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Mini Sledgehammer August 2016

Melinda McCamant has been promising to return for a Mini Sledge for four years, and this was the month. Not only that, but she won it too! Great to see you again, Melinda, and congratulations.

***

Prompts:
Character: A reluctant volunteer
Action: Signing a contract
Setting: A housing development
Phrase: You’re not from around here, are you?

***

Baltic Avenue

by Melinda McCamant Melinda

Just a pretty girl from Baltic Avenue: I was awed, intimidated even, by his swagger, the way his teeth glittered when he talked, his bright hotels on Boardwalk.

“You’re not from around here are you?” He whispered in my ear and I could feel the heat of his breath penetrate my brain, the bulge of brightly colored bills in his hand, a rainbow of promises.

And so I rolled the dice and we moved on, a jalopy and a top hat travelling the same path but seeing different sights.

He gambled, built hotel after hotel on credit and lies, not just Boardwalk but the railroads— even the lights and the water were his.

He had everything but Baltic Avenue. Baltic Avenue, a shadowy street lined with tiny green houses, was mine. Every time he came back around he came back to Baltic Avenue, wooing me, promising the Atlantic’s waves, promising a moon plucked and pitted from the sky.

I was tired and his light was so bright, but the moment I signed, the moment I said ‘I do’, I knew I was just another pawn—a player in his game of rainbow money and plastic hotels.

But I still had Baltic Avenue, the scent of earth in our garden after a rain, the rumble of trains in a distant rail yard, the red bite of fruit, and my mother’s kisses before she died.

It’s a funny thing to get what you think you want: the last piece of cake, a diamond, a rich man, and realize that the getting was the good part, that the journey around the board was what made the game worthwhile. Not the houses, or hotels, or rainbow money. And not the glittery man who blows hot air but deflates at a touch and cannot read anything but his own name.

I was his dutiful wife; his get out of jail free card, his reluctant volunteer hostess, his volunteer whore.

At least I still have Baltic Avenue and one more roll of the dice.

©  2016 Melinda McCamant

***

Melinda McCamant: reader, writer, photographer, recipe developer, food stylist. Sometimes there is  travel, trails, friends, and wine.
www.melindamccamant.com
www.recipefiction.com

Mini Sledgehammer July 2016

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

Only the Lonely

by Donald Carson

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

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

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

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

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

I doubt it.

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

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

And forth they came.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For a friend.

© 2016 Donald Carson

***

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

Mini Sledgehammer March 2016

We can finally see spring between the clouds! Well, every once in a while, we can. In the meantime, Mini Sledgehammerers continue to convene for wine and writing once a month, turning out a winning story like clockwork. Congratulations to Summer on her repeat win!

***

Prompts:
Character: A Doppelganger
Action: A sneeze
Setting: A marina
Prop: Roll of 2009 minted quarters

***

Untitled

by Summer OlssonSummer-3

She sat in the bar at Gino’s, her third greyhound sweating rings onto the mahogany. Through the glass she could see the whole marina, all the drooping sailboats and staunch yachts blotting out most of the blue.

The bartender had already come by twice more and she had gently rebuffed him. Normally she would have told a guy like that to fuck off and leave her alone, but her instructions were to not draw attention to herself.  She sipped her drink with her sticky red lips, and peeled her thighs off of the vinyl barstool to uncross and re-cross her legs. She fished her phone out of her bag. She only had ten more minutes to wait before the time was up and she could leave. In the beginning she thought this was kind of sexy and interesting, but it had turned out to be really boring. She’d been here for almost two hours. She decided she could take a quick bathroom break.

As she rounded the corner under the metal finger pointing the way to the “W.C.”, she was hit from behind. What cracked against her skull was a roll of quarters, freshly minted in 2009, that had been picked up at a credit union that morning, and would be dismantled and pumped into various pinball machines later that night. She did not know or care about this as her attacker dragged her unconscious body through a service door and into an alley. Blood trickled from the back of her head, but her long red hair caught it, mixed it into a sticky clot that never touched the floor. Luckily for her she didn’t regain consciousness when her assailant dropped her behind a dumpster. Certainly he did her a favor when he shot her twice, once in the head and once in the chest, before he removed the ring finger on her right hand, which he pocketed to send to his employer later.

“Did it work? Is it over?” Eddie asked, and then immediately sneezed. His allergies were really bad today. Dana knew she should feel sorry for him, but mostly she was annoyed. She was trying to concentrate. Looking through binoculars made her feel cross-eyed and gave her a headache.  She pushed some red hair behind her ear.

“Yes. It’s over.”

“Thank god!” Eddie said, and came up behind her. He put his long arms around her, pinning her arms and forcing her to lower the binoculars. Dana relaxed against him. She breathed deeply a few times. Her shoulders lowered. For the first time in two hours, she was aware of the subtle rocking of the boat. Through the window in the hull she could see gulls swooping to nip something off of the pier.

“I’ll make some drinks,” Eddie said. He went around behind the bar and took down two highballs.

She thought about how she and Eddie could watch birds now. They could sit on a beach somewhere without a constant buzz of tension. They could walk down the street in public somewhere- somewhere else at least- without being terrified.  Eddie handed her a drink. The first sip made her eyes tear up.

Dana wasn’t going to say anything to Eddie about the near miss, but it was bugging her and she knew it would get worse. “I’m glad he sent someone else. I thought he would. But we really lucked out.”

He raised an eyebrow.  “But she looked exactly like you. From a foot away he would have been fooled.” She raised her glass toward him.

“Yes, but she ordered the wrong drink. I only drink Manhattans.”

© 2016 Summer Olsson

***

Summer Olsson is a writer, director, actor, puppeteer and costume designer. She grew up in the magical high desert of Albuquerque. She did a turn as a music writer, and later the arts editor, for the Weekly Alibi. She holds a BFA in theater from the University of New Mexico and is a graduate of Dell’ Arte International School of Physical Theatre. She lives in Portland.

Mini Sledgehammer December 2015

Blackbird Wine was bursting Tuesday night with holiday parties and devoted writers! Thanks to everyone who came out, and congratulations to Sarah Farnham for winning on her second try. She says she’s “100% hooked.”

The prompts were:
Character: Nobody
Action: Breaking and entering
Setting: A fireplace
Phrase: “Not as bad as last Christmas.”

***

The Givingprofile

by Sarah Farnham

the girl dangled her legs over the bed. her little brother sat in front of her.

‘whaddya think this christmas will be like?’ she asked.

‘worse than last.’

she chewed on the blanket and sighed. she knew he was right.

‘what’s for dinner?’

‘dunno.’ he slumped as he sat there, back caving over as he pulled out strings from the carpet.

 

their mother, dressed in skirts and elegant cardigans, started when they were three. ‘your only task in life is to give back,’ she would say, smiling. ‘it’s better to give than to receive.’ the only holidays they remember were spent volunteering at the shelter, passing out food for the homeless or the domestic victims of the gritty streets of philadelphia. their father, while still in the picture–he stayed home and watched football. he preferred not to listen to their mother.

they didn’t have any extended family. no cousins to play barbies with, no aunts to lecture them, no uncles to tease them. they were no good at making friends, either. two years apart, they much preferred the company of each other. teachers marvelled at it, but the other kids sneered. they teased her for hanging with her baby brother, and they tortured him for wanting to hang out with a girl.

but they were the coolest people they knew. everyone else was kinda dumb, and definitely didn’t understand the intricacies of their daily life.

they were not cinderella children–it wasn’t as if they counted lentils in the fireplace or peeled potatoes for days on end. they did, however, make their beds and wash the dishes. their mother asked them to, and they obliged, gratefully. if a grownup in their life, say at an uncommon party, would ever laugh at them, wondering how children were so well-behaved, they would stare blankly, uncaring, until that grownup wandered off. their eyes frequently glazed off in conversations with teachers–they always had the right answers, but there was more than one educator who thought ‘there was something wrong with those two.’

if they knew about it, they had shrugged it off long ago.

because they knew something no ordinary adult knew.

their mother, a kind and benevolent force, had taught them the secret to life.

she taught them to volunteer first. being small children, they thought of nothing but pleasing their mother. they went about, merry, caroling and passing out food and smiling at strangers, a tiny movement unto themselves. after school, they collected bottles for the men who would ride by and collect them late at night. they had an allowance, and it was spent on other people. coats for cold bridge people, hats for the dirty children who roamed the streets. a can of beans for the woman who always walked by at noon on Tuesday.

the girl asked first.

‘mother?’

‘yes, darling?’

‘other children sometimes–‘

‘what have i told you about other children?’

‘that they don’t know what i know.’

‘which is?’

‘that the world is operating on a different level entirely, and that they are wasting their time and money and energy.’

‘correct. you were saying?’

‘nothing.’

the girl sat on her bed at night, thinking. she knew some things, that was sure. she knew that the world was keeping score, she knew that someone was always watching, she knew that she needed to always do more.

she also knew she was not happy, because it was never enough.

he felt the same. they sat on the swings, bundled up in the cold. december was windy, but bearable. they allowed themselves a small break in collecting cans twice a week. he decided to ask her instead of Mother. ‘sis–why don’t other children do what we do? don’t they know better?’

she shook her head. ‘no, because they are silly. they might have a chance to change, but they’re starting so late…’

‘what’s going to happen to them?’

‘i’m not sure; Mother never told us that part.’

he chewed on his lip. he whispered, ‘do you ever think we should be doing more?’

she turned to him and looked visibly relieved. ‘all the time. i just don’t think it’s enough.’

he sat forward, excited. ‘i’ve been thinking about something.’ she nodded. ‘what if we–what if we did what He did?’

she frowned. ‘that’s blasphemy.’ she started to swing again.

he scooted forward again, irritated. ‘it’s not. He wants us to.’

‘why do you think that?’

he started to breathe faster. she looked over at him sharply. ‘don’t trigger an attack.’

he shook his head. ‘i won’t. just listen.’ he got off the swing and stood in front of her.

‘He started poor, right?’ she nodded. ‘He started with nothing, just by giving everything He could. and eventually He built a factory, and an empire, and He was able to really give everything.’ she nodded again. he folded his arms. ‘i think the only way we’ll ever truly escape death is if we do the same. He’s still alive, right?’

she stopped swinging. ‘we could live forever, just like Him. His power is what keeps Him alive, after all. the Giving.’

‘exactly. it’s just common sense.’

she frowned slightly. ‘i know we can always do more. i know we always have more to give. so what are you thinking? what’s the big thing?’

he leaned in, his eyes glittering. ‘we can do what He did.’

she gasped. ‘we–we could–‘

he nodded. ‘it’s not enough that we give what we can. we need to be invisible, like Him. we need to build His empire.’

‘what if he sees us?’

‘are you serious?’ he asked. ‘even better.’

‘what if we go to the same houses?’

he whispered. ‘then we would see him. maybe compare notes, see what we could do better. sis–we could see Him.’

she stood up suddenly. ‘i’m in,’ she said.

 

they began preparing that night. they had exactly one month to train. he had started collecting supplies (ropes, backpacks, climbing gear from his dad’s abandoned hobby) before he even had told her, but she added the fine details he knew he had needed her for. the small headlamps were her idea.

as smaller than average children go, they were pretty quiet already. but they practiced themselves to be downright silent. their mother beamed as they walked around the house, doing their chores and storing items like squirrels.

‘children,’ she said one day. ‘i just want to congratulate you. you’ve been working so hard, and giving so much–but i also want to encourage you to work just a little harder.’ she pinched their cheeks, frowning as she noticed the smudges of coal. using a thumb and her tongue, she rubbed at their faces. ‘death won’t escape itself.’ she twirled around the corner in a swirl of skirts and Chanel.

the night came. they were ready, and executed their task with skill and ease.

 

and as the police prepared to cart them off, they could hear the buzz of the radio.

’10-4, on your way?’

‘yeap.’

the window was open.

one policeman, standing outside of the car, turned to the other. ‘what happened tonight?’

‘coupla kids, breaking and entering. left a bunch of useless shit in the living room. fifth house this week.’

‘jesus.’

‘santa nuts. at least it’s not as bad as last year.’

 

the children smiled at each other in the back seat.

© 2015 Sarah Farnham

***

Sarah Farnham is a bi-coastal wanderer. She loves writing, coffee, and sunshine. Poetry was her main squeeze until she accidentally started writing fiction. You can contact her at westcoastcharlie@gmail.com.

Mini Sledgehammer November 2015

Edward Gutiérrez took home the prizes this month. Congratulations!

The prompts were:
Character: Your high school sweetheart
Action: Removing a hang nail
Setting: Sonora, Mexico
Prop: A hot dog

My Little Fat Boy

The bell rings. It’s the end of second period. The teacher left the edward picclassroom door open for all the kids to walk out single file. The lunchroom isn’t far. I can see Andre through the window that faces out to the street. He’s speed walking toward the lunch line and all the other kids are two steps behind.

Andre loves to eat. just like his dad. I remember when I was his age, I would steal all the other kids’ lunch tickets on pig-in-a-blanket day. My nickname wasn’t El Gordo (the fat man) for nothing. Now Andre is walking the same halls that I did. Anyway I digress. Today I’m here to volunteer at my little fat boy’s school. I need to make up for the all chocolate bars we ate that we were supposed to sell for the school’s annual fundraiser. To be fair we only ate about half, we gave away a bunch to Andre’s cousins.

I’m making my way out of the school office and down the stairs over to the lunchroom. I look and Dre, short for Andre, is putting mustard and ketchup meticulously on his hot dog bun. As I walk closer I can see he has managed to put two weenies on his bun. How’d he get the second one? I think to myself and smile. That’s my boy! just like his papi. When he notices me Dre puts down his ketchup packets, steps off the cafeteria table, runs up and hugs me. What a feeling. “Go eat” I say, “Dre remember, 40 chews for each mouthful” … Yea right.

The joy in my heart quickly fades as I see the assistant principal, Mrs. Vasquez. I know her when she was just Vicky. We go way back, from middle school all the way to high school. We were sweethearts back then. “Come with me” she says. I gesture to Andre and walk up the stairs behind Mrs.Vasquez. We walk in her office. She grabs a hammer, gloves, and a plunger. “Your first task, unclog the boy’s bathroom.” “Thanks” I tell her as I reach for the hammer “no no” she says, “i’ll need this for later.” I think to my puzzled self, WTF? – for later? what’s that supposed to mean? She can’t still be pissed about prom night.

Ten minutes later i’m changing my socks in the maintenance closet. The boys bathroom was tougher than I thought and I’m a mess. I hear footsteps outside the door. Then I hear two knocks and the deadbolt locks. Suddenly I hear in Spanish, “Puto! Eres un Puto! Muerete!” (Whore! you’re a male whore! die!). Aw shit. Prom night, she’s still pissed.

I go for the door and it’s locked. No windows, no crawl spaces anywhere. I gotta open the door. No sense on banging on it, shoot, i’m in the school basement. I reach for the toolbox and think, if I can just pry the door hinges off with the…, damn that witch, no hammer! I look around and see a set of keys behind the furnace. It’s too hot. If I can just shut it off and reach for the keys. I just need the valve key. I look 10 feet up and see a gas valve key on a hangnail pinned to the wall. Shit, no hammer! That’s the last Mexican girl from Sonora I’ll ever cheat on.

© 2015 Edward Gutiérrez
***
Dedicated to the memory of my friend Bryan Tinti. 

Mini Sledgehammer October 2015

This month’s Mini Sledgehammer marked a slight changing of the guards. John and Daniel have been leading this fun monthly contest for over a year, and this was John’s last month. Thanks for all you’ve done for us, John! And thanks for continuing to lead us, Daniel!

 

Ashley Michael Karitis was our very deserving winner this month. Read on for her fantastic story. Congratulations, Ashley!

 

Prompts:
Character: Custodian
Action: Presidential Debate
Setting: Wedding
Phrase: “Why didn’t you tell me?”

 

***

The Abridged Memoirs of a Custodian

by Ashley Michael Karitis

Clyde was, in what might be considered, the loneliest of professions.

Each afternoon, he would arrive at the empty aisles of St. Jean’s Parish to tend to the multitude of custodial sins: cobwebs in the gothic arches, splatters on the stained glass (portraying the station of the cross), picking out lint in the oak and maple pews, and vacuuming the animal cracker crumbs left over from the little ones whose parents tried keeping them occupied with said simple carbohydrates.

Lonely these days may have seemed, but lonely, he was not.  Clyde was privy to moments that were important enough to call on those far and wide—friends and family, and even those who would need to forgive each other in order to come together for such special gathering.

In his thirty-seven years as a custodian, Clyde had attended more weddings, funerals, christenings, and masses than all of the priests combined who had rotated in and out over the years.

Special, these moments and gatherings were, but Clyde was still not part of them.  He was only an observer, sometimes unwelcome, on the fray, and always behind the scenes.  Nobody really wanted to see a spotted-faced, balding man in coveralls on their wedding day.  Yet, he was the unseen enabler, for one flick of a switch and the christening of Patrick Joseph or The March of the Brides would come to a crashing halt.

Clyde could recount every type of wedding you could possibly have under the roof of God’s House: painfully planned nuptials to ensure family legacies; unions to provide for an unexpected baby bump; marriages that had taken place during custodial hours, out of sight of forbidding parents.  He had seen groom and bride spat with each other as though they were in a presidential debate, sometimes ending with a slap in the face and a “Why didn’t you tell me!?”  Never assuming, Clyde dutifully clean up the flower petals, rice, and extra paper programs.

Usually, the tense, happy, or excited couples would return to the parish with a new babe to be doused with holy water, draped in a stale lacey gown.  Clyde would set up the bath and rearrange the potted seasonal flowers—just so the mothers would feel extra special—and afterward he would mop up the excess drops of bath water that speckled the altar.

Through all these celebrations, Clyde never feared, avoided, or felt sad about the funerals that came and went every week.  How could a funeral be any less important than a wedding or christening?  How could he feel sad for the dead, and for those that came to celebrate and memorialize their person’s life?

For Clyde, being a custodian had been his own ritual, just as these events in St. Jean’s had been rituals.  It was a ritual of living vicariously, and letting the joys and sorrows of others brim over into his world.

©  2015 Ashley Michael Karitis

***35_Inside the Orts

Ashley was raised in Bend, OR.  She is a documentary filmmaker based in Portland, OR that dabbles in travel writing.  She is currently working on her first compilation of short stories. 

Mini Sledgehammer May 2015

Congratulations to Elizabeth Grace Martin, a new Sledgehammerer who wrote a winning story on her first try!

***

Character: Ice cream vendor
Action: Recycling
Setting: In the rain
Prop: Smoke

***

Burnt Ice Cream

by Elizabeth Grace Martin

Maven got a rush from the flick of the lighter. The burn of the cigarette down her lungs felt like the appropriate amount of unhealthy. Fuck healthy. She liked smoke and ice cream. She even dyed her hair to add a swirl of gray to damage her streak of brunette.

After being recycled in the foster care system, she fated herself into a runaway. That’s when the gray came—a nod to the wisdom she decided she was due—not the wisdom she’s earned.

The smoke came before the streets. Fire was home. Maven didn’t much like the term “arsonist.” She preferred creator. She burned ugly away. It gave her control over something—at least that’s what her therapist claimed. Fuck him.

She didn’t see him more than once. Maven didn’t see anyone more than once. Judgment stays at bay when you don’t let people know you. Only she needed to know her.

So she hopped trains and claimed the title explorer. She slept in barns with livestock and thought herself a farmer. She was neither. Maven was a homeless runaway, but a good marketer. But even runaways need a break; even runaways need an identity.

The train Maven was currently riding stopped for fuel or to load or unload. Fuck if she knew. But the day was bright, sweat grouped at the bottom of her spine.

“Ice cream,” she said to no one. No one was her favorite audience. The jump from the train car to the red rocks below sent a shock up her legs—the kind that reminds you you’re still alive. Pain, fleeting but passionate.

Maven lit her first cigarette of the day and walked along the tracks until the town came into view. She’d never been to Arizona before, but it felt like every other place. She lit another cigarette as soon as she stomped her first one out on the metal track.

The tracks went straight and she curved to the left. The siren song of the ice cream truck was calling her. It sounded like home.

On the first main street she crossed, she pick-pocketed an empty-faced stranger. The siren was getting closer.

“Banana split,” Maven called to the ice cream vendor.

A man with naturally gray hair and newsboy cap popped his head out of the freezer and into her view.

“Hi there, Miss. How are you?”

“Banana split,” Maven repeated, ignoring the vendor’s inquiry.

“Talkative aren’t you?”

“Not to strangers.”

“How do you ‘pect to make friends?”

“What?” her attitude was showing through. This was already the longest conversation Maven had had in months. “Fuck man, you got a banana split or not?”

“Fresh out. Fudgicle?”

“Whatever.”

“It’s on the house,” he said, eyeing Maven’s unwashed hair and wrinkled clothes.

“Take care.”

She wanted to be snotty. She wanted to ruin him with words. But Maven bit her tongue and accepted the Fudgicle before it melted under the Arizona sun.

She nodded at him. He smiled, toothy. It was the best he was going to get from a runaway punk and they both knew it. Maven couldn’t shake the interaction. No one is nice to her. She gives no one a reason to. She felt uneasy about it. She followed the ice cream vendor that day, touring the city in his shadows.

When the sun dunked into the night, he parked the truck and Maven kept watching it. She flicked her lighter in front of her. Up and down, the flame teased her, called her like the siren song of ice cream trucks.

She answered.

The fire started to burn slowly. Deliberately. The tires melted into puddles and the ice cream would soon do the same. She watched the damage long enough to feel satisfied. The smoke pillowed the sky into more darkness and she walked away, without remorse, into the rain.

The fire won again.

©  2015 By: Elizabeth Grace Martin

***

Elizabeth can often be found talking to her dog like he’s a real human boy, being inspired byzane kiss 2 TED Talks, and creating an ever-growing travel wish list. Her newest dream is to live in a tiny house mansion. Her longest dream is to be a best-selling author. She’s working on one of those at: www.elizabethgracemartin.com.