High Striker

Flash Fiction | Brett Stuckel | March 2017

Test your strength and try to ring the tower’s bell. A show of muscle, virility, speed, power, and precision. Built for the daredevil, the gambler, the show-off. She roll-walks up, a promise clenched in her jaw.

The mallet is a yard of ash wrapped in athletic tape, stained with the grime of rough hands. The mallet stains back: throw down your hands, and we’ll see if you’ve ever touched it. A keg of stout wood is capped atop the handle, a chipped and pounded barrel, blackened by the rigged rubber lip of the lever. The mallet and the lever, calibrated to humiliate the most shoulder-heavy superstar.

She steps up and hefts the mallet. Cinches her suspenders, cranks her belt tighter a notch. Maybe she just tugs the waistband, or the crotch, both acceptable outlets for nerves.

The carny with the belly pouch of money slides a taunt only she can hear. She pumps her knees, a pendulum rock takes up residence in her body, boots wide and biting the trampled dust-grass, quadriceps flexed, deltoids drafted into service. She converts the rock into a loop, brings the mallet coaster-soaring over her head, arcing down, down, mallethead bound for the lip of rubber.

The shaved edges of the lever are rasped to slip and soften the power, to deflate the transferred pop, but now it fails to slip, and the herniating force sends a missile of steel zooming up the vertical track. A dry track, never greased, etched for friction, bumpy and gritty in the upper reaches, scratched to throw a shimmy into the shuttle and arrest its climb—but not tonight. The mallet threw a shimmy of its own, a noise-canceling wavelength, a hopscotch of the minefield, and the missile sails past the final speedbumps and kisses the bell. Not a graze, not a peck, but a two-handed cheek-squeezing smacker.

In earshot, eyes wild with cotton candy turn to the high striker and the woman at its base. She chin-nods to no one in particular, then arms are thrown around her neck, the carny blows a cloud of smoke and pays up, her buddies thunder slaps across her back. She is not surprised to be the agent of a cosmic force.

The high striker’s highest words announce her title: HIT HIT. The mallet records her deed. In the morning, the carnival packs up and goes away, but the ring of the bell doesn’t fade.


Many thanks to Gravel for publishing. According to Duotrope, Gravel permanently closed in November 2019.