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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.

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Mini Sledgehammer August 2017

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

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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

Mini Sledgehammer April 2017

Congratulations to Laurel Rogers, who won this month and also won in April last year! She says, “April must be my magic ticket to Sledgehammer success. It was nice to be back after a few months away while I was teaching. We had a big group this month–spilled over to a second table even–but there was no change in the excellent quality of everyone’s writing. Thanks for another fun round.” Thank you, Laurel!

Prompts:
Character: A tailor
Action: Spring cleaning
Setting: A Catholic church
Phrase: Bippity, boppety, boo

***

Earthquakes

by Laurel RogersIMG_6437

She was drunk.

At least that’s what she told herself, even if anyone watching her would, at worst, call her a wee bit tipsy.

But after years—decades really—of being the village teetotaler, and having done the unthinkable and snitching a sip of the vodka Father Jacob kept in a communion wine bottle on the middle shelf of the mahogany bookcase in his office, Sister Frances figured she was surely drunk. Only that could explain why, after stealing AND imbibing all in the same swallow, she shelved her better self and took another sip. And then a proper swallow.

Maybe even…a gulp.

She looked at the calendar on the wall, which apparently hadn’t been changed since October 2015. She admired the watercolor print of a basket full of shiny red apples and imagined herself reaching and plucking one from its basket.

Forbidden fruit.

She could almost taste it, despite the subtle tingle on her tongue from Father Jacob’s vodka.

Sister Frances sighed with a weight only years of rote certainty could place upon a soul. The calendar lied. There were no bushels of apples—in fact, the tree outside Father Jacob’s office hadn’t so much as budded yet this spring. What little sun peered through the veil of clouds that hung over the village filtered past the heavy velvet curtains and pooled on a threadbare rug.

It wouldn’t do to indulge in such extravagances as new wool rugs, especially in Father Jacob’s retreat so far in the back of the old Catholic church no one visited. Even the Father seemed reticent to journey so far from the loftier heights of the sanctuary.

Sister Frances wondered, in fact, how long since someone had ventured into the musty space. She wrinkled her nose at the dusty bookshelf as she replaced the vodka—ahem, the wine, wink wink—bottle on the shelf. She wondered if she could sing a little tune out the window and then, bam and bippity boppity boo, her fairy godmother would rescue her from the task ahead.

The task assigned by her not-so-fairy-nor-god-but-she-seemed-to-think-she-was Mother Anna. “Spring cleaning,” the Reverend Mother announced over their standard breakfast of sourdough toast, a spread of processed cheese-like fat, orange juice and coffee. Because naturally orange juice and coffee tasted so good together, Sister Frances fumed. Almost as good as toothpaste and coffee.

She was wasting time, procrastinating the spring cleaning she had been assigned by Mother Anna. Might be the last spring Mother Anna was making such assignments. If the tittering of the mousy church ladies was any indication, next year Sister Frances might well be the Mother. The Big Mother on Campus. Like a boss, she thought to herself.

She blushed a little. How in the world had she learned that phrase?

Oh how the world was changing, before her very eyes. And, no, it wasn’t just the astigmatism that came up worse at every eye exam. Age was a bitch, she thought, then she cringed again at her choice of words.

In His house no less, she chided herself.

But most of her wasn’t even listening. Most of her somehow stopped listening a long time ago.

***

Continents drift apart a little each and every day. Imperceptibly. Oh sure, cataclysms of quake and inferno may create visual schisms more expediently, but the geology of change is the slow, steady, relentless separation of masses that once shared everything in common.

And so Sister Frances woke one morning to realize she didn’t know where she was.

Oh, she wasn’t demented or even muddled—this was long before she took a nip from Father’s stash. She knew she was in the convent adjacent the church, where she had done the Lord’s good and holy work every day since she took her novice vows at age 17.

She had walked through the ethereal curtains of stained-glass sunlight, along the center aisle of that same church, her cherubic face scrubbed and rosy behind a white veil. The only wedding dress she would ever wear fell softly from her youthful breasts, spilled over her gently curved hips, perfectly shaped for her and her alone by the village tailor who shook his head sadly every spring as worked on the next set of novice gowns.

She had walked forward to a groom she would never hold.

Who would never let her down.

Who grew more distant through the years, as grooms are wont to do.

Until one day she woke up and didn’t recognize her own life. She had walked a script written by someone else, always sure of its honesty, its goodness, its correctness, until she couldn’t read it any more. She was left wondering in what language it was even written.

***

The future is a funny thing. It can be full of plans and purposes and intentions, yet it’s all just a fiction. Sister Frances never believed that, until she could see so clearly that the story could end in so many different ways.

In fact, the possibilities were so overwhelming, she had half a mind to return to Father Jacob’s bottle. Better be careful not to end up at the Monday night AA meetings, she reminded herself.

She chuckled aloud. Imagine Mother Anna’s face when she served coffee to the group at precisely 7 p.m. and saw Sister Frances waiting for her turn to say, “Hi, my name is….”

A small rumble in this village.

Maybe she could ask to take a trip. Go on a mission to somewhere exotic. Find a way to sneak away from her godly duties with orphans or the sick or the poor and swim naked under a full moon in a phosphorescent sea.

But no one would know. That didn’t seem enough.

She needed something to feel like she was the author of her own existence.

Sister Frances took the bottle off the shelf one more time. A sip. An idea. They hit her brain together.

There would be an earthquake. She would cause it, and it would be known. A relatively small one to be sure, but an earthquake nonetheless. A shaking. A sign that the plates were no longer one.

Sister Frances wondered if that was enough.

© 2017 Laurel Rogers

***

Laurel Rogers is a professional juggler of client deadlines, Uber driver to her three home-schooled kids, kayaking partner to her husband and sounding board to her fascinating friends. She enjoys using short fiction to explore the very nonfictional ways people relate to themselves and each other.

Mini Sledgehammer November 2016

A big perk of having multiple people to rotate hosting responsibility is that the hosts can win sometimes too! Daniel Granias has been one of the hosts for Mini Sledgehammer for more than two years, and we’ve long admired his writing style. We’re glad to see his story chosen as this month’s winner. Congratulations, Daniel, and thank you for all you do!

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Prompts:
Character: An Australian tourist
Action: Passing the salt
Setting: A beach resort
Prop: A hat pin

***

Untitledimg_0191

by Daniel Granias

Like bones, our hearts are strong, but also easily broken. Little did Amos Dickson, a forty two year old truck driver from the great state of Texas, ever imagine that he would get tossed on a plane and sent to a beach resort in Sydney, Australia by a gas company sweepstakes. Little did ChoYoo Park, an air hostess for KoreanAir, know that the international terminal at Sydney International would run into their third week of union strike on the day of her last flight home to Seoul.

But there they were, three stools apart at the bar of the Applebee’s between terminals A6 and A8. Amos was on his third beer, building up his liquid courage to leave the airport, entering the only other foreign land he’d set foot on besides Oklahoma. He first noticed the young Korean air hostess, her jet black bangs pinned to the left, and her red and blue KoreanAir scarf tied elegantly to the right. It was mildly surprising that she ordered a margarita with extra salt. It was extra surprising that she drank it as a chaser to the two shots of tequila that were hiding behind it. “Pass the salt!” she whined in a sing-song sort of happy-angry familiarity. Amos slid the salt down the waxed oak counter, and upon receiving it, ChoYoo caught a glance at the lonely American.

Perhaps it was a result of watching a Korean-dubbed version of “Walker, Texas Ranger,” but between his denim shirt, strong, bearded jaw, and his light blue eyes, there was something about his smile, the way his grin looked left while his eyes looked right into her dark umber wells. They stayed in their seats for the remainder of their drinks, but just as Amos made his way out the bar, ChoYoo surreptitiously kicked her suitcase over from her barstool. Like a drunken show horse, Amos leapt into the air, kicked his legs out, but caught the handle of the mobile luggage and tumbled head over spurs.

Laughing together, ChoYoo helped Amos to his feet and he held her elbows, stabilizing himself against her polyester jacket. Amos looked at ChoYoo’s eyes, but they were looking downward, directly in the central vicinity of his pants. Following her gaze, Amos noticed that his belt buckle had come undone and was hanging limp by one hinge. Giggling mischeviously, ChoYoo took the pin from her folded pillbox hat holding her bangs in place and corrected the hinge, unabashedly grabbing Amos’s belt in a full-fisted grip.

They were an unexpected pairing, like polka dots and plaid. East met west in the Great Down Under. They spent another two hours at the bar, learning about the other’s homeland, and what brought them to Australia. But just as they were about to leave the bar together, the A6 terminal announced the end of the International Union strike, and all KoreanAir staff were to report to their flights in the F-lines. Three other Korean air hostesses appeared from the Applebee’s out of nowhere, picked up ChoYoo’s bags, and carried her away before she could look back at the lonely Texan.

***

Daniel is a writer, teacher, and visual artist specializing in ceramic sculpture living in Portland, Oregon. His writing practice has been regularly fueled by the Mini Sledgehammer series since 2013, and is forever grateful to its community for their undying enthusiasm and support.

Mini Sledgehammer September 2016

The first Mini Sledgehammer was in September, so I guess that makes this month our anniversary! Congratulations to Joseph Aldred for winning the anniversary Mini Sledgehammer.

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Prompts:
Character: A guard
Action: Blowing one’s nose
Setting: A factory
Prop: A cabbage

***

Untitledjoseph-mini-sledge

by Joseph Aldred

“I hate these late nights,” Jacob said, flicking the flash light on and of a few times before setting it back on the desk.

“Yeah, well you coulda guessed there would be a few of those with this job Earl,” Izzy said not looking up from the Batman comic she had read more than her fair share of times. “Personally, I prefer not having to be around people.”

“I didn’t expect I would be swinging the grave shift every week though.” He had been looking at one of the monitors, wondering briefly what all those machines meant. He sniffed and wiped his nose with the sleeve of the marine blue jacket. “I’ll be happy when the get done with my jacket, maybe you’ll stop calling me that. What do they do here anyway?”

“Make something–I don’t care; I just make sure nobody makes off with anything.”

“Anybody ever break in or cause problems?”

“Naw–well one time, some kids were fooling around in the parking lot, drinking, smoking–just fucking around ya know.”

“What’d you do?”

She looked up over the top of the page where Batman had just socked Joker one and was in the process          of tying him up.  She laughed a harsh laugh, “I joined em, what do you think?”

“Christ, how old were they?”

“I don’t know, high school or something. I didn’t buy them the booze and they were willing to share if I let them stay. Why don’t you take a walk around and check things out? I’ll stay here and hold down the fort.”

“Mom sent sandwiches and other snacks if you want.”

“What’s on em?”

“Turkey, cheese, that spicy mustard she likes. You know, the usual–I think she even threw in some Oreos for you.” Izzy had been an eternally ongoing love affair with them and all their artery clogging goodness since middle school, like many kids.

“Ha mom, of course she would add those. You’d think I was the one with a new job, not you. Why do you let her do that stuff anyway?”

“You know, she likes to feel needed,” Jacob said sniffling his almost perpetually runny nose. He turned to leave the security office, one hand pressing the door half way open before he turned back, “two of the sandwiches had cabbage, she didn’t have any lettuce and I don’t think she marked any of them.”

“I think I’ll be okay, you said Oreo and all thoughts of food stopped there.”

“She said not to let you eat just those.” He sniffled again and pushed open the door to leave.

“And I’m sure you’ll run right home and tell her. How’s she doing anyway?”

“She’s been holding up okay, talks about you coming over sometime for dinner ya know.” He sniffed again and rubbed slowly at his nose.

“You know that’s gross, just go blow your nose already.”

“I hate the way my ear’s pop.”

“Just do it and be done with already.”

“I’ll do it after you eat one of those sandwiches and take it easy on those cookies–they’ll give you a heart attack.”

“We’ll see, go have a look around, blow your nose in peace, and I’ll sit here keeping an eye on how Mr. J is doing.”

Jacob pushed through the door, pulling a handkerchief from his back pocket as he walked, hitched up his pants and put the cotton to his nose.

© 2016 Joseph Aldred

***

Joseph Aldred lives in Vancouver, Washington. By night he is a writer, by day he is a writer only when his boss isn’t around. He loves to eat sushi with his kids and to drink the occasional bottle of cider. He works freelance creating content for the web.

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.

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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.