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Mini Sledgehammer December 2018

Congratulations to first-time winner Elizabeth Shupe! Happy holidays, everyone!


Prompts:
Character: A banker
Action: Wrapping a present
Setting: Stuck in an elevator
Phrase: “What would the fish do without the horse?”


Without the HorsePolination Anxiety2 emailsize

By Elizabeth Shupe

 

“What would the fish do without the horse?”

They had been her parting words to him as the orderlies had prepared to wheel her away to the operating room. It was like a Buddhist koan, a sentimental enigma. Somehow the words had left her lips, in short puffs of breath between her contractions. Somehow she had managed to smile through the pain, an attempt to reassure him as he squeezed her hand desperately.

“Fish” was her nickname for him. He was the cool, clinical type; a banker, the kind of man who ironed his socks and was on formal, cold-blooded terms with everyone including his own mother. Everyone but her.

“Horse” was what he called her because she was a wandering spirit, a painter of desolate pink deserts, deserts desperate with barely restrained passion in the tradition of Georgia O’Keefe. She was like her paintings; multi-colored and stained and always slightly disheveled.

And lately she had been heavy and round, a self-enclosed planet, their baby stirring within her like a barely articulated thought. Her heaviness had not changed her wildness but rather emphasized it– her currents ran deeper now and their movements were felt as tremors like the movement of magma deep within the earth.

“What would the fish do without the horse?” had been her answer to the simple statement he had made as the hospital staff prepared her for the operating theater.

That statement, muttered under his breath:

“Don’t leave me.”

Now, she was gone. Wheeled away. There was nothing he could do, no action to be taken. To the man who had control over everything– his retirement plan, his blood pressure, his thermostat setting– this was a terror unthinkable.

He paced the waiting room for a while but his nerves clacked together too loudly for his sanity to bear.

So he gave himself a purpose.

I’ll buy her a gift, he thought. Something to make her smile. Something for the baby? Something…

He hurried downstairs to the gift shop and bought a stuffed animal in the shape of a horse. Halfway back up the third flight of stairs he panicked and went back for some gift wrap. He envisioned himself spending time in the waiting room, carefully folding the crisp paper, taping the ends evenly, making everything perfect.

I’ve got to get back to her, he thought as he checked out for the second time, the Scotch tape and colorful roll in a bag that asked him to “Have a Nice Day”.

He decided to take the elevator back up to the waiting room.

He stepped inside, distracting himself by silently scolding whoever had cleaned the buttons, they were filthy. He pressed the button that closed the doors. They shut and the elevator began to move with a dull grinding sound.

What would the fish do without the horse? he thought again as the elevator stopped on his floor, the Obstetrics and NeoNatal department.

The doors didn’t open.

He mashed the button frantically and nothing happened. He kicked the doors, he screamed, but they didn’t open.

The cold man, the banker, the frigid fish felt tears well up in his eyes for the first time in years. The eyes of the stuffed horse under his arm were deep and unfeeling black plastic and his wife was somewhere in the bowels of the hospital, facing the struggle alone.

© 2018 Elizabeth Shupe


Elizabeth (Beth) Shupe is a writer/artist person who lives in Portland, Oregon and has been published on occasion. As a misplaced Victorian, her hobbies include collecting hair jewelry, decorating with needle-pointed pillows, and haunting people’s attics. She is a social media recluse and has no Instagram to offer you, but if you knock on her door and are very polite, she will make you a nice cup of tea.

Mini Sledgehammer October 2018

We love the discordant nature of this month’s prompts and the winning story that came out of it. Nice job, Tovia!


Prompts:
Character: A Buddhist monk
Action: Trick-or-treating
Setting: A wine bar
Prop: A car manual


Miami, 1926

by Tovia Gehl

Miami, 1926. This city isn’t real.

Well, it is. It has buildings and roads and trees and houses. Horses clop and cars crash by, splashing in the rainy streets. It’s the kind of place people come to get lost and remake themselves.

Marina is not here for any of that. She has a bag full of contraband, a face as pretty as the day is long, and she walks with a confident air as she descends the plank of her ship. Even the persistent rain and insistent wind doesn’t bother her. Dressed in a white dress begging for a mud puddle to look sidelong at it, she doesn’t stick out any more than anyone else in this city. Still, everyone calls out to her – the rich sugar baron’s daughter is well known here.

I tip my chin at her when I see her and we fall in, two girls linking arms. I tuck my book, a car manual I have little and less intention of reading, into my purse. It barely fits and wrecks the lines of the fine kid leather, but my brother will covet it, so it’s worth a little fashion faux pas.

“Gotten up to any tricks lately?” I ask. I know her – the world knows her – and she knows me, but I have to ask anyway. We laugh and titter like she doesn’t have a heavy carpetbag bursting with sin.

“Only treats, Eliza, don’t be silly.” With the other half of the passcode complete, I start to gently direct our stroll. Our heels click a medley along the paved streets, and we’re careful to avoid splashing in gathering puddles. She lets me lead – the location of our destination changes every time she gets off the ship.

We pass people dressed in all colors and styles. It’s Miami, and it’s 1926, and you can be whatever you want. Any business, any class, any religion. We pass a man dressed all in orange begging on the street, and Marina flips him a coin. “I heard it was good luck to rub the Buddhist’s bellies,” I tell her quietly, and she tells me not to be rude as she gives him another coin and apologizes for my words. Chastened, I silence myself.

I lead the way to the old wine bar as the night gathers. Closed since the start of Prohibition, the windows are boarded up. She raises a perfect brow at me, dark against pale skin in the pool of yellow lantern light. “A little on the nose, isn’t it?” I giggle at her, but flash her a wicked look at the same time. No one pays us any mind. Two girls giggling at each other means nothing, even though we’re tittering about breaking the law.

I take her around the side of the building and into the alley, then down the stairs and through two doors. The men who guard them let us through without a second thought. I’m the key. This is my brother’s place.

Once we’re in the heart of the speakeasy (and out of the rain), Marina unloads her bag. She’s been carrying it like it’s nothing, but as she unpacks bottle after bottle of strong Cuban rum, I wonder how she’s carried something so heavy this far.

It’s just in time too. With the sunset comes the party.

Men and women crowd together on the dance floor. Everyone greets us by name as they come in – they know where the drinks have come from tonight. Dresses sparkle in the orange glow of our lamps. Red fabric shimmers against the wall, and soon the place thrums with the pound of dozens of feet on the dancefloor.

The party goes late into the night. I’m three drinks deep with Marina on one arm and a handsome sailor on my other – I don’t know his name but he knows mine – when I feel my feet get wet. Looking down, I see a few inches of water licking around my heels. Disentangling myself from Marina and the handsome sailor, I say something about a pipe bursting and excuse myself.

Knowing my brother is busy handling the bar, I seek out the source of the leak. I splash through the packed crowd and follow the flow of the water. But it doesn’t lead to any walls. Instead, it is coming from the staircase. I stare up it, barely able to hear the beat of jazz behind the two soundproofed doors, and cold fear seeps into me.

Because the water is flowing down. Our stairs are a small waterfall, and the flow is intensifying.

My instincts scream at me to run, but I force myself to turn back. I push through the doors, fighting the rise of the water that drags at them. People are already staring at the water. “Police!” I scream in the direction of the bar.

There’s an instant, practiced movement. People flood against me towards the doors and I lead them out. This is what we do, well-rehearsed. The water is up to my ankles by the time I reach the stairs, and I’m the first one up.

Which means I’m the first one to see the waves rolling along the lines of the street. Icy panic races down my spine, because the scent of the sea is in my nose, because this is no pipe break. This is the ocean coming in.

Rain hammers down and the fierce wind yanks at my hair. People pour out around me, and I grab Marina when I see her white dress. “High ground,” I tell her. “We must go up.”

The water swirls around my knees now, and roars down the steps in a vengeful torrent. We go against it, towards Miami Ridge. It’s the walk I make each morning to get a proper view of the ocean, and I know it’s the highest point around. I fight my fear for my brother, but Marina isn’t from around her – and if she drowns, her father will cut off our supply of Cuban rum, and our speakeasy will die. My brother would kill me if I let that happen.

We fight our way against the wind and water up the heights. When the ocean finally lets go of my feet, I can see nothing by grey, furious water ahead of me. Looking back, the city of Miami goes dark as the electricity is devoured by the storm.

Marina tugs me into the sheltered space behind a building. “What is happening?”

She asks me. “Are we going to die?”

The question catches me. It’s the same one my brother asked my mother we were on the boat from New York to Miami with our parents, headed south to start a new life. There was a storm then too. “My mama told me everyone dies twice. Once when you stop breathing, and once when your name is forgotten.” I take her face in my hands and attempt a smile. I am drenched, a ragged thing made of salt and fear, but she almost smiles back of me. “We will not be forgotten.”

© 2018 Tovia Gehl


Tovia Gehl is a reader, writer, traveler, whiskey and beer drinker, and animal lover. When she’s not busy with any of those things she works with a law firm learning all the dirty deeds and terrible sorrows of humanity. Ideally, one day she’ll become an author and not just a writer, but right now she’s content with all the exuberant imperfection in her words and life.

Mini Sledgehammer August 2018

We welcome back to the winner’s podium…(drumroll, please)… Chris Smith!

Chris likes to write in screenplay format, so we’re attaching a PDF of the story in its true format (click the link below the story) for those of you who want that authentic flavor, since unfortunately it doesn’t translate exactly to blog format.

Congratulations, Chris!


Prompts:
Character: A butler
Action: Getting your foot stuck in the fence
Setting: At a tennis court
Phrase: “I’ll take one, too”


“The Class Clown and The Beauty Queen”

By Chris Smith

FADE IN:
EXT. TENNIS COURT- NIGHT
JAKE (mid-20s) and LILY (mid-20s) are pretending to have a really quiet game of tennis.
Lily pretending to bounce a ball before serving.
LILY
So…why’d you bring me here?
JAKE
What don’t like a little game of night tennis?
LILY
No, it’s just an odd place for a date. Especially here.
JAKE
I mean, it’s not that odd.
Lily pretends to serve and they have a few back and forths before Jake “misses” the ball.
Lily congratulates herself.
LILY
You don’t think having a date on my family’s court would be weird. What if someone sees us?
Jake prepares to serve.
JAKE
Like the butler?
Jake throws her a smirking grin.
2
LILY
I think the butler already knows.
She returns his smirk.
Jake is about to serve.
LILY (CONT’D)
At least the junior butler. But seriously why here?
Jake pauses.
JAKE
I’m not sure about you, but I’m kind of tired of being a secret. I mean how long can we keep this up.
LILY
That’s why? That’s why you brought me here? Oh, come on dude!
Lily pretends to serve, but Jake doesn’t respond.
LILY (CONT’D)
You know why we have to keep this a secret. You’ll get fired if my parents find out. Then who will get my morning coffee.
Lily gives him a grin. But Jake is still unresponsive.
LILY (CONT’D)
Okay, so what’s your plan?
JAKE
Um…I don’t know. Maybe, I don’t know. I just if we were caught here it would…I don’t know.
LILY
That’s why you brought us here? You were hoping we’d get caught?
Lily starts to storm off toward the house uphill.
3
JAKE
Wait, I just…I was just tired of being a secret and I thought if we accidentally got caught it would just force everything out into the open.
Lily keeps walking away she starts to climb the fence separating the court from the lawn, when her sneakers get caught on a link.
JAKE
Can we just talk about this for just a second?
Lily struggles to break free.
LILY
You can get one second.
JAKE
I’ll take one…two seconds.
Jake gives her a grin. She looks back at him still mad.
Jake walks up to her.
JAKE
Do you need some help?
Jake gives her a huge, caring smile.
Just as she starts to smile back the tennis court lights turn on.
CUT TO BLACK:
THE END

Chris Smith-Sledgehammer-August2018

© 2018 Chris 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 March 2018

Character: An irate commuter
Action: Rollerblading
Setting: In a plum orchard
Phrase: “Are you sure you really want to do that?”


The Plum

 

by Sara Kachelman
 Sara K
The plum overtook the entire orchard. When it grew larger than a water tower, it rolled and sat its ass on i-5. The commuters tried to go around it until one brave woman plowed right through. Are you sure you really want to do that? Cried a chorus of carpoolers. I am late, she said. She turned her wipers on high. The pulp sprayed everywhere. The juice caused a flash flood that washed away two whole lanes. The sweet nectar plugged the throats of the naysayers, the tailgaters, the ones who told this woman not to try. And all the haters died.

When the woman had cleared a path and disappeared, children flocked to the giant plum to latch onto its flesh and suck like barnacles. The plum was closed to thru traffic.

Everyone had to walk. Intrepid rollerbladers tried and failed to coast down the wet red tongue of the giant plum, scattering pulp in their wake.

But by late afternoon the plum got soft. The heat of the sun sealed its interior like a rotten pink sarcophagus, rendering it too toxic to enter. The city of Portland was filled with the smell of burning sugar.

By nightfall the top of the plum had collapsed, launching a spray of dead yellow fruit flesh across the Willamette Valley.

The survivors gathered together. No one had plum insurance. With gas masks they hunted for the plum farmer. They found him deep inside the plum pit, curled up asleep.

They were so exhausted when they got there they curled up with him and cried.

©2018 Sara Kachelman

Sara Kachelman has published fiction in DIAGRAM, Fanzine, and New South. She lives in Portland, OR.

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: November 2013 Metlakatla Library

Elissa

Elissa Nelson and her dog, Ollie

Now that I’m back in Alaska for the winter, we finally started up the Metlakatla Mini Sledgehammer again. This one went a bit differently than usual, though.

As many of you know, ardent Sledgehammer supporter Elissa Nelson has been ill for a while. Just a few days before this Mini Sledgehammer, she passed away. I felt compelled to honor her with a tribute activity, so I came up with writing prompts all related to Elissa. Although the other writers here in Alaska didn’t know Elissa, who lived in Portland, they joined me in honoring her with these prompts:

Character: someone terminally ill
Action: squinting one eye
Setting: on the front porch
Phrase: [silence]

While Sledgehammer was founded to help shatter the fiction writer’s block, this combination of prompts led us all to write nonfiction. Grief, it turns out, is a topic most people can relate with and most writers can convey.

It was a beautiful moment to hear the true stories as these writers honored someone they’d lost. And it was not a moment to pick a winning story to post on the website. We’ll keep our stories to ourselves this time, but we invite you to write your own story with these prompts. And we hope you’ll find healing in the process.

Peace,

Ali