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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 November 2017

Mini Sledgehammerers say the nicest things. This month’s winner says, “Thank you so much for offering this event!  Everyone is so supportive and creative. You’ve got a good thing going here.” We’re glad you’re part of it, Dana, and congratulations on your win!
***

Character: An angry jogger
Action: Delivering a package
Setting: Airport
Prop: Stuffing

***

Testing

by Dana StepletonDana

I scheduled the test between two mundane errands. That way I could pretend that it was just like any other boring day, as if nothing of note had really happened.

“What did you do today?” Someone might ask.

“Oh you know, went to the grocery store and the dry cleaners. Oh, and I went in for my test, too.”

“Oh, that’s nice,” they would reply, before continuing to talk about their own day, which is what they wanted to do in the first place.

So I went to the grocery store, and even though I realized that the items I bought from the frozen section would have appreciated a different order of operations, I continued straight on to the testing center. Any change to the plan at this point would throw off my feigned coolness and irrevocably upset the hypothetical conversations I had scripted in my head.

The scene did feel a bit prophetic. “What was it like, when you found out?” My future offspring would probably ask.

“It was one of those perfect Autumn days, where the leaves are every color from plum red to lemon yellow and when you step into them they crunch. It felt like a spotlight was on my every movement.” I became aware that while the leaves were probably perfect for crunching, I had not actually crunched any. To keep my future self honest, I stepped out of my path to step down into a pile that had accumulated against the brick wall that hemmed in the sidewalk.

“Watch where you’re going!” yelled a voice from behind me. I turned to see a jogger, covered in a sheen of sweat and gesturing with righteous indignation. He skirted around my impulsive path with an exaggerated parkour-like movement.

“And then, some asshole jogger got all bent out of shape and basically ran me over,” I told my hypothetical children, while simultaneously apologizing to the man. After a second, I erased this addendum from the story. Better to leave it as a prophetic fall day. The scent in the air of things to come, that sort of thing.

When I entered the actual testing center, my future conversation fell away in the face of a small mountain of paperwork to complete. I claimed a clipboard and a pen that had a spoon taped on to the top, and began to fill out my relevant details. The last sheet was a sky blue, and it had a dotted line across the middle. Just below the line was written, “For Medical Provider Only.” It was followed by a series of “choose one of the following” questions involving incomprehensible acronyms, and at the very bottom, a simple Yes/No statement:

Epigenetic material viable for life-extending protocol (LEP): YES   /     NO

I flipped the pen over and drew silent circles around the “YES” with the spoon, around and around again. I noticed the person next to me noticing me, gave a quick smile in their general direction without making eye contact, and then put the pen/spoon down. Without my silent prayer to keep me occupied, I looked around the waiting room.

It felt more like the seating area at an airport than a medical clinic. There were no crying and snot covered children, no high schoolers absorbed in their phones while trying not to think about turning their head and coughing for their required sports physical. There were only quiet, not quite middle aged men and women like me, waiting as impassively as businessmen and women wait for their commuter flight. And this room served the same purpose as an airport, really. We were gathered here, hoping to start a great journey. Only, not all of us would be allowed on the plane. The biggest overbooking fuck up in history, I thought to myself.

Eventually I was called to the back and had my blood drawn. I sat alone for about five minutes while they processed the sample, and then I was ushered into the counseling room. This was a conversation I had not rehearsed to myself. I found myself wishing I had given that “YES” a few more circles with the spoon, just for good luck.

A women with a prepackaged compassionate look greeted me at the door of the room. She ran through some platitudes, and then paused. “Irene,” she said, “I’m so sorry, but your results came back negative. You are not a qualified candidate for the LEP. As you know, this decision is made based on the quality of your epigenetic material, which would determine if the procedures would have a positive outcome. Now, I now this can be a shock. But with other medical interventions, you likely have another,” she flipped through my chart, “eighty of ninety years of quality life.”

Later I placed the melted ice cream and ruined Stouffers stuffing in the freezer like I was delivering a package to my future self. Maybe she would care about the risk of food borne illness, the wrongness of the texture in her mouth. For now I couldn’t even ask her.

© 2017 Dana Stepleton

***

Dana recently got out of the Army and is now traveling the country in her camper van as a full time vagabond. She spends her time writing, hiking, observing the locals, and keeping her existential angst tamped firmly down.

Mini Sledgehammer September 2017

Congratulations to this month’s winner, Tovia Gehl!

***

Prompts:
A ship
A giant calendar
The milkman
Climate change

***

Burn What You Don’t Need

by Tovia Gehl

Fresh off the ship, I hadn’t expected Nick to come pounding at my window at 3am.

“Christ, what?” I snarled as I slid open the pane of glass and let in a rush of smoke. Coughing and eyes instantly watering, I looked out at my one-time best friend. “The hell do you want?”

He was grim, too grim even for our sordid history. “Gotta go, Kala. The fires are coming over the mountain. Firefighters say everyone’s gotta get out now.”

I stared at him, my feet still feeling like I was washing around in the open ocean. I’d just gotten home from deployment the night before, and I hadn’t had time to even unpack my bag.

“Kala,” he said, and there was a note of urgency in his voice I knew I couldn’t  ignore.

“Right,” I said, hoisting my still packed bag full of dirty uniforms and trinkets from the myriad of southeast Asian islands we’d been puttering around for months. I scanned my house once. It was still cold and unfeeling from my absence – my giant calendar with sailor boys, a departure gift from Nick’s sister Margo, was still nine months behind. Long enough to have a baby, my sleep addled mind came up with, but I left that and everything else behind as Nick hustled me into his car.

“Margo says she dropped you off last night,” he told me.

“Yeah, my car’s…” I trailed off as I caught sight of the ridge line, alight with the fires of hell. “Jesus.”

Nick slammed his door shut and then we raced off down the long driveway. He drove us in silence and I stared out the window as we joined the long procession of cars fleeing. Every few moments there was a burst of sparks and ashes the size of dinner plates fell from the sky. Two fire trucks passed us going the other way and I looked after them, uncomprehending of the courage it would take to run into the mouth of the devil like that. “Remember when you wanted to be a fire truck?” I asked Nick eventually.

He slipped me a sidelong look. “I wanted to be a fireman.”

“Nope, you wanted to be a fire truck so your dad told you to hold water in your mouth and spit it at things and then you spat it at your mom and she threw a towel at your dad and he laughed and hid behind the empty milk bottles.” Their house had burned down three fire seasons ago, so they’d left our sleepy town called Firbridge with the milkman behind and now they had to get milk from the store like the rest of us. I sobered up a bit. “Are they okay?”

“Yeah, they’re in Puerto Rico.”

“So, hurricanes?” He grimaced at that. “Sorry. Climate change is a bitch. This has happened before. Sea life. Trees. Dinosaurs. Sea life again. Different when it’s us.”

We didn’t talk again until we were across the river and then I couldn’t help it. “Why’d you come back for me anyhow?” Sleep deprivation made me slur my words and ask things I usually wouldn’t dream of. Nick and I hadn’t spoken since our disastrous prom night where I told him he’d never be good enough to leave Firbridge and he told me to go die in the ocean. I’d replayed that conversation half a hundred times since I’d left two years ago and had told myself that if I ever saw him again, I’d apologize. But now I was choking on the ash in my throat.

He looked at me like I’d left my mind somewhere in the Solomon Islands. “You think I’m going to let you burn to death?”

“I’d have gotten out.”

“I remember how deep you sleep.” And that plunged us back into awkward silence.

Once we were across the river he pulled over to the side of the road. We got out and leaned on the hood of his car. The ash was already thick underneath my fingers and I had to blink what felt like every second because of the grit in my eyes. “This is terrifying,” I said in a low voice. “Thanks for going into it for me. And I… I’m sorry. For everything.”

“I’d always come back for you,” he told me. “And you’d come back for me. Remember when you used to draw on your eczema lotion like war paint and scream down the canyon like a wild thing? Nothing scares you.” He coughed and then shrugged after his little speech like it made him embarrassed. “And it’s not like a bunch of idiot things we said as stupid kids matter now.”

So I leaned into him just a little and we breathed in the smoke of burning memories together and then let them burn up with the mountain.

© 2017 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 2017

Congratulations to Sean Hartfield, who won this month’s Mini Sledgehammer, with prompts inspired by the big solar eclipse!

***

Prompts:
Character: A new girlfriend
Location:  A doghouse
Prop/object:  Special eclipse-viewing glasses
Phrase:  “It is what it is.”

***

Untitled

by Sean Hartfield

Well, I guess I can finally get rid of the doghouse.  It had been sitting in the back yard since I bought the house almost a year ago.  I was thinking of getting a dog or a fish anyway, and the sellers offered to leave it, so I said “sure.”  I paid sixty thousand more than the house was worth anyway, so fuck yea, leave the doghouse.

I wanted to get a pure-bred chocolate lab, but my ex-girlfriend wanted a pound dog from the Humane Society, so right there we should have known we weren’t made for each other.  But like most other people who are too lonely and horny to end a relationship despite the warning signs, we wanted to try to make it work.

We failed, and I still don’t have a dog.

But I do have my new girlfriend Catherine, the dog walker.  Actually, she owns a dog walking/sitting business and kinda doesn’t like it when I introduce her as a dog walker.  She’s entering med-school in the fall, so I asked if I should say she’s a vet.  She said I should introduce her as “Catherine” and leave it at that.

Anyway, I met her because she was dropping off the neighbor’s dog when I saw her about to climb into her van.  I’m horrible at flirting and picking up women so I reached out to shake her hand before my palms got too sweaty and tried to get my lie out before it got too complicated.  The lie, I mean.  The trick, I’m told, is to keep a lie as simple as possible.

Anyway, I told Catherine I was going to be traveling soon and wanted to know how much she charged for dog sitting.  “What kind of dog do you have?,” she asked.

Hmph.

I hadn’t really thought my lie through that far.  I was just gonna say I had a dog and that I was in a hurry and could I call her to talk more about, you know, dog sitting.  For when I’m traveling.

“Maybe you can help me pick one out,” I said.

“Huh?,” she said, tilting her head slightly to one side, sorta like a confused puppy.

“I don’t have a dog yet,” I confessed as her brows joined in a frown.  “But I’m really gonna, well, I want to get a dog soon, and then I saw your van and then I saw you and then I wanted to talk to you and as you can probably tell, I’m really bad at this.

“Fascinating,” she said.  “A guy who lies.  Are you at least really good in bed?”

Speechless, I actually felt my face flush.

After a few seconds passed, she made one of those game show loser buzzer sounds. Annnnkkkk!!!  “Time’s up.”

Then we both laughed so hard we ended up sitting in the grass and talking about random stuff and the upcoming solar eclipse.  Later, she said she decided to go out with me despite the lie because I was able to laugh at myself.  She said she had no intentions whatsoever of ever sleeping with me though.

Where was I?  Oh yea, so we went out a few times and went on a trip to celebrate us both getting our houses ready for the renters during the solar eclipse, glasses included, of course.

Who knows where life will take us.  She’s rocking my world in and out of the bedroom, and from what I can tell she has been delightfully surprised at my skills.  Low expectations, right?  They say life is what you make of it, but ya know, it is what it is.

 

© 2017 Sean Hartfield