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Mini Sledgehammer May 2013: Blackbird Wine & Atomic Cheese

This month’s Mini Sledgehammer writing prompts celebrate Elissa Nelson, longtime Sledgehammer participant, wonderful Mini Sledgehammer volunteer, and friend. They each are a take on something about her. (We explain how in parentheses below.)

And congratulations to this month’s winner, Kent Nightingale, who successfully incorporated the following four prompts into what the judges deemed the most successful story of the evening.

Character: An unlikely hero (Elissa doesn’t wear a cape or flex her muscles or speak in a booming voice, but she’s pretty darn heroic!)

Setting:  A place we used to live (Friends are great for reminiscing.)

Action:  To scrabble (*Scrabble* is one of Elissa’s favorite games.)

Phrase:  Ollie, ollie, oxen free! (Elissa’s sweetie of a dog was named Ollie.)


Hide and Seek


It was a tree that climbed seemingly to heaven as I stared up from its base. I was waiting for my playmates to hide themselves in the forest, like raisins in a sweet roll. The sun shone through the pine needles and illuminated my eye in such a way that I could see specks of dust on the lens or maybe the cells themselves. It’s a phenomenon I’ve been observing since childhood and never have understood, but I don’t want to spoil the mystery.

                “Olly olly oxen free” I cried out, still laying on my back and feeling the vibrations of my voice resonate my chest and head from against the soft dirt below me. I heard a rustle in the manzanita but pretended not to notice. I like to bend the rules of a game as necessary to ensure fairness for all sides. It was Pretzel without a doubt. He was the only one of the bunch brazen enough to scrabble into a cubby less than ten yards away and expect to get away with it. He earned his nickname not because of any unusual gymnastic abilities but because he had an insatiable taste for salty snacks.

                There were only a finite number of truly desirable spaces in which to seek refuge from the seeker where we used to live, and I found the first three hiders within two minutes. You might think we would tire of a game where the outcome was mostly known before it started. This wasn’t the case, however. Each summer day we seemed able to wash our minds of this knowledge. The truth is we just didn’t have anything else to do.

                I planned to capture Pretzel last, so as to allow the suspense to build inside him, to let him dream of victory before his hopes were dashed. We played a special variation of hide-and-seek where I grew up. As each hider was found, he in turn became a seeker. So as the round neared its conclusion, there was an angry mob of seekers plundering the brush, shouting crude threats or trying to trick the last fugitive by announcing that they were late for dinner and who knows what their mother would do to them if the siege continued.

                On this day the outcome was not so easy to predict. I’d searched each known bunker and enlisted my captives to scour the treetops but one member was still missing. It was Lilly, Pretzel’s baby sister. She wasn’t a baby anymore but as the youngest of the group would never be able to shed the title. I stunned Pretzel by advancing directly on his bush and calmly requesting that he help us find Lilly. At first he pretended not to hear but I just stared at him for several moments and then searched for a good rock to toss his way. The branches cracked as he revealed himself.

                “Did you look in the old quartz mine?” Pretzel asked.

                “She wouldn’t go that far” I retorted.

                “That’s where she said she would hide.”

                Technically, the quartz mine was outside of the boundaries we played in, but Lilly was used to taking liberties on account of her age. We were still fifty yards shy of the mine when we found her laying on the path shaking.

                “I got bit” she moaned between sobs.

                It was rattlesnake country and most years someone suffered the payment of occupying this harsh dry land. The boys glanced at each other, knowing that one of us had to slice open the wound and suck the poison out. None of us were eager. Pretzel became the unlikely hero that day. I only had to bribe him with the promise of ten bags of pork rinds.

© Kent Nightingale 2013


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