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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.

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Mini Sledgehammer December 2016

We got our Mini Sledgehammer in just between Portland’s two snowstorms this month. Thanks to everyone who came out for it! Congratulations to Benjamin Gross, who got his pick of books from the recently boosted prize box.

***

Prompts:
Character: Post Modernist
Theme: Containing an epidemic
Object: Oriental Rug
Phrase: “What are you doing New Years Eve?”

***

post-modernism: what Is it?: an education On what Is And what Is not, Or perhaps what might have been

By Benjamin Gross ben-gross-hs

Jackson Clearheart rubbed his feet against the threadbare Oriental rug brought back to the graduate student lounge, as the legend held, in the early part of the 20th century by the man who made the Hawthorne University English department what it was today, the venerable Professor William R. Slopes, authority on the nearer east, as it was called then, and the modernist novel, as it was coming to be called, by the cultured and educated milieu in which people such as he, Dr. Slopes, ran in that sliver of time, now almost a hundred years gone. But Jackson rarely thought of the esteemed W.R. Slopes, despite the great doctor’s name christening the ferroconcrete archway that marked the delineation of the English department from the Philosophy department (which some, much to Jackson’s immature chagrin but a veritable nothing to his more refined, older cognizance of the world and its fickle ways, would call the pride of Hawthorne University), even though the renowned professor’s name was inscribed on a gold placard in the lounge to attest to the fact that this modern Renaissance man, as the placard said (and the irony here, Jackson always thought, should not be wasted) that this modernist modern Renaissance man had brought back the fine, but now tattered and worn, Oriental rug from one of his biyearly sabbaticals in Turkey, where the man studied like no other the connection between James Joyce (who happened, not without coincidence, to have been his off and on pen pal) and the crumbling authority of the Ottoman Empire, and regardless of the fact that the Hawthorne University English department was, in fact, called the William R. Slopes Department of English and Anglophonic Cultural Studies.

As he rubbed his feet against that hallowed rug – of history known but possibly apocryphal – the future Doctor Clearheart thought of his last encounter with the eventual Doctor Emelia Alberta, holder of one Master’s degree in Slavic languages, another in Folkloric studies, and a heart that Jackson Clearheart felt himself especially qualified to judge as just, honest, and true. Emilia also happened to be a member of Jackson’s cohort, that faithful seven, slogging their way, semester by semester, poor review on Rate-My-Professor by Facebook poke from an overly libidinous undergraduate, rejection from Post-Modernism today by acceptance at The Post-Modernist Quarterly: A Review, through the five to sixteen-year ordeal that it was to earn a Ph.D. from the William R. Slopes Department of English and Anglophonic Cultural Studies. Clearheart had Alberta on his mind because just before the cessation of classes for that semester (which was yesterday), he was hustling from his graduate seminar on the Post-Modernist position on theories of love and race in the plays of Jean-Paul Sartre, with the critical distinction in mind that in translating those plays from French to English they lost their essential being and became nothingness, to the undergraduate course he taught, for the final day, that semester, “Post-Modernism: What is It?,” and as he was making his way through the crowded academic corridor, Professor Clearheart (though he was, of course, technically not a professor, but was often referred to as one by the majority of his students who did not understand the fine distinction between doctoral candidate and doctor [a distinction Jackson was never too quick to point out, feeling his duty to his students did not extend to include an education on the finer points of modern day Academic hierarchies]) bumped into semi-Professor Alberta directly beneath the vaunted Slopes Arch, which apparently did not bare the same powers as mistletoe, and asked, “What are you doing New Year’s Eve, Emelia?” “Well,” she responded, with the voice he had heard so many times in his seminar on the intersection of 17th Century piracy and the tension in British literature between the cosmos and human sexuality, but only so rarely in more casual forums, “I’ve been contacted by the Princeton Review. Apparently there’s a modern epidemic going round! Students across the country are just bombing the Verbal Reasoning section of the SAT. And the good people at the ETS spent so much of their honest time and effort to make the test more equitable and fair! It’s such a…”

“But wait,” quasi-professor Clearheart interjected, “What does that have to do with New Year’s Eve?”

“Oh, Jackson, I’m sorry. I’m always so circuitous in my speech! They’re flying me out to Princeton for the next two weeks to help them overhaul the test. They think that I can help them, because of my skillset in different languages and cultures, make the exam a bit more approachable. What are you doing, Jack?”

“Well,” he responded, “to conjecture as to what I might be doing would be a relic of the modernist thought, and since I am a strict post-modernist, I guess all I can say is that I’ll be thinking of you.”

© 2016 Benjamin Gross

***

Ben grew up on the east coast but is happy to now call Portland home.  He has an M.A. in English literature and enjoys studying and writing about the plays of Shakespeare.  Ben also writes poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction.  His current project is a collection of essays drawn from his experiences driving from South Florida to Oregon.

 

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!

***

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.

***

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 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 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

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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.