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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.

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Mini Sledgehammer May 2016

Donald has cropped up to quite a few Indigo events lately—happy hour chats, write-ins, and now Mini Sledgehammer! Thanks for being part of our community, Donald, and congratulations on winning.

***

Prompts:
Character: A delivery person
Action: Taking x-rays
Setting: An ice rink
Phrase: “Heads up”

***

The Disappearance of Bobby Gond

by Donald Carson

Everyone searched and searched, but they could not find him.Donald_Carson

If ever a 7-year-old could have been said to have vanished, it was Bobby.

His grandmother, old Muriel Gond, who was raising Bobby after his mother had left town with a pizza delivery person Muriel referred to only as “that man,” stomped all over the property, looking in old refrigerators, rusting car carcasses, and oil drums.

She pulled things off of shelves.

She clattered in the garage, in the barn, in the overhang where the big RV had been parked for ten years without moving an inch.

She yelled until she was hoarse.

And she was not alone. The entire town of Ice Rink, Idaho (pop. 837) roamed the streets shouting Bobby’s name until the glow on the horizon disappeared and it was too dark to see. Many of them abandoned the search then, but a few of the brave flashlight owners got them out, dusted them off, and continued searching across the fields, rustling through the grass like a herd of migrating elk.

Muriel worried that Bobby had never spent a night out of his bed before, and would be scared to be by himself in the dark. The matriarchs of the town comforted her as they sat up into the night, watching Fox News and waiting for their own news from the search parties.

Morning came. The sun rose, and the town rose, but no Bobby. Muriel Gond finally fell into a troubled sleep. She was a religious woman, and in a dream God came to her, pressed a cold cloth to her brow, and, in the voice of Charleton Heston, told her not to worry.

They never did find Bobby.

The search went on for several days. In the second week, it became half-hearted. In the third week, it was quarter-hearted, and so on, until there was no heart left at all.

It should be said, and here is as good a place as any, that Bobby was no ordinary boy. You only know him as a missing child, but to those who knew him, Bobby was a delight. Most young boys you can take or leave. Mostly leave. They’re noisy, smelly, and fully of questions that don’t need answering. The best you can say about 7-year-old boys is that they’ll “probably turn out OK.”

But Bobby was different. Smart, funny, and kind, he made everyone around him glad to see him show up and sorry to see him leave.

And when he disappeared from their lives so suddenly and mysteriously, the town of Ice Rink was forever more subdued after that.

Muriel took ill, with a fever, and raged and groaned and was on the verge of cursing God, but thought better of it. They needed his help to find Bobby. She grew no better, and finally the doctor took x-rays to see what was the matter. He could find nothing wrong.

But one day Muriel sprang out of bed, exclaiming that God had come to her in a dream and told her that all was accounted for. That was all she would say. But she never was quite the same after that, fading like wallpaper in the sun as the years went by.

And the years did go by. Muriel, who had been old when Bobby went missing, grew even older.

And then she died.

Muriel had been something of a hoarder, saving the possessions of her late husband Josephus X. Gond in careful stacks as though his life had been worthy of furnishing a museum.

After Bobby disappeared, she became even worse. Perhaps she thought that by saving everything that came into her life she could somehow atone for having misplaced her grandson.

When she died, the town had a lot of sorting to do. The one Goodwill was strained to the bursting point with the detritus of Muriel Gond’s home and many outbuildings.

Before he settled in Idaho, Josephus had been a cook in the Merchant Marine, and one of the things he’d brought back with him was the taxidermied corpse of an alligator perched on a rock, swatting at a stuffed kingfisher flying overhead on a wire. No one knew how Josephus had managed to get the ridiculously heavy thing from God Knows Where to his home, but he had. And it had the place of honor in the middle of the garage, where it had lain, gathering the dust of the ages, for half a century.

When it came time to take the alligator out of the place, it took seven men and a truck with a winch.

As they were dragging it into the yard, it came apart. Turns out the rock that alligator was on was hollow—who knew?

Someone yelled “heads up” at the man driving the truck and he stopped tugging.

They all gathered around the rock that had split horizontally in two, showing the hollow space within.

Where the skeleton of a young boy lay, perfectly preserved, his empty eye socket pressed against a small hole in the rock, gazing eternally at the world outside.

No one could figure out how Bobby had gotten himself into the hollow of the rock without help, nor why no one had heard him yelling when they searched.

But there he was.

What was not widely reported, and only spoken of in hushed tones among the townspeople, was that the skeleton had grown small wings—just bones now—that curled against his body as he lay.

It couldn’t be explained.

But anyhow, there is so much in this life that can’t be explained, isn’t there?

© 2016 Donald Carson

 

***

 

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

Mini Sledgehammer April 2016

Laurel Rogers was brand new to Sledgehammer this month, and she walked out with a newly won bottle of wine! She says, “I really loved it. Such a great event. Thanks again.” Thank YOU, Laurel!

***

This month’s prompts were:
Character: A barber
Action: Parallel parking
Setting: At a bike rack
Phrase: “You gotta remember where you are.”

***

Extinction

by Laurel RogersLaurelRogersHeadShot

The icy wind wrapped around Kay like a vicious sneer, as if the islands themselves knew how much she didn’t belong there. Not now anyway. Not in this alternate timeline she’d lived for the past five aching years.

Bill’s face was, as always, immutable, but that was preferred to the blood-red anger that had overtaken him when she pulled the car up by the bike rack in a haphazard version of parallel parking near the beach. “You still just can’t do it, can you,” he fumed.

Well, fuck him.

The old Kay would feel the sting of his words. The old Kay, who had a heart that did more than beat.

A heart that stopped feeling years before.

***

You could only find a few references to it online, always tagged as the “Puget Sound Mini Tsunami.” No one really knew much about it—almost know one ever heard of it.

But it was the lightning rod moment for Bill and Kay. An extinction-level event, as tsunamis often were. And here they were at the spot, five years and a few months later.

Because coming on the anniversary would be cliche, Kay had said.

Too fucking impossibly painful, she meant.

Time supposedly heals all wounds, but it hadn’t proved to have an effect on the abject, utter loss of an entire world. And that’s what the “mini tsunami” had been—the Great Flood, ending of everything. Just a random late spring day, the kind when families play, lovers kiss, sailboats unfurl their spinnakers and hillsides fifty miles away don’t collapse into the sea, spawning a two-foot-high relentless, powerful ripple across the sound and around Spieden Island.

And funneled—“with surgical precision,” one newscaster described it—right into the spit by Davis Head.

Where Bill and Kay were.

Watching.

Watching in utter helplessness as their three kids looked in momentary shock as the water receded to showcase the crabs and sea slime and purple clams they had, but seconds before, longed to reach under the too-deep water.

“Mom, look!” Lina hollered. “A starfish!”

It was the last thing Kay would ever hear any of her children say.

***

“You’ve gotta remember where you are,” Kay’s therapist reminded her about once a month. “And that’s a lot further than you were last month.”

Was it? Was it really? Because it felt like a treadmill. Day after day, going through the motions of a life Kay wouldn’t wish on her worst enemy.

Bill was on a treadmill too. It just wasn’t the same treadmill. And gradually Kay realized it wasn’t even pointed in the same direction.

At first, there was still some kind of connection. The inconceivable grief, combined with a zombie-like onslaught of “helpful” opinions offered by friends and family, had given them at least the shared focus of survival.

No, they weren’t wearing lifejackets, they answered a thousand times. No, it wouldn’t have occurred to them. How could we possible know if it would’ve made a difference. NO, NO ONE IN THEIR RIGHT MIND WOULD PUT LIFEJACKETS ON KIDS WADING IN ANKLE-DEEP WATER SO FUCK THE HELL OFF.

Over time, the world went on. Other children died. A mom down the street died five weeks after being diagnosed with melanoma. Bill’s grandpa died. A truck driver on I-5 fell asleep and took out a motorcyclist heading home from work.

Death was everywhere, and after a few months, Bill and Kay weren’t special. Or interesting.

Or even alive, they realized.

But no one else really noticed.

***

Kay had heard of people “growing apart” or just “not having that spark” any more. People got bored. People got lonely. People got scared as the years ticked by closer to an unknown but certain doomsday looming—age 72? 80? Maybe 100? No one knew, but it was there like a barber holding a straight-edge razor, ready to cull a few more strands from the world’s tapestry.

But only three strands mattered to Kay, and they were gone. And over time, as she looked at Bill, he seemed more and more part of the memory of those family days—days that gradually became myth and legend, rolled up in the modern cave paintings of family scrapbooks.

And just as untouchable as an extinct mammoth.

Extinct. That was what their marriage was. They realized this quietly, she and Bill. Each on their own.

Out of habit she kissed him on the mouth on his way out the door to work for the first time since their world was destroyed. But there was nothing there. For either of them.

“It’ll take time,” the counselor assured them, first together, when they tried together, and then separately.

Gradually everything was separate. First, Kay tried a few nights on the couch, knowing too well her insomnia was keeping Bill from sleeping. “One of us has to get some rest,” she said as she left their plush king-size bed.

She never came back, in word or deed.

And Bill never asked.

Extinct.

***

Coming back to San Juan Island again was Bill’s idea. It wasn’t a romantic proposition. They both knew that. They hadn’t even driven together, although they decided to meet at the Anacortes ferry terminal and go that far together to save a few bucks. Naturally that was Bill’s idea, but Kay knew, in fairness, it was best. Lawyers cost money. Tax accountants cost money. Never mind the therapy bills, the online dating fees, an increasing amount of money going out the door separately.

The papers were ready, and they both were fine. It didn’t hurt, in the same way you don’t feel a thing when they remove your leg while you’re under general anesthesia. But they weren’t macabre enough to make some grand ceremony of it on the island.

That wasn’t the point.

Even though neither ever said it, Kay knew that this trip was a simple, quiet, strangely necessary funeral. A terribly cold one, inside and out.

***

Kay shivered again as she looked out toward Pearl Island. The Davis spit was so much the same—its swath of granite gravel and pearly clams. Million-dollar yachts still bobbed at moorages out of reach of the common folk. Yet it was oddly silent, shrouded in winter’s inescapable solitude.

Kay was grateful. The island she had known and loved was seared in her memory, an endless summer where her children played happily in their eternal youth.

She looked at Bill, whose stoic face was lined with ever more wrinkles even if they weren’t caused by grins and laughter.

Suddenly he looked at her, really looked at her, as if for the first time in all these years. And then he spoke aloud the epitaph they both had written in their hearts.

“I always thought I’d grow old with you.”

Extinct.

© 2016 Laurel Rogers

***

Laurel loves to make up stories. Sometimes she even realizes they’re fiction. Other times she fashions them into website content, blogs and twisted Facebook posts about her family. One day soon, she’ll actually get her own blog going at www.theclockstruckmidlife.com.

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 May 2015

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

***

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

***

Burnt Ice Cream

by Elizabeth Grace Martin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hi there, Miss. How are you?”

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

“Talkative aren’t you?”

“Not to strangers.”

“How do you ‘pect to make friends?”

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

“Fresh out. Fudgicle?”

“Whatever.”

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

“Take care.”

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

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

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

She answered.

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

The fire won again.

©  2015 By: Elizabeth Grace Martin

***

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

Mini Sledgehammer March 2015

Congratulations to Denise Coderre, whose story earned her a free book and  bottle of wine!

***

Character: The person next to you
Action: Hail Mary
Setting: Somewhere in cyberspace
Prop: Mask

***

Nature Trip

by Denise Coderre

“Hey man, where are we?”

“I don’t know about you, but I think I’m somewhere in cyberspace. How big a dose did you say this was?”

“I didn’t, and I’m gonna keep it that way. You doin’ okay?”

“Yeah, thanks. I’m glad we’re here together. It’s a real chance to get to know you on a different level – without the masks we sometimes wear. I’ve known you all your life, mi hijo, but really, how well do we know each other?”

“I know what you mean. All my life, I’m the person next to you, living, playing and eating with you, sometimes crying with you, laughing with you…I think I know you pretty well. But who knows? How about you tell me about yourself? I’ll see if you get it right.”

“Hah! What is this? I don’t see any confessional boxes around, even if I were Catholic.”

“Don’t worry. It’s not as if I’m going to assign you any Hail Marys – even if I were a priest.

“This is supposed to be a beautiful experience. I think the best way we get to know each other, or rather, keep knowing each other, is just to be ourselves. Completely in the moment. There aren’t any roles we need to play. The roles are all in the past. Now, we’re just two people.”

“Yes, two peoples. And lots of bugs! Man, cyber bugs are huge! What if they eat us, and no one finds us for two years, and then we’re just a pile of bones?”

“Hello…take off the mask. You’re using bugs as an excuse to not talk about what’s important.”

“But this is me. I’m not a great philosopher. I’m just a weirdo who enjoys the minutiae, the bugs, the dirt. Look at the dirt! It’s red. Did I ever tell you about the science teacher who told me about the meaning of red dirt? It means were here. We got to where we’re going. We’ve arrived!”

“And there’s no place else I’d rather be than right here next to you. I sure do love you, whoever you are. I may not know you, but I know I love you. Thanks for being here with me.”

“Thanks for asking me. I love you too, more than you’ll ever know.”

© 2015 Denise Coderre

***

DeniseDenise Coderre, originally from California, is a born-again Oregonian since 1990. She is an attorney specializing in retirement plans, insurance and related tax laws. In her spare time, she enjoys playing fierce Scrabble competitions against her fiancé, quiet evenings watching Dr. John McWhorter lectures on DVD, and studying foreign languages to mingle with locals around the world. She cherishes her good fortune to experience first-hand the enduring, ever-evolving mother-son bond.

Mini Sledgehammer January 2015

What a great night! We had a bout a dozen writers come out for the first Mini Sledgehammer of the year. Congratulations to Jeremy Da Rosa!Sledgehammer 1.15

***

Character: SIRI
Action: Exercising
Setting: January, 1915
Prop: Salt

***

Milk Starring Sean Penn

by Jeremy Da Rosa

It was the largest glass of milk I had ever seen. I’m no stranger to milk (I’ve got most varieties memorized), but this was the biggest glass I’d seen. 32oz at least. Next to it the sugar shaker on the table made the sugar shaker look like a salt shaker.

The waitress brought me a straw, which was kind but unnecessary.
“I’m pretty good with milk,” I said.

“Siri,” I asked, “What is the Guinness World Record for largest quantity of milk drank in one sitting?”

Siri didn’t know. I stood up in the brown diner. There was a belt of square windows strung around its waist and a fence of bushes between the windows and the street. A marathon was breathing heavily by, and I was convicted about my lack of exercise. I returned to my milk.

A search through the bowels of the internet revealed the milk drinking record was two cows past a full herd: a man named Samuel Scott Walker held the record with 2.5 gallons of whole milk drank in one sitting. The asterisk next to the stat showed a sitting was considered 45 minutes.

This was beyond me–no matter how much I loved the thick, natural soy-based alternatives. I needed to train, and to train, I needed to talk to the best.

Samuel Scott Walker, according to classmates.com, was born on Jan. 30, 1915, in Tillamook, Oregon, which made sense–where else would the world’s best milk drinker be born other than the producer of the nation’s best dairy products?
But 1915, that’s one hundred years ago! The odds that this proud man still walked among us were thinner that a glass of nonfat.

© 2015 Jeremy Da Rosa

***

Jeremy Da RosaJeremy Da Rosa is a writer and educator who lives in Portland. He was born in Salinas, California, where lettuce comes from.