, too.”

“Oh, that’s nice,” they would reply, before continuing to talk about their own day, which is what they wanted to do in the first place.

So I went to the grocery store, and even though I realized that the items I bought from the frozen section would have appreciated a different order of operations, I continued straight on to the testing center. Any change to the plan at this point would throw off my feigned coolness and irrevocably upset the hypothetical conversations I had scripted in my head.

The scene did feel a bit prophetic. “What was it like, when you found out?” My future offspring would probably ask.

“It was one of those perfect Autumn days, where the leaves are every color from plum red to lemon yellow and when you step into them they crunch. It felt like a spotlight was on my every movement.” I became aware that while the leaves were probably perfect for crunching, I had not actually crunched any. To keep my future self honest, I stepped out of my path to step down into a pile that had accumulated against the brick wall that hemmed in the sidewalk.

“Watch where you’re going!” yelled a voice from behind me. I turned to see a jogger, covered in a sheen of sweat and gesturing with righteous indignation. He skirted around my impulsive path with an exaggerated parkour-like movement.

“And then, some asshole jogger got all bent out of shape and basically ran me over,” I told my hypothetical children, while simultaneously apologizing to the man. After a second, I erased this addendum from the story. Better to leave it as a prophetic fall day. The scent in the air of things to come, that sort of thing.

When I entered the actual testing center, my future conversation fell away in the face of a small mountain of paperwork to complete. I claimed a clipboard and a pen that had a spoon taped on to the top, and began to fill out my relevant details. The last sheet was a sky blue, and it had a dotted line across the middle. Just below the line was written, “For Medical Provider Only.” It was followed by a series of “choose one of the following” questions involving incomprehensible acronyms, and at the very bottom, a simple Yes/No statement:

Epigenetic material viable for life-extending protocol (LEP): YES   /     NO

I flipped the pen over and drew silent circles around the “YES” with the spoon, around and around again. I noticed the person next to me noticing me, gave a quick smile in their general direction without making eye contact, and then put the pen/spoon down. Without my silent prayer to keep me occupied, I looked around the waiting room.

It felt more like the seating area at an airport than a medical clinic. There were no crying and snot covered children, no high schoolers absorbed in their phones while trying not to think about turning their head and coughing for their required sports physical. There were only quiet, not quite middle aged men and women like me, waiting as impassively as businessmen and women wait for their commuter flight. And this room served the same purpose as an airport, really. We were gathered here, hoping to start a great journey. Only, not all of us would be allowed on the plane. The biggest overbooking fuck up in history, I thought to myself.

Eventually I was called to the back and had my blood drawn. I sat alone for about five minutes while they processed the sample, and then I was ushered into the counseling room. This was a conversation I had not rehearsed to myself. I found myself wishing I had given that “YES” a few more circles with the spoon, just for good luck.

A women with a prepackaged compassionate look greeted me at the door of the room. She ran through some platitudes, and then paused. “Irene,” she said, “I’m so sorry, but your results came back negative. You are not a qualified candidate for the LEP. As you know, this decision is made based on the quality of your epigenetic material, which would determine if the procedures would have a positive outcome. Now, I now this can be a shock. But with other medical interventions, you likely have another,” she flipped through my chart, “eighty of ninety years of quality life.”

Later I placed the melted ice cream and ruined Stouffers stuffing in the freezer like I was delivering a package to my future self. Maybe she would care about the risk of food borne illness, the wrongness of the texture in her mouth. For now I couldn’t even ask her.

© 2017 Dana Stepleton

***

Dana recently got out of the Army and is now traveling the country in her camper van as a full time vagabond. She spends her time writing, hiking, observing the locals, and keeping her existential angst tamped firmly down.

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

***

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 May 2017

Sarah is a big help at Mini Sledgehammer, especially on a super-secret project we’ll be announcing in the next couple months. But this month, she’s featured not for her helpfulness but for her writing. Congratulations, Sarah!

***

Prompts:
Character: Little sister
Setting: A covered wagon
Prop: A paintbrush
Phrase: The light shines through it

***

Tolya

by Sarah Farnham

He worked patiently. He worked frantically.Sarah Farnham

He worked by light of day and by the moonlight herself.

 

He was building a time machine.

 

“Aw, you doin’ that stuff again?”

He ignored her, focusing on spreading the paint as far and as wide as he could reach.

“Hey–”

A small tug on his painter’s smock caused his eyebrows to rise.

A shake of the ladder got him to put down his brush.

 

“Yes, hermanita?”

“I tolya I don’t know what that means. And we’re not Mexican.”

He tossed his bangs out of his face irritably.

“Little sister. I use it because I like–”

“Don’t care.”

She started walking away, tiny feet pounding into the ground.

“Well, whatdya want?” He called after her.

“Dad’s dead.”

 

That’s all she spoke, and then her mouth was shut for good. She refused to talk entirely. She hadn’t lost any of her sass–just the will to propel it past her vocal cords and into the air. She became very good at pointing.

 

The funeral was hellish. His mom barely held it together. She kept on going around the funeral telling people to leave, telling them to “go eat something–go fuck someone. Funerals are horrible.”

He crept out a side door just to get some air and smoke a joint.

A small tug on his button-up made him choke.

“God, what have I told you about creeping up on me like that?”

She pointed to the overgrown fence behind the church.

“So?”

She tugged his shirt again, leading him over.

“Oh, I gotcha. Little thief, eh?”

She frowned and stomped her foot.

“Betcha no one’s using this paint anyway.”

The cans were rusted over and probably full of shit. She tapped his arm and pointed forcefully toward one can in particular.

“Yellow. Ok. I can dig it.”

He lugged the cans into his hatchback.

 

He was seven when the covered wagon appeared in the backyard. She wasn’t around yet. They had just gotten a computer, Oregon Trail was his new obsession. He played until his eyes were red and raw and “falling out of his head.” His dad built him the wagon, asking him to exercise his imagination instead of his keyboard.

 

He grew out of it eventually–by the time she came around anyway. He would still sneak down and read at night. He kept comic books in a locked toolbox under the bench seat.

When dad got sick, he sat there more and more. It was easier than watching him die in the living room; easier than holding his mother while she screamed with anger.

The canvas was rotting away. One Saturday when things were decently calm and dad was still busy living he asked his mom to borrow the station wagon. She came with him, of course–down to the hardware store where they bought a whole roll of canvas.

She held the hammer in her tiny hands while he fixed up whatever wood had melted away. She held the staple gun while he reverse peeled the fresh canvas back onto the wagon-bones. She sat and watched and asked questions, but mostly was willing to be quiet.

He worked patiently, and he worked frantically–willing himself to finish the wagon before the end. So he could have the chance to show dad just how much he meant–

“Dad’s dead.”

 

He didn’t go back to the wagon after the funeral. Months passed–in and out of school, in and out of a daze he couldn’t shake. Nothing seemed to be real. Nothing felt right.

Their mom was drunk inside, yelling at their aunt. He couldn’t listen to her blame him anymore.

He walked to the back of the house, grabbing his setup and handling the brushes, making sure they were still pliable and clean.

She followed him, way past her bedtime–silently, like a tiny ghost.

We’re both ghosts, now–he thought.

He put an electric lamp inside, for her. He left one outside, for him.

 

He went at the covered wagon like Jackson Pollack must have attacked his canvases, like Yves Klein must have felt when he invented Blue all over again. His mind was inflamed, his hand was moving faster than light, hotter than fire–

He felt a tug.

“Not now.”

A stronger tug, now–his brush slipped.

“Goddamnit, Ash–what do you want?”

She looked up at the canvas, hand on his arm, willing him to see what she saw.

“Don’t paint anymore.” He took a careful breath, not wanting to disturb the spell of speech.

“The light shines through it.”

 

They fell asleep in front of the wagon that night, watching moths dance around the wildly painted figures of their childhoods.

© 2017 by Sarah Farnham

***

Sarah Farnham is a freelance writer living in Portland. She likes odd habits and new words.