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Mini Sledgehammer: St. Johns Booksellers Birthday Edition

Happy Big Six, St. Johns Booksellers!

Before her store celebrated its birthday this past Saturday, June 25, Néna Rawdah messaged us to ask if we could work with her to host a Mini Sledgehammer as part of the celebration: “If you’re up for it, that would just round out the day for me.” How could we turn down something like that? Not that we’d want to anyway–we heart this Portland bookstore and appreciate the many ways it supports us, and all of its neighbors.

What a great turnout! Writers and friends of writers both. We judges had to debate the many merits of the four submitted stories, which ranged drastically in tone and topic. In the end, though, we were unanimous: congratulations, Brynn Tran!

Thanks so much to everyone for coming out. Those who did also learned that that evening launched our second permanent Mini Sledgehammer series. Now join us every second Thursday at 7 p.m. at St. Johns Booksellers!

***

Prompts:
Character: A cute girl bass player
Action: Nibbling on a pen or pencil
Setting: Over yonder
Phrase: King me!”

***

The Professor

By Brynn Tran

She could taste the salt on her upper lip, feel it stinging her right eye. The setting sun burned orange and she glared at it as she dragged the cumbersome case up the gravel road. It was hot. Too hot for eight in the evening. To hot to drag her bass over every dusty, dry hill. Too hot to hurry. Her car thought it was too hot, too, and gave up three miles back. Now her makeup was running and her hair was plastered in golden snakes to her forehead, and all she could see was a mire of green-black retina burn. She glared at the sun, daring it to set. “Fuck you, sun,” she said.

A figure shimmered in and out of existence between heat waves over yonder, perched atop the next hill. The girl hesitated. “Hey,” she called. The figure’s head snapped to. “You have a car?” she asked, immediately regretting it. If he had a car he would be in it, anywhere but here. It was unusual, standing alone in the middle of nowhere. Then again, she was the one with a tube top and a fourth of a string quartet.

“Not anymore, miss,” the figure replied. The notebook he was holding snapped shut, and his pen played about his lips. He smiled wanly. “Are you headed over there?” he jerked his thumb over the crest of the hill and, as the girl approached him, the lights of a town winked at them both.

She felt like a triumphant checker. King me, she thought. Please.

The man laughed good-naturedly at her relieved face. His eyes crinkled up at the corners, a cool blue, like a teacher the girl had once known. He reminded her of her high school orchestra conductor and she reminded herself why she was walking. This was her dream. All she wanted was to make it. To make it big, to make it to this one gig and be golden.

“Let me carry that for you,” said the man. He reached over and took the bass from her. She suddenly felt lighter than air. Perhaps it was his cologne. “What’s your name?” he asked.

“Jen,” said the girl. “You don’t have to do that, really.”

“I insist,” said the man. “What are you doing out here all by yourself?”

“I’ve got a show tonight with my band. There’s gonna be some big names there. Producers, that kinda thing.” Jen was getting ahead of him, speeding up. She figured she had about twenty minutes to make it to that great hulking blob in the distance. Since it still looked like a blob, it would likely take much longer. “So… what are you doing out here? Writing?”

“Sure,” he said. “Notes. Observations. That sort of thing.”

What could he be taking notes on? Jen wondered. There was really nothing for miles, except the town.

“I’m a scientist.” It was as though he knew her thoughts. “A professor,” he added, as an afterthought.

“Where do you teach?”

“Oh, I don’t teach anymore.”

“Why?”

Jen whirled at the sound of a heavy clatter and found herself staring down a cool blade. A knife – no, a scalpel. Her instrument rocked from side to side where it fell. It was the only sound. She didn’t scream. She didn’t even breathe. His icy fingers gripped her by the hair.

Why?” the Professor parroted. “Because I’m starting my own project,” he said.

The obsidian scalpel flashed. She didn’t even scream.

Very carefully, the Professor lifted the latches on the case and removed the bass. He placed it on the side of the road. Then he folded up the girl, stuffed her inside, closed the lid, and continued on his way towards the lights of the town. The sun slipped below the horizon.

© 2011 Brynn Tran

***

Brynn shares about herself and her story: “I just turned eighteen and graduated from Lakeridge High School in Lake Oswego, and I’ll be attending Reed College next year to study English. The Professor in this short story is actually a character I made in my creative writing class this year, who I had no intention of writing about. The ironic thing is that his last name is St. John.”

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