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Mini Sledgehammer September 2014: “The Vacation of a Lifetime”

Thanks to everyone who came out for 36 minutes of writing competition in September! Congratulations to winner Kent Nightingale.

Character: An imposter
Action: The moon
Setting: Starting over
Phrase: “Don’t tell me…”


The Vacation of a Lifetime

by Kent Nightingale

“Don’t ever tell me this wasn’t exciting enough for you, Dale.”

“Okay, Chuck, I’ll try to keep that in mind. Honestly I thought there would be more mountains and caves in this place. It’s kind of like Kansas.”

“Well shit, I don’t know what to tell you. Next time we’ll buy tickets to Jupiter. I hear the weather there keeps one guessing.”

Flights to the general public had gone on sale in 2024, but it was another ten years before Chuck could afford two tickets to the moon, wealthy as he was. He was a practical guy in that sense. Always shopping for a bargain. He’d have bought a one-way ticket if it were more cost effective. Funny thing is, even in a far out place like the Earth’s only natural satellite, a tourist is a tourist. They began their days swimming in the hotel pool, gazing out the impressive walls of glass into the blackness of space.

After breakfast, a menu of UFO cakes and Marshan juice, they waited in the terminal for their daily tour. A vehicle not so different than a minivan, with enormous treaded tires, set forth on highway L62. Traffic was a bit thick getting out of Portland, the moon’s largest city, but once they got on the open road, the perspective was impressive indeed.

“You know,” said Chuck, “for years I’ve had the notion that I’ve wanted the chance to start over. I really feel this trip might be a turning point for me, now that my divorce is over with.”

“It is” Dale replied. “It really is.” This meant a great deal to Chuck, as there were few people on Earth, or elsewhere for that matter, that knew him as well as Dale.

Though English was the official language of the moon, few of the service staff were fluent, so the men reached for their headsets, to receive the audio portion of their tour.

“Ahead you will see King’s Crater, a place any man could call home. Inside it’s underground bunker are all the essentials a human requires to live in health and harmony. Most individuals find themselves well-adjusted within a month.”

Chuck removed his headphones and grabbed Dale by the arm. Inside his heart an alarm was sounding.

“I would have told you if I could,” Dale whispered. “I couldn’t come to live here by myself, with not a friend in the world.”

Chuck only stared ahead, his face devoid of any expression.

© 2014 Kent Nightingale


profile_pic_2013Kent is a musician, songwriter, and outdoor enthusiast from Portland, Oregon.

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