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Mini Sledgehammer August 2019

Let’s hear it for Aaron Wheeler-Kay’s first-time win! Thanks for coming out, Aaron, and great work.

Those of you reading at home, our contest is every second Tuesday at Blackbird Wine and Atomic Cheese (4323 NE Fremont St.) in Portland, Oregon, 6:30–8:30 p.m., FREE. Join us!


The August story prompts were:
Character: A birdwatcher
Action: Slicing a hotdog lengthwise
Setting: A Dumpster
Phrase: “The rarest one of all”


Excerpts from a Watchers DiaryAaron mini sledge

by Aaron Wheeler-Kay

September 17 – God sometimes you see one that just makes your breath stop. It’s a difficult kind of beauty to explain to folks who don’t already get it. I know for some it’s about certain colors, or the stillness, or the glimpse of something that startles with its unexpected beauty and presence. The chance to see “the rarest one of all”. For me, surprise is a big part of it. Even after living in this city my whole life, I find myself in some alley, stunned, looking at something that makes me see with new eyes.

 

October 24 – My parent was a bird watcher. Before I was school age, they would whisk me off to some local bog, or patch of field, or treeline, binoculars in hand. It wasn’t a scene of natural tranquility and perfect stillness between an adult and a kid that floats a certain type of romantic cinematic boat. There was a lot of laughter. A lot of questions, a lot of snacks, including a special they called a Quonset Hut. Cut a Ball Park Frank lengthwise and serve it, cut side down, on the side of a butter knife. For desert, dip the knife in a jar of Jiff Peanut Butter. Heaven. Uneaten Quonset became food for the birds.

I remember learning that most fowl cannot move their eyes, so they constantly move their heads to see important objects from different angles.

“You do it too, when you look at things. All humans do.” They said, hoisting the binoculars. “If you track human eyes as they look at a face, they go back and forth from one eye, to another, to the mouth, and then back to the eyes. People don’t look at a thing all at once. We look at different parts of it and arrange it as a whole in our minds.”

 

November 11 – New location for me today. I found a parking lot behind a toy store, book shop, and taqueria. The watching is good. Three dumpsters, all different, all beauties. The patina on the far one is stunning, it could be 15 years old. Pretty rare, these days. Dumpsters seem to get replaced a lot more frequently than even five years ago. I wonder where the old ones go? Is there a dumpster graveyard somewhere, with gorgeous, rusty dented old bodies stacked up five high, with only narrow footpaths between them? I’m such a romantic.

Dec 15 – The Dumpster Graveyard is real! Got a tip from a fellow watcher. Seems there’s a private train yard in Hermiston. An old watcher lives there. A collector they say. God I hope it’s real.

 

Dec 23 – Spent the night under a bridge over the track, awoke to the wail of a train. Was able to get above the freighter before it slowed to pass under the bridge, I managed to drop down inside what can only be an old construction hopper. Drywall dust, a few rusty nails. Not a bad place to pass the next hour. Eventually we got diverted to the private track that led to the Graveyard.

It was better than a rumor. Better than a fever dream oil painting, better than a hobo poem about it. It wasn’t what I imagined either. But to an old dumpster watcher like me, it was a kind of Galapagos, or a museum or something. Old roofing dumpsters leaned against gigantic industrial behemoths. There was a rare Japanese Fujimitsu next to a German Eartbaum. Even a chorus line of Old Chicago 4-Yarders. You could feel all the shit they took, all the waste they held. Now  they finally had a place to be together. Done. Empty, maybe.

But to me, they were all filled with sky.

© 2019 Aaron Wheeler-Kay


Aaron Wheeler-Kay is a Portland native who learned creative writing at Jefferson High School for the Performing Arts. He is Creative Director at Echo Theater Co., a Portland social-profit focused on facilitating inclusive community through circus, movement and ensemble theater arts.

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 April 2018

This month’s winner had some really nice things to say, among them, “I really love these events and am honored to have had my story selected.” Thanks, Craig! We really love putting them on and are proud to feature your story.

Prompts:
Character: An explorer
Action: Finding a new job
Setting: A laundromat
Prop: A dark mood


Participant foster photo

by Craig Foster

There are two kinds of people in this world and the tourist was neither. Not yet. He’d settled on an idea for a big finish: run his one good credit card to the maximum while moving through a set of cities to the north, where his people were from. Although, again, he was not yet a person. Once he’d maxed out the card he’d call it quits by slipping quietly into the sea, trying not to make waves. Leaving nothing behind.

Didn’t want to be a bother.

It’s not that the tourist was in a dark mood. He just had certain notions. Had made a career of effecting bad ideas for good people and now felt he owed himself the same courtesy. It was his best bad idea for ages and the tourist couldn’t help being a little excited about it.

Since he wanted to end in the sea he made a calculation of how far his credit would take him, and for how long. He conjured an option of eating at expensive restaurants and staying at the most overpriced hotels. The tourist would travel directly to the seaside quickly. He’d heard you learn less the more you travel. It would be a good test of this theory, although he wouldn’t reveal his findings.

Another option was predictably the opposite of the first. And he took comfort in being predictable. Namely, the tourist would go on the cheap and live on the street, eat out of dumpsters. It would become a long trip unless he died as a result of that lifestyle, which would be very disappointing for him and probably lead to a cleanup for others, investigation of some sort, and short mention in a local paper.

The tourist lived at the extremes. You had to give that to him, if nothing else.

He picked what he thought was an auspicious day. August 8, 1988. 8/8/88. A series of standing-up infinity symbols. The tourist cracked himself up on rare occasions. Day One saw him at the laundromat, washing his mother’s clothes for her one last time. He liked the smell of the place. Reminded him of the time he’d singed his arm hair as a kid, waving both arms over a stove burner per a bet he’d made with his cat.

His mother asked if he was OK with her having a new job while he was away. She’d considered becoming a singing florist so that she could do two of her most favorite things – aggravating passersby and making a real stink.

The tourist said no. He couldn’t support bad behavior or novel concepts. His mother said, “Well, go off and be The Explorer then. Look around.” The tourist didn’t like being referred to as an explorer. He thought participant might be enough.

Maybe too enough.

He said goodbye and stepped into the limo he’d hired to take him to the seaside, opened a bottle of something that looked expensive, and considered charging an over-the-top tip for the driver. Some amount that would make her uncomfortable. Get mentioned far too often during fancy dinner parties she’d be able to throw for years.

Some hours later, as the water moved over and into him, the tourist thought, “I wonder if I turned off the gas at Mom’s. Did I lock the door?” His lungs filled and he remembered that she’d asked him to buy stamps. He noticed a light-green plastic bottle floating on the surface and felt some part of him being drawn into it. “This is what they’ll remember me for,” he thought, then realized such a possibility was counter to his plan.

He tried to cry but the salt water wouldn’t let him.

At the last second he realized he might be a person, and the bottle took him in.

©2018 Craig Foster


Craig Foster is an editor based in Portland, Oregon who has had stories and art published in Box and The Newer York, spouted commentary on a variety of perceived societal missteps via an odd folio called The Door Is A Jar, and created the online architecture/design magazine Peer. These ventures no longer exist, and he realizes the claims therefore beggar belief. Thankfully, he is not a proud man.

Mini Sledgehammer February 2018

We had a great crowd this month!

Prompts:
Character: An old man
Action: To electrify
Setting: In a recording studio
Prop: A heart-shaped box


Ron the ManEversmann SH photo

by Bobby Eversmann

Ron has two hearts. Ron is strong now. Ron used to leak cheese-colored spit from his lips. Now Ron’s blood runs strong like black-red ox blood. Ron’s other heart he keeps in a box inside of a box shaped like a heart, a real heart, a box made for a heart, an actual human beating heart, the box on top of his pillow. The one he doesn’t sleep on. The other side of Ron’s big lovely queen. Ron dreams dreams where he holds his heart in his hands, electrifies it with plier-wires, wires into his car, car wires, wires he pulled out of his radio with his bare hands, his hands wrapped deadly in copper wires, his wired hands holding his butterfly beating heart, running high beating with his car engine running. AC/DC, AC/DC, Ron loves AC/DC, rock and roll and swift communication. See Ron. See Ron love. See Ron’s heart beat like ten thousand hot wings of the eagles of freedom. Wow! Ron. See Ron hold his heart in his hands, kiss his own heart, wink. Hi Ron! What a heart Ron! What a heart Ron’s got, what a love, what a love for the world, what a big heart, how gracious is Ron, loves every boy and girl. Ron’s new heart is a little girl’s heart. Three AM Ron nuzzles his heart, his own nose in his own artery. Smells like me, says Ron. Smells like I used to smell. Smells like an old can of beets, like an old cat, like world famous stilton. His lips mixed with his flesh bloody heart, cold red, lush, velvet wet his heart, kisses his own heart, his old heart. Ron’s new heart is a little girl’s heart. A little girl who could have been a doctor! A teacher! But most of all could have been a singer, that girl had a voice. That girl sang like dribbled gold, a desperate grabbing voice that girl, and then that live wire left alone at the pool, the downed one nobody noticed. The little girl—Ron’s not privy to the name—put her feet on it, stepped on it, stepped onto the wire, an eel, an electric eel, and—zap—died. There at the pool. Swam all day at the pool. Climbed out of the pool. Died. And now she lives on in Ron. She could have been a singer. And now she lives on in Ron’s home recording studio, Ron, the podcaster, Ron, Wolf-man Ron coming to you live from Fresno, California, this week we’ve got a great show for you folks, this week we’re dialing up old loves, old flames, old trophies. This week we’re in love. I’m in love with you. And you’re in love with me. Listeners, oh faithful listeners, let me hold you in this little girl’s heart while I kiss my own heart to sleep. Ron the Faithful. Ron the Bold. Ron of Oak Meadow Lane. Ron, what a man, what a man, what a man with a mighty young heart.

© 2018 Bobby Eversmann


Bobby is an editor for the IPRC’s 1001 Journal and the national bookseller journal, Deep Overstock. He works at Powell’s Books and has published in Portland Review, Fiction Southwest, SUSAN/The Journal and fog machine. He runs Late Night Pomes.

Mini Sledgehammer January 2018

Ali, our founder and webmistress, was surprised to get this month’s winning story and find that it is by someone she knew in college! Great to hear from you again, Linsey! Love the magical implications in this flash piece.


Character: Traveler
Action: Planning for the future
Setting: A rock garden
Phrase: “Why is there a knot at the end?”


UntitledSquinty selfy

by Linsey Schmidt

Miss Abernathy of SE Green and Clover was 103. On a good day, she was convinced she didn’t look a day over 70, on a bad no more than 85. The neighbors on either side did not know any of this however, to them she was just the little old lady that moved in three years ago to rehab the 70s ranch house. One or two might point out that neither her rock or herb gardens matched the exterior, but she kept the lot up and always paid her HOAs, so she was doing better than most. Sarah, her closest neighbor, was the first to welcome her to the neighborhood, and the only one to bring her consistent joy.

Jeff, the oldest of Sarah’s children ran up to the table, stopping in a skid of gravel. “Did you bring me anything, Miss Abbie?”

“Does a sweet count?” She pushed the plate between him and his brother. Jeff grabbed a twist with an elaborate scroll end.

“Why does it have a knot at the end?” He asked, pulling immediately at the folds.

“For endings and beginnings,” she murmured, but her attention strayed to Sarah’s younger son, so much quieter than his older brother. Tim had grown pale in the time she’d been away, and leaned hard into his mother. Sarah brushed a hand along her son’s head, leaving a streak of sweat in his hair.

“Feeling okay, baby?” she asked only to lunge forward to grab Jeff before grabbed a handful of cookies from the tray. “Don’t ruin your dinner.”

“A cookie won’t hurt you,” Miss Abbie told Tim in a whisper. “Try the one with the sprinkles.”

“it’s got green stuff.”

“Just a few minutes and hours to see you into the future,” She told him. Thyme was a magical herb when used correctly. She was just worried she wouldn’t get enough into him to last out the week.

© 2018 Linsey Schmidt


Linsey likes to write a lot – mostly emails for the corporate world, but fictional stories (short and long form) sometimes make their way in too. She is thankful for opportunities like the mini-Sledgehammer to write outside her ordinary.

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.

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.