• Visit Indigo

    Sledgehammer is proudly presented by Indigo, which offers editing, design, and more to authors and publishers around the world.

    Visit us at www.indigoediting.com to learn more and to schedule a free sample edit and initial consultation.

    Indigo: editing, design,
    and more

    Sign up for our monthly e-newsletter.
  • Join Our Networks

  • Photo Gallery

    To view photos of Sledgehammers past, visit our Facebook photo albums!

    All photos property of Sledgehammer Writing Contest. Most photos copyright Doug Geisler.

Mini Sledgehammer: March 2011

What better way to celebrate International Women’s Day and Mardi Gras on the same day than to head to a wine and cheese shop to compete in a women-run writing contest?

This month’s writing prompts are:

Character: Women’s activist
Action: Sneaking
Setting: A church
Prop: Mardi Gras beads

With these prompts, tonight’s story topics ranged from an illicit affair to an angel with an agenda. Congratulations to Blythe Ayne for writing the winning story. Stay tuned to read it!


Angels to Nirvana

by Blythe Ayne

I was crawling around on the church floor after my Mardi Gras beads, which had mysteriously jumped their string and flown every which way in a wild jumble.

At that moment, in the middle of the rowdy carnival celebration on the street, a bunch of women’s activists came bursting through the door of the church. Don’t ask me how I figured that’s what they were, they just had an air of self assurance and determination to change the world for better.

The first one came up to me as I squatted under a pew, gathering my beads. She stepped on one of them. It went “crunch!” under her sturdy shoe.

“What are you doing, sneaking around on the floor of the church?” she asked.

“I…” I gestured at the beads, green and silver and orange all around her… “My string of beads broke, and I’m….”

“Never mind.” She waved to her compatriots, three other very sure-of- themselves looking women. They formed a crescent moon curve around her. Looking up at them, it was like a visitation. The street lights came through the stained glass windows making a halo around them. I felt like I was looking up at guardian angels. Gabriel, at least, for sure.

“This young man,” she continued, “has broken his string of Mardi Gras beads. Help him pick them up.”

The three women fell to their knees and scrambled around for the beads, under the pews, in the aisles… everywhere.

“How did you come to be in this church?” one of the women asked me. “Oh look, here’s seven beads, all together.”

“I don’t know. I was in the street, celebrating…” I looked into her eyes. They were that kind of hazel composed of green and brown and almost red segments. I stopped talking.

“Go on,” she said.

I… you… your eyes…..”

“I know, kind of strange, aren’t they?”

“But I’ve seen you… Do you know me?”

She shrugged, but looked away.

“Do you know me?” I asked again.

“Here’s another bead.” she moved across the aisle on all fours, but somehow so gracefully, almost floating, as if it was a well-practiced dance move.

I scrambled after her. Clearly less graceful. “You know me, don’t you?”

As she picked up another bead I reached out to stay her hand. A flash of light passed between her hand and mine.

“What the?….” I sat back on my haunches, stunned.

The first woman came up to us, standing over us, disapproving.

“Just gather the beads!” she ordered.

The hazel-eyed woman moved away from me, picked up another bead, but didn’t hand it to me.

“Give me the bead,” I said. She cautiously reached out her hand, her long fingers stretched impossibly toward me, she dared to look me in the eye. The flash of light passed between us again.

I know!” I fairly shouted. Then quietly I said, “I know where I’ve seen you. In my dreams. In my dreams,” I repeated. “Have you seen me? Do you know me?”

She looked over my shoulder.

“Yes,” she whispered, “yes, I know you. But just leave me in your dreams. You don’t want to bring me out into your real world.”

“What do you mean? You are in my real world.”

A saxophone player belted out a song in the street, a song I’ve never heard but felt I knew so well.

Just gather the beads,” she said. When you have 108, you’ll arrive.”

“What are you saying?”

“Count the beads–108–you’ll arrive in nirvana.”

I counted the beads, wanting only to look one more time into those strange, amazing eyes.

I counted 107 beads, then looked up, discovering that I sat on the sidewalk, under the saxophone player. He was about seven feet tall, his music came from far away.

“Hey…” I asked him, “Hey, did you see a hazel-eyed woman? An amazing hazel-eyed woman?”

He looked down at me and again, I felt like the guardian angel in the church window had come alive. He didn’t stop playing, but he nodded.

Yes, he’d seen her.

The faint lace of dawn crept up the sky behind the saxophone player, pink and pale orange. I looked down at my hands filled with Mardi Gras beads, longing to see the hazel-eyed angel again. But I knew I never would.

She had kept that one single bead to nirvana.

© 2011 Blythe Ayne


Blythe Ayne, Ph.D., lives on ten acres of forest on the north side of the Columbia River near Portland, Oregon.  She’s is an author, artist, and university instructor of writing and speech. Her written work has appeared in over one hundred publications.  This is her second Sledgehammer appearance.

Along with her writing, her greatest commitment is to the stewardship and preservation of her forest, where wonderful and diverse flora and fauna thrive.


Mini Sledgehammer: Floyd’s Coffee Shop

As anticipated, the most recent Mini Sledgehammer smashed through more writer’s block and produced great stories all around. Thanks to everyone who came out and threw a great story into the running. It was a tough decision.

Blythe Ayne took home the prize, which consisted of four books and a calendar. Congratulations!

Prompts included:
a football coach
in a Health & Welfare office
playing a board game
“Can you do one thing for me?”

Last Request

Monopoly is sometimes considered similar to the game of life. But it’s not. Life is really not about money.

Anyway, here I am, at the Health & Welfare office… that’s what they call it, but there’s little health here. Lots of welfare, but little health.

I see my reflection in the front windows, the broken shades have been partially pulled letting in broken shards of light. As much as I’d rather not see my reflection, I do. Even more broken than the window shades, the shards of light. I remember my former self, a big, buff football coach. Now, here’s this shattered reflection – a reflection of a reflection.

There’s a bunch of people playing monopoly, waiting for their names to be called, waiting to get their share of health and welfare. As if either can simply be doled out.

Someone behind me says, “can you do one thing for me?”

I turn. There stands probably the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen this side of paradise.

Just like in the movies, I look around me to see who she’s addressing.

And I say, “are you talking to me?”

She doesn’t move or say anything.

“Are you talking to me?”

“I can tell,” she says, “you’re a gentle soul. Can you do one thing for me?”

“I… I don’t know. ” No one has asked me to do anything for them since the cancer got my guts and my wife couldn’t stand to watch me fade away and she, mercifully for both of us, left me.

“I used to do things for people every day. But….”

“I know,” she says, since you got sick….”

“That’s right. ” I can’t help staring. Her big violet eyes remind me of something, and I can’t look away. I see a tear course down her cheek. “What, my dear, what? If I can help, I will. But….”

“My son needs his mother, and I can’t reach him.”

“Why not?”

“I got so sick, and I couldn’t stay. I had to leave. Didn’t want to. But… just… couldn’t hang on.”

“So you want me to?….”

“I want you to find him and take care of him.”

“Me? Oh, I believe you’d better find someone else.“

“There’s not one else here. ” Her sad voice rolls around in my cavernous disease infested chest.

All around me, the place is jam-packed with people. But… funny thing, as my eyes pass over the window where I see my reflection, the beautiful woman isn’t standing beside me.

I turn to her. She reads my thought.

“Where are you? What are you?” I ask.

“Here and not here. Between worlds… because of my son. Unfinished business.”

I look up at the “Health & Welfare” sign, contemplating my remaining short journey.

“What kind of power do you have to appear to me, to talk to me?”

“I don’t know… I’ve been looking for a kind person who has the same fractal pattern as my son. ”

The same fractal pattern? “What?”

“Oh, too difficult to explain. But… when you… that is… eventually it’ll be perfectly clear.”

“Never mind.” I look deep into her violet eyes. “Can you trade places with me?”

“Truly?” she asks, shocked.

“Truly. I don’t have much time here, it really doesn’t make much difference to me. You won’t have long, but it’s better than leaving unfinished business.”

In a flash, I find myself inside a fractal pattern, looking through it at the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen, though obviously in poor health, walking out of the Health and Welfare office, with a huge smile on her face.

It fills me with joy as I turn, peering down this new path. I hurry toward a wonderful light at the end of a swirling fractal tunnel.

© 2010 Blythe Ayne