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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.

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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 June 2015

Big congratulations to J. Turner Masland, for whom this is his first time seeing his fiction published! We proud to post your work.

***

Character: A drummer
Action: Tipping a waiter
Setting: A cemetery
Prop: A cellar door

***

Untitled

by J. Turner Masland

I can never tell if the flirtation from a food service worker is because they find me attractive or if they just want a big tip. Either way, I love the attention.

It was June and I was two weeks into to a new city. Feeling lonely and a little lost, my evenings were spent seeking human contact. Anything from eye contact to everlasting friendship. Especially after my arduous days in a sterile and soul crushing call center, dealing with customer complaints all day, I needed a little real life face to face interaction.

All the stools at the bar in the restaurant around the corner from my dingy sublet are fully occupied, so I grab a table. Which I don’t mind, but it makes it harder to chat with my fellow patrons.

“Hi. My name is Tony and I will be taking care of you tonight. What can I get you, handsome?” The waiter looks down over his pad with a twinkle in his eye. I start to sweat. Usually I only get attention from men when I am four or five whiskeys in at the trashy gay bar downtown. I feel that electric charge that hits the pit of my stomach and zaps my groin that comes with flirty with a really cute guy.

“Whisky ginger.”

“Coming right up.”

With each drink comes more eye contact, more sly smiles, a few probing questions. All from him. Again, I can’t tell if he wants the tip or he wants… the tip. But I am hungry for his attention. And with each drink I get bolder. And happier. And warmer

Soon it’s approaching midnight.

“Well, handsome, my shift is over. Can I cash you out?”

“Of course,” I reply, “only if I get your number.”

“Better yet,” He says ”why don’t you join me for a walk. I always need to unwind after my shifts. And it’s a full moon. Perfect for a late night stroll”

Fuck. Yes. I smile and nod

It’s one of those magical summer nights. Cool breeze in the air, but the sun’s warmth from earlier is radiating off the concrete. The moon is bright and the stars seem to dance.

We wander through the neighborhood. I tell him about my move and my job and I stop when I start to mention my loneliness. He listens and nods.

Soon we hear drumming. Which feels odd. Mostly because we are approaching the lone pine cemetery.

I look to my handsome waiter “Drumming?” I ask

It’s June and a full moon in Portland” he says, “I am surprised this is the first drum circle we’ve stumbled across.”

We enter the cemetery. The gravestones seem to flow fluorescent in the moonlight. I expected there is be a fire. Most nocturnal drum circles I experienced back east were always around a camp fire.

But not this one. a few dozen drummers were around an angelic statue. The marble figure looked up to the sky, as if it was beseeching a higher power. The rhythm was steady. I couldn’t tell if wa rehearsed or improved. But it was animalistic. Along with the drummers were a few dancers, with dark fabric over their arms, looking like bat wings.

Time was lost. I don’t know if we stood there for five minutes or five hundred. That electricity in my stomach was replaced by the beats of the drummers. The dancers turned from bats to angels to birds. The swirled and flew and floated. They stars started to spin and the moon pulsed with the rhythm of the drummers.

Through the chaos, I locked eyes with one drummer. A light seemed to emanate from him and his gaze felt inviting. As if he wanted me to join his collective. As if I was brought here, to this grave yard for that purpose. And for a brief moment I wanted to.

But then Tony’s warm breath was on the back of my neck as he whispered into my ear. I couldn’t hear what he said over the drummer. But feeling my handsome waiter face so close to my own sent that zap of electricity back through my body overpowering the rhythm of the drummers.

Tony’s hand slipped into mine and he led me away into the night.

Had I know that I would be found dead, head cracked open and thrown through a cellar door into the basement of an abandoned building. I would have stayed there. At the drum circle. Taking the drummer’s invitation and joining the dancers. Using my feet, my hands, my body to contribute to the rhythm.   Had I known, I would have never taken that handsome waiters hand.

©  2015 J. Turner Masland

***

Masland02132014J. 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.