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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.

Mini Sledgehammer August 2018

We welcome back to the winner’s podium…(drumroll, please)… Chris Smith!

Chris likes to write in screenplay format, so we’re attaching a PDF of the story in its true format (click the link below the story) for those of you who want that authentic flavor, since unfortunately it doesn’t translate exactly to blog format.

Congratulations, Chris!


Prompts:
Character: A butler
Action: Getting your foot stuck in the fence
Setting: At a tennis court
Phrase: “I’ll take one, too”


“The Class Clown and The Beauty Queen”

By Chris Smith

FADE IN:
EXT. TENNIS COURT- NIGHT
JAKE (mid-20s) and LILY (mid-20s) are pretending to have a really quiet game of tennis.
Lily pretending to bounce a ball before serving.
LILY
So…why’d you bring me here?
JAKE
What don’t like a little game of night tennis?
LILY
No, it’s just an odd place for a date. Especially here.
JAKE
I mean, it’s not that odd.
Lily pretends to serve and they have a few back and forths before Jake “misses” the ball.
Lily congratulates herself.
LILY
You don’t think having a date on my family’s court would be weird. What if someone sees us?
Jake prepares to serve.
JAKE
Like the butler?
Jake throws her a smirking grin.
2
LILY
I think the butler already knows.
She returns his smirk.
Jake is about to serve.
LILY (CONT’D)
At least the junior butler. But seriously why here?
Jake pauses.
JAKE
I’m not sure about you, but I’m kind of tired of being a secret. I mean how long can we keep this up.
LILY
That’s why? That’s why you brought me here? Oh, come on dude!
Lily pretends to serve, but Jake doesn’t respond.
LILY (CONT’D)
You know why we have to keep this a secret. You’ll get fired if my parents find out. Then who will get my morning coffee.
Lily gives him a grin. But Jake is still unresponsive.
LILY (CONT’D)
Okay, so what’s your plan?
JAKE
Um…I don’t know. Maybe, I don’t know. I just if we were caught here it would…I don’t know.
LILY
That’s why you brought us here? You were hoping we’d get caught?
Lily starts to storm off toward the house uphill.
3
JAKE
Wait, I just…I was just tired of being a secret and I thought if we accidentally got caught it would just force everything out into the open.
Lily keeps walking away she starts to climb the fence separating the court from the lawn, when her sneakers get caught on a link.
JAKE
Can we just talk about this for just a second?
Lily struggles to break free.
LILY
You can get one second.
JAKE
I’ll take one…two seconds.
Jake gives her a grin. She looks back at him still mad.
Jake walks up to her.
JAKE
Do you need some help?
Jake gives her a huge, caring smile.
Just as she starts to smile back the tennis court lights turn on.
CUT TO BLACK:
THE END

Chris Smith-Sledgehammer-August2018

© 2018 Chris 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 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 August 2017

Congratulations to Sean Hartfield, who won this month’s Mini Sledgehammer, with prompts inspired by the big solar eclipse!

***

Prompts:
Character: A new girlfriend
Location:  A doghouse
Prop/object:  Special eclipse-viewing glasses
Phrase:  “It is what it is.”

***

Untitled

by Sean Hartfield

Well, I guess I can finally get rid of the doghouse.  It had been sitting in the back yard since I bought the house almost a year ago.  I was thinking of getting a dog or a fish anyway, and the sellers offered to leave it, so I said “sure.”  I paid sixty thousand more than the house was worth anyway, so fuck yea, leave the doghouse.

I wanted to get a pure-bred chocolate lab, but my ex-girlfriend wanted a pound dog from the Humane Society, so right there we should have known we weren’t made for each other.  But like most other people who are too lonely and horny to end a relationship despite the warning signs, we wanted to try to make it work.

We failed, and I still don’t have a dog.

But I do have my new girlfriend Catherine, the dog walker.  Actually, she owns a dog walking/sitting business and kinda doesn’t like it when I introduce her as a dog walker.  She’s entering med-school in the fall, so I asked if I should say she’s a vet.  She said I should introduce her as “Catherine” and leave it at that.

Anyway, I met her because she was dropping off the neighbor’s dog when I saw her about to climb into her van.  I’m horrible at flirting and picking up women so I reached out to shake her hand before my palms got too sweaty and tried to get my lie out before it got too complicated.  The lie, I mean.  The trick, I’m told, is to keep a lie as simple as possible.

Anyway, I told Catherine I was going to be traveling soon and wanted to know how much she charged for dog sitting.  “What kind of dog do you have?,” she asked.

Hmph.

I hadn’t really thought my lie through that far.  I was just gonna say I had a dog and that I was in a hurry and could I call her to talk more about, you know, dog sitting.  For when I’m traveling.

“Maybe you can help me pick one out,” I said.

“Huh?,” she said, tilting her head slightly to one side, sorta like a confused puppy.

“I don’t have a dog yet,” I confessed as her brows joined in a frown.  “But I’m really gonna, well, I want to get a dog soon, and then I saw your van and then I saw you and then I wanted to talk to you and as you can probably tell, I’m really bad at this.

“Fascinating,” she said.  “A guy who lies.  Are you at least really good in bed?”

Speechless, I actually felt my face flush.

After a few seconds passed, she made one of those game show loser buzzer sounds. Annnnkkkk!!!  “Time’s up.”

Then we both laughed so hard we ended up sitting in the grass and talking about random stuff and the upcoming solar eclipse.  Later, she said she decided to go out with me despite the lie because I was able to laugh at myself.  She said she had no intentions whatsoever of ever sleeping with me though.

Where was I?  Oh yea, so we went out a few times and went on a trip to celebrate us both getting our houses ready for the renters during the solar eclipse, glasses included, of course.

Who knows where life will take us.  She’s rocking my world in and out of the bedroom, and from what I can tell she has been delightfully surprised at my skills.  Low expectations, right?  They say life is what you make of it, but ya know, it is what it is.

 

© 2017 Sean Hartfield