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Mini Sledgehammer April 2012: St. Johns Booksellers

The prompts were marvelously specific this month, which led to themes ranging from love to murder, and almost every story had room to grow much bigger. What a blast! Congratulations to Mr. McLaren, whose winning story earned him a copy of Ink-Filled Page and a $36 gift certificate from St. Johns Booksellers.

Character: A slam poetry champion
Setting: On an apartment building fire escape
Prop: A venetian glass paperweight
Phrase: “There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you.”


Slam Judge

by T. A. McLaren

Somehow Stillman had allowed her to talk him into judging a poetry slam. Judging. Poetry. And he was already late.

His good friend Eleanor Barnes, English teacher at PS 109, had organized the Poetry Slam for the past six years.  She said the kids would remember a scorecard they got from a real-life detective.

He was familiar with the neighborhood around the high school. He had lived not far from here when he first moved to town many years ago. He came back sometimes to visit a buddy who lived in an apartment building across from the high school.

He parked down a side street and was taking a shortcut through an alley when the explosive sound of shattered glass brought his attention to a spot not 5 feet in front of him. The heavy brass base of a venetian glass paperweight remained dented but intact. The splintered red and blue glass around it was like a bright and brittle obituary.

He looked up past the hanging ladder to a window opening onto the third floor fire escape. It was open and a heavy red curtain was flapping in the wind.

Otherwise, there was nothing unusual going on. No one around. No other sounds except cars on the street. He was intrigued but remembered his judging duties. He continued to the end of the alley, across the street and into the high school.

When he entered the auditorium Eleanor shrieked and ran to him.

“Stillman, dear, we were afraid you were caught up in some dark and mysterious adventure.”

“Sadly, no, ” he laughed as she pulled him in. He returned her hug.

“Come on,” she said, “lets get you down in front.”

The logistics were simple enough. He was given a stack of white poster boards and a fat sharpie. As each contestant concluded their performance – there was no other word for it – he was to provide  his Olympian judgement (on a scale of 1-10), hoisted high above his head for all to see.

Eleanor was MC. After laying out the ground rules, she introduced the first poet.

Stillman was surprised that he enjoyed the first reader’s piece as much as he did. He liked the attitude, images, and brutal honesty, both social and personal. Many of the subsequent writers were good, too. There were a couple of exceptions.

One young man, reluctant to reveal any vulnerability, still managed to devote five minutes to his broken heart, repeating the quotation “there is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you”.  Maybe the kid thought it was spelled “baring”.  Whichever way he spelled it, Stillman shared his agony.

At the conclusion, his friend tallied the votes and announced the winner. It turned out to be the first poet. Stillman got up to congratulate her and say goodbye to Eleanor.

As he was talking to the young woman, he noticed Eleanor jog quickly up the center aisle to meet two policemen who had appeared at the back of the auditorium.

Stillman followed his intuition, excused himself and quickly headed for a side door. He cut quickly through the school grounds, and back across the street to the alley.

He looked up at the fire escape. A cop was peering out the open window on the third floor. On the street, near the spot where the paperweight had landed not an hour before, a trench coat had been hastily thrown over a broken, crumpled body.

© 2012 T. A. McLaren


I write for work as a systems analyst. I started writing fiction with Write Around Portland a few years ago. The Mini Sledgehammer is the first prize I ever won. Despite my excitement, my so-called friends are insisting that I keep my day job for the time being.


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