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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. 

“My Trip to Canada” by Eva Sylwester

My Trip to Canada

Eva Sylwester

The first time in my life a balcony rail really stood out to me was when I went to Vancouver, Canada. Coming over the border from the United States, it’s jarring that the font on the road sign changes. More importantly, the speed limits are in kilometers rather than miles. Otherwise, you’re just on a highway for a while. When you get to the exit for Knight Street, though, you get your first view of a densely inhabited area. They have Chevron gas stations, but the font on the logo looks different, and the numbers on the signs don’t make any sense because they’re in liters rather than gallons. The row houses have these weird balconies where the bars bow outward toward the bottom. On the balconies I took for granted back home, I guess the bars were straight.

On South Park, the Canadians look obviously different from us, like their heads are split in half somehow. Of course, in real life, that’s not the case. Outwardly so many things are the same that the minor differences, like the traffic lights that flash rather than hold a solid green, stand out. At the Blaine, Washington, border crossing, there’s a monument claiming that the two countries are “Children of a Common Mother.” I had to think about that to get the reference, but wow, that’s actually true.

Who would want to be the sibling of the United States of America? We are in the middle of practically every big drama in the world. We are responsible for Walmart, the archetypal discount department store, and worse.

A lot of sibling pairs split like that – the loud one and the quiet one, the smart one and the athletic one, the good one and the bad one, and so on. Romantic couples or friends can do it too. I was surprised, though, to see that the military surplus store in downtown Vancouver was full of Fire Department New York and New York Police Department shirts, like the quiet one has not enough sense of its own identity apart from the loud one.

If the loud one were not around, would the quiet one, liberated from its role in the relationship, soon be singing karaoke?

I went to Canada so I could use my passport before it expired. I went to Canada to prove to myself I could do it. I went to Canada to prove to you, in my head at least, that I could do it. And I did, but that all seemed embarrassingly self-centered once I got there and discovered whoa, this may be another child of the same mother, but it’s its own distinct entity.

My cell phone didn’t work except for Wi-Fi. My Visa card worked, but I didn’t have coins for arcade games. I couldn’t understand the TV weather report because it wasn’t in Fahrenheit. I couldn’t make a phone call, supply myself a coin to play an arcade game, or understand the TV weather report. Being so thwarted in basic things, it was like being a child.

Like a child, I was learning, observing, taking everything in.

I started to see why I was the ex. The photos of you on Facebook singing karaoke with your new group of friends are so foreign to me. Who is this person, separate from me? You look so different, but it’s like I don’t even remember what you actually looked like. You were more a presence, more an idea that we were a unit.

I wish I could have met you like I met Canada, when I left the music off and the windows down after the border crossing to find out if anything sounded or smelled different. When I was walking around in a neighborhood that could have been Portland, I got out of myself enough to notice that the squirrels were black.

© 2015 Eva Sylwester

Mini Sledgehammer April 2015

Julia Himmelstein is back with another amazing story!

***

Character: The cowgirl
Action: Watching British television
Setting: the factory
Prop: A milk jug

***

Untitled

by Julia Himmelstein

It had been a while since the cowgirl had been around. He had been watching for her, shyly, spending lapses of evenings by the kitchen sink, washing the same four dishes, while peering out the window. It wasn’t really her looks that got to him, just the fact that she was so incredibly out of place. The first time, he had wondered if this was a mistaken Halloween costume, a drunken party guest in the wrong part of town. Their eyes had met as he sat on his front stoop, tongue-tied. The fringes on her leather vest rustled in the light breeze, and she made a funny clicking noise with her boots, as though commanding an invisible horse.  Long after she was gone, he thought he could hear the click-clack of her boots on the pavement.

They saw each other every few nights after that, she always wearing gingham and leather, and he always staring, dumbfounded. “Just say something to her, man,” he muttered to himself, channeling one of his high school buddies that surely would have had the balls to talk to her, and probably say something incredibly rude. But those friends were long gone, off to work in the factories that made pointless gadgets for white folks. It was just him now, him and his four dishes and the cat Theo. He couldn’t remember the last time he had talked to a human, let alone see one in real life. He used to have video chats with his sister, but that was before the internet cut out. Now when he wanted to see people he popped in one of the British Television discs that he had found in a closet when he first moved in.

He found himself dreaming about her at night. In his dreams, she was close enough that he could see her freckles, and smell her breath. It smelled funny, like something old. Sometimes she would even smile.

He hadn’t always been such a loner. He too, had tried the factory life, first for a manufacturer of milk jugs and then for a tech company. He grew listless and bored, and had enough near misses with large machinery that he was let go. With a sigh, he moved to the empty country, finding an abandoned trailer on a field to call home.

The cowgirl usually walked past around dusk. There was something about the way she looked, like a hungry child, that made him feel protective and tentative at the same time. She always went the same direction, and always looked at him, brief and hard, before leaving.

He started to worry when he hadn’t seen her in a week. He wondered if she had met someone that actually spoke to her. Maybe she even found a horse. Did she have a home, or a family? What did her voice sound like?

He awoke late one night to hear the click-clack of her boots. As if in a dream, he walked through the dark trailer and stepped outside into the moonlight, knowing she would be there. She stared at him with her usual look. “I’ve been waiting for you,” he said.

© Julia Himmelstein

***

IMG_0808Julia Himmelstein lives in Portland, Oregon, where she teaches, smiles, listens, and wonders. She delights in hugs from friends, children’s smiles, and fresh baked cookies (or any food, really).

Mini Sledgehammer February 2015

Another great turnout! Thanks for the support, 2015 writers!

***SH Feb 2015

Character: The least respected person
Action: Acting
Setting: The farm
Prop: Chandelier

***

The Old Chandelier

by Alyssa Shelton

I

Some of his first memories were just twinklings; iridescent, tiny movements of light dancing off of and with one another to some music that couldn’t actually be heard.

He often wondered if his mother had left the bassinet in the foyer with the fore thinking that he would be entertained by the subtle moving shadows cast on the wall by the chandelier in the entryway of their rundown old house.

More likely, however, was that she simply set him down as quickly as she could after returning home from whatever monotonous chore or errand she’d just stumbled through.

He also wondered if those bits of light had played any role in his growing desire to become the world’s greatest actor.

He could see it all so clearly: the common farm boy turned movie star! How he would wow and dazzle, shock and surprise on the golden screen. Finally, the other boys would envy him and wish they had been kinder all those years in school. “Look at him now!” they would say as he moved weightlessly across the stages of Hollywood and Broadway. The girls would regret mocking him and sending him those humiliating fake love letters, not that he had wanted them anyway…

“Eugene! Get your sorry ass downstairs and get to herding, sonofa…”

He was ripped from yet another daydream, forced back to the pathetic reality of life on a sheep farm. While he craved glamour, production, and scripts he was drowning in wool, shit, and dust.

He made his way toward the dilapidated staircase, running his hands along the cracked and fading wallpaper with fat baby angels sitting atop yellowed clouds. His mother called them cherubs, and his father asked her why the hell she couldn’t just call them what they were: fat baby angels.

As he began to descend down the steps, he paused midway to admire the one remnant of a once impressive and sprawling plantation; his great grandfather’s chandelier. Eugene was always taken by its out of place elegance, and his mind began to wander again as it was wont to do…

“Why don’t you just take your drunk ass out of this here house and let us be!”

Slap!

The memories always ended with that terrible sound that they’d all grown so accustomed to.

“Damnit Eugene, quit starin’ at that damned light and get outside!” He quickly ran down the stairs and out to the pasture.

II

Once his work was done, he retreated to the old barn. Here he could be himself: the famed Gene! The most highly sought after actor in the whole country. And from such humble beginnings!

Not long now and his neighbor and friend, Johnny, would join him in the barn. Together they would continue writing and rehearsing their next play, The Farmer’s Wife, the coming-of-age tale of a misunderstood gal on her way to Hollywood. They could both identify.

Johnny came and they wrote, laughed, argued and fucked. They just got to thinking it might be time to call it a night when the barn door slammed open and Eugene’s father burst inside, looking horrified but not surprised.

The next sequence of events would remain a blur to all who tried to recall it. Johnny took off out the back of the barn naked.

Boom. Boom. Two shotgun shots that hit nothing but the balmy summer air. In the meantime, Eugene’s father had caught him by the back of the neck and began to drag him toward the house.

Nearly at the doorstep, Eugene broke free by throwing a wild punch in his father’s face. He made it just into the foyer as another boom! canceled out all other sounds.

As he crumpled to the floor amidst his mother’s and sister’s screams, his mind wandered back to those early twinkling memories. As the blood left his body and his breathing slowed, he once again watched the lights dance along the ceiling and the walls.

© 2015 Alyssa Shelton

***

Alyssa

Alyssa Shelton co-owns a branding and web design agency called Roger That in Portland, OR. When she’s not copywriting for her clients you can find her attempting recipes that never turn out quite right.