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Mini Sledgehammer December 2019

Our hosts got into a holiday mood with the prompts this month. Check them out:

Character: A mythical creature
Action: Stealing Christmas lights
Setting: A family gathering
Phrase: “I can see my house from here.”

As we have always seen, even when it seems the prompts will take stories one direction,  stories have minds of their own. Congratulations to Mike Parker on his first Mini Sledgehammer win with the following take on the holiday prompts!


Slightly Out of PhaseMParker

by Mike Parker

The smell rose from her seat. It was neither pleasant nor unpleasant. It was simply grandma, and neither the vapors of mulled wine nor the scent of the Christmas tree could mask the fact she was here. Not in sight at the moment, but she was somewhere, folding her face into contortions of disapproval while she moved through the rest of the family, parting before her like crackling ice floes before an arctic ice cutter.

Despite all efforts to place the vodka high and behind the Fruit Loops, she found it. The bottle came down on the counter with a resolute clunk, and glugged a heart sickening three times. She gripped her glass and placed the bottle in a choke hold, retracing the path she’d cut back to the BarcaLounger where she sipped and frowned at the TV. The kids were watching Frozen. Her pupils contracted.

Granny shifted her gaze about the room, landing on the sweet, homey, and cozy. She moved on. The bottle rose and fell. The glass came up and down. Children walked back and forth, but semi-transparent, like things slightly out of phase with her world.

Granny mumbled. No one stirred. She lifted the blue veined crepe work of her hand and pointed out the window.  “I can see my house from here.” But the shifting forms took no note. “I cn she fouse fmere.” She said, louder.  A shape moved her direction, applied pressure to her shoulder, said something, then moved off.

The bottle came up.

She looked back out the window. The bobbling colored lights in the night, the way the wind stirred them. How they bounced. The way they jerked this way and that. How some would just go out. More silvery shapes in the room blocking her view. The way they go out in the rain. A trail. No, more of a tail. A long tail of the Minotaur who will hopefully come back and burn this damn house down.

The bottle came back up.

© 2019 Mike Parker


Bio: I am a geologist, volunteer science educator at OMSI, father and husband, writing and living happily in Sherwood, Oregon.

Mini Sledgehammer April 2019

We love Chris Smith’s writing style and are glad to see him on the winner’s board again for the April 2019 Mini Sledgehammer Writing Contest. Congrats, Chris!


Character: A life coach
Action: Gambling
Setting: A hood ornament
Prop: A riverboat


Bottom of the RiverChris Smith

By Chris Smith

 

She looks like an angel released from hell. A winged beast bursting through the blood towards my hands as I dangle her over the edge. I want to keep her as a token, but it’s risky to keep evidence on you.

It’s been days and I’ve traveled for miles on foot, by car, and now on this boat down the Mississippi. I’m hundreds of miles away, but the literal blood still stained to my hands brings me back there. I daggle her chrome body over the edge. She hangs there by the chain coming from her neck. But there’ll be a rope around my neck too if I don’t let go. She needs to sleep in the depths of the swamp so I can be free. But I feel for her.

Strange how one…accident can chain you down forever. How one person pushing you so hard to exploit your best, just breaks you. A fracture that can’t be repaired, just replaced while the old one is discarded. I stare at her. She stares back at me smiling. She’s shiny like the trophy she is to me. A cold reminder of what I did for a little bit of freedom. Finally, taking my life back into my own hands by taking his. But she must drown.

She looks like she is soaring as I swing her from my fingers over the murky slime below. I love her for that! One last act of absolute freedom, even for a moment, before she plunges below holding to my hand.

© 2019 Christopher Smith


I’m an aspiring filmmaker, photographer and writer from South Florida. I enjoy crafting stories about the weird yet interesting mundane parts of life, whether it is visually or on the page. When not writing, I can be found taking photos around town or binging on TV show and movies.

Mini Sledgehammer February 2019

The week of roses and chocolates brought out some great stories about oyster farmers and horse heads. Thanks to everyone who came out for the contest this week! And congratulations to Christopher Smith for racking up another win!


Prompts:
Character: An oyster farmer
Action: Going out on a limb
Setting: An igloo
Prop: A horse head


Winter SongChris Smith

By Chris Smith

The breeze is hard on my face as I leave the comfort of my new, icy “igloo” fortress to venture out for some supplies. Ice and snow can keep people warm. Brick and mortar can keep people warm. But ice, snow, brick, and mortar seem to keep people cold. Especially with a broken radiator, our only source of heat…besides each other. But there is only so much cuddling I can take. So, of course, my dear love has to get sick forcing me to venture out into the cold.

My toes are cold. My toes are cold and wet. My toes are cold, wet, wrapped in two layers of socks, and thick rubber boots. It feels like I’ve been walking for days, but it has only been…a few minutes! It’s the boots, we have a complicated relationship. Although they, mostly, keep my feet warm and dry, they are not my aesthetic and hurt my feet. I look like an oyster farmer. So, I thought I might as well lean into it with overalls, an oversized sweater, an oversized raincoat, and as much of a beard I can grow in twenty minutes.

It’s been about fifteen maybe twenty days? Hours? Minutes? It’s been fifteen minutes since I was last home and I’m beginning to forget what home is like; what any amount of warmth feels like. I remember his face though. If I die out here, I want to remember that face. The face of the guy that sent me out on a limb to get medicine because he likes to sleep with the fan on. Maybe the anger will keep me warm longer? That would be helpful.

The return trip looks and feels no better. I did buy a horse head mask thinking I could prank him with it or something, but now it just seems like a dumb idea to me. The cold is taking up any brainpower I have to think things through. Maybe I can answer the door with it on, that’ll be funny, right? Or I could just leave it on the sidewalk under the snow. A nice surprise for when the snow melts. Now I wish I had gotten the red cough syrup.

© 2019 Christopher Smith


Christopher Smith is an aspiring filmmaker, photographer and writer from South Florida. He enjoys crafting stories about the weird yet interesting mundane parts of life, whether it is visually or on the page. When not writing, he can be found taking photos around town or binging on TV show and movies.

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 September 2018

This month’s winner notes that he’s grateful to get to “pick up a bottle and book in exchange for a few dubious words.” Congratulations, Craig! He adds, “I should note that there were some truly terrific stories tonight.  These events provide such a great opportunity to hear some fine sentences carved out in just a few minutes by intriguing and clever people.” We’re glad you enjoy them.


Prompts:

Character: A woman executive
Action: Good will hunting
Setting: The International Space Station
Prop: An old radio


Directive 38foster

by Craig Foster

Directive 38 was nothing more than an afterthought, really. An exercise coughed up from an office outside Mission Control with a view toward figuring out how to pass ourselves off to the others, out at the farthest reaches. Presuming they hadn’t met us already, this would be a preemptive strike in terms of letting them know we’re OK. Not to be feared.

Or trifled with, though.

It was little more than a good will hunting mission, and Bobbi W called in Dr. Kuwahara to lead it. She’d been part of the training program near Enoshima, Japan. A test of whether dolphins truly were as smart or smarter than us. The jury was still out, but a few of them made it through school fairly quickly and two had already been granted PhDs. Dr. Kuwahara – a damn bottlenose, no less – had expertise in astronomical sociology and would be put to good use. Bobbi W, the first woman executive at the space agency, set the wheels in motion and arranged for Dr. Kuwahara to be transported in a tank to the launch pad in Kyrgyzstan.

It wasn’t the craziest thing that had ever happened to the good doctor. And she looked forward to presenting humans to the others as best as possible. Leave out the bits about nets and knives. Or weave a story around them that might put everyone at ease. You couldn’t count on an attack on people not also causing some collateral damage in the seas and on the savannahs.

It took a bit to get to the International Space Station, but the launch was moderately safe and the tank held its water.

The welcoming party was limited to the biologist, also from Japan. That didn’t exactly float well with Dr. Kuwahara, but she refrained from spouting too much. Told herself, it’s a flipping test, Sadako. Don’t let them stop you from heading out a bit further. So, she didn’t. Made one of those noises everyone pegged for laughter, and the biologist said something polite and encouraging to her.

They’d built a supermarine for Directive 38. A maneuverable pod filled with water and provided with just enough of the button controls Dr. Kuwahara would be familiar with from her time at the university. The communication mechanism looked like an old radio, which didn’t matter to the doctor, as she didn’t plan to talk to use it. No need to talk to anyone back at the station once she was out and about. There were three channels if she needed them, however: one that received sounds from within a few hundred thousand miles, another that allowed for communication with the station, and a third that played familiar audio from Earth. Some dolphin-speak to provide a presumed measure of comfort. A little bit from above ground, just for kicks. And a mix of French chansons, big band instrumentals, post-punk thrash, and news of the world.

A couple of astronauts joined the biologist, and after a series of checks were made Dr. Kuwahara’s tank was wheeled toward the already-filled supermarine. There was a waterlock filled with just enough liquid to allow for what the humans determined was an easy transfer from one watery home to another. They were half right. Dr. Kuwahara took a blow to the nose during the transfer, but everyone applauded and felt even better when she made that laughing noise again.

She clearly was of the proper demeanor for this mission.

 

Space isn’t empty. Not at all. In fact, it’s packed. It gets lonely because there’s too much matter out there. More than enough atoms to choke an endless supply of dolphins. But Dr. Kuwahara loved it. She turned a few times in the supermarine, staring through the two windows provided. One at the bottom of the tank, and one at what must be the front of the thing. Showing where she was heading, in any event.

She hit the radio and it played La Mer.

The good doctor went over the mission in her head. Humans: 1; Others: 0.5. Just to shw it wasn’t a completely uneven playing field. She played in her head everything she would communicate to whatever she found. Of salt and blood, buckets of fish. How to be right and proper in their eyes. When to speak and when to just watch. Mention their favorite jokes.

Say how to stay alive.

Or maybe reveal the one spot where she knew the humans were vulnerable. For kicks.

The song switched to La Vie En Rose, and this time she did laugh.

© 2018 Craig Foster


Craig Foster is an editor based in Portland, Oregon who every now and then tries to write stories. These usually revolve around oddballs and misfits, the most normal people he knows. Tahoma Literary Review, Buckman Journal, 1001, and Arq Press have published a few of these tales, which should prompt an investigation into their decision-making process. Lastly, the author would never misrepresent his physical appearance with a photo from twenty years ago. There are ethical standards to be maintained.