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Mini Sledgehammer February 2019

The week of roses and chocolates brought out some great stories about oyster farmers and horse heads. Thanks to everyone who came out for the contest this week! And congratulations to Christopher Smith for racking up another win!


Prompts:
Character: An oyster farmer
Action: Going out on a limb
Setting: An igloo
Prop: A horse head


Winter SongChris Smith

By Chris Smith

The breeze is hard on my face as I leave the comfort of my new, icy “igloo” fortress to venture out for some supplies. Ice and snow can keep people warm. Brick and mortar can keep people warm. But ice, snow, brick, and mortar seem to keep people cold. Especially with a broken radiator, our only source of heat…besides each other. But there is only so much cuddling I can take. So, of course, my dear love has to get sick forcing me to venture out into the cold.

My toes are cold. My toes are cold and wet. My toes are cold, wet, wrapped in two layers of socks, and thick rubber boots. It feels like I’ve been walking for days, but it has only been…a few minutes! It’s the boots, we have a complicated relationship. Although they, mostly, keep my feet warm and dry, they are not my aesthetic and hurt my feet. I look like an oyster farmer. So, I thought I might as well lean into it with overalls, an oversized sweater, an oversized raincoat, and as much of a beard I can grow in twenty minutes.

It’s been about fifteen maybe twenty days? Hours? Minutes? It’s been fifteen minutes since I was last home and I’m beginning to forget what home is like; what any amount of warmth feels like. I remember his face though. If I die out here, I want to remember that face. The face of the guy that sent me out on a limb to get medicine because he likes to sleep with the fan on. Maybe the anger will keep me warm longer? That would be helpful.

The return trip looks and feels no better. I did buy a horse head mask thinking I could prank him with it or something, but now it just seems like a dumb idea to me. The cold is taking up any brainpower I have to think things through. Maybe I can answer the door with it on, that’ll be funny, right? Or I could just leave it on the sidewalk under the snow. A nice surprise for when the snow melts. Now I wish I had gotten the red cough syrup.

© 2019 Christopher Smith


Christopher Smith is an aspiring filmmaker, photographer and writer from South Florida. He enjoys crafting stories about the weird yet interesting mundane parts of life, whether it is visually or on the page. When not writing, he can be found taking photos around town or binging on TV show and movies.

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Mini Sledgehammer December 2018

Congratulations to first-time winner Elizabeth Shupe! Happy holidays, everyone!


Prompts:
Character: A banker
Action: Wrapping a present
Setting: Stuck in an elevator
Phrase: “What would the fish do without the horse?”


Without the HorsePolination Anxiety2 emailsize

By Elizabeth Shupe

 

“What would the fish do without the horse?”

They had been her parting words to him as the orderlies had prepared to wheel her away to the operating room. It was like a Buddhist koan, a sentimental enigma. Somehow the words had left her lips, in short puffs of breath between her contractions. Somehow she had managed to smile through the pain, an attempt to reassure him as he squeezed her hand desperately.

“Fish” was her nickname for him. He was the cool, clinical type; a banker, the kind of man who ironed his socks and was on formal, cold-blooded terms with everyone including his own mother. Everyone but her.

“Horse” was what he called her because she was a wandering spirit, a painter of desolate pink deserts, deserts desperate with barely restrained passion in the tradition of Georgia O’Keefe. She was like her paintings; multi-colored and stained and always slightly disheveled.

And lately she had been heavy and round, a self-enclosed planet, their baby stirring within her like a barely articulated thought. Her heaviness had not changed her wildness but rather emphasized it– her currents ran deeper now and their movements were felt as tremors like the movement of magma deep within the earth.

“What would the fish do without the horse?” had been her answer to the simple statement he had made as the hospital staff prepared her for the operating theater.

That statement, muttered under his breath:

“Don’t leave me.”

Now, she was gone. Wheeled away. There was nothing he could do, no action to be taken. To the man who had control over everything– his retirement plan, his blood pressure, his thermostat setting– this was a terror unthinkable.

He paced the waiting room for a while but his nerves clacked together too loudly for his sanity to bear.

So he gave himself a purpose.

I’ll buy her a gift, he thought. Something to make her smile. Something for the baby? Something…

He hurried downstairs to the gift shop and bought a stuffed animal in the shape of a horse. Halfway back up the third flight of stairs he panicked and went back for some gift wrap. He envisioned himself spending time in the waiting room, carefully folding the crisp paper, taping the ends evenly, making everything perfect.

I’ve got to get back to her, he thought as he checked out for the second time, the Scotch tape and colorful roll in a bag that asked him to “Have a Nice Day”.

He decided to take the elevator back up to the waiting room.

He stepped inside, distracting himself by silently scolding whoever had cleaned the buttons, they were filthy. He pressed the button that closed the doors. They shut and the elevator began to move with a dull grinding sound.

What would the fish do without the horse? he thought again as the elevator stopped on his floor, the Obstetrics and NeoNatal department.

The doors didn’t open.

He mashed the button frantically and nothing happened. He kicked the doors, he screamed, but they didn’t open.

The cold man, the banker, the frigid fish felt tears well up in his eyes for the first time in years. The eyes of the stuffed horse under his arm were deep and unfeeling black plastic and his wife was somewhere in the bowels of the hospital, facing the struggle alone.

© 2018 Elizabeth Shupe


Elizabeth (Beth) Shupe is a writer/artist person who lives in Portland, Oregon and has been published on occasion. As a misplaced Victorian, her hobbies include collecting hair jewelry, decorating with needle-pointed pillows, and haunting people’s attics. She is a social media recluse and has no Instagram to offer you, but if you knock on her door and are very polite, she will make you a nice cup of tea.

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 February 2018

We had a great crowd this month!

Prompts:
Character: An old man
Action: To electrify
Setting: In a recording studio
Prop: A heart-shaped box


Ron the ManEversmann SH photo

by Bobby Eversmann

Ron has two hearts. Ron is strong now. Ron used to leak cheese-colored spit from his lips. Now Ron’s blood runs strong like black-red ox blood. Ron’s other heart he keeps in a box inside of a box shaped like a heart, a real heart, a box made for a heart, an actual human beating heart, the box on top of his pillow. The one he doesn’t sleep on. The other side of Ron’s big lovely queen. Ron dreams dreams where he holds his heart in his hands, electrifies it with plier-wires, wires into his car, car wires, wires he pulled out of his radio with his bare hands, his hands wrapped deadly in copper wires, his wired hands holding his butterfly beating heart, running high beating with his car engine running. AC/DC, AC/DC, Ron loves AC/DC, rock and roll and swift communication. See Ron. See Ron love. See Ron’s heart beat like ten thousand hot wings of the eagles of freedom. Wow! Ron. See Ron hold his heart in his hands, kiss his own heart, wink. Hi Ron! What a heart Ron! What a heart Ron’s got, what a love, what a love for the world, what a big heart, how gracious is Ron, loves every boy and girl. Ron’s new heart is a little girl’s heart. Three AM Ron nuzzles his heart, his own nose in his own artery. Smells like me, says Ron. Smells like I used to smell. Smells like an old can of beets, like an old cat, like world famous stilton. His lips mixed with his flesh bloody heart, cold red, lush, velvet wet his heart, kisses his own heart, his old heart. Ron’s new heart is a little girl’s heart. A little girl who could have been a doctor! A teacher! But most of all could have been a singer, that girl had a voice. That girl sang like dribbled gold, a desperate grabbing voice that girl, and then that live wire left alone at the pool, the downed one nobody noticed. The little girl—Ron’s not privy to the name—put her feet on it, stepped on it, stepped onto the wire, an eel, an electric eel, and—zap—died. There at the pool. Swam all day at the pool. Climbed out of the pool. Died. And now she lives on in Ron. She could have been a singer. And now she lives on in Ron’s home recording studio, Ron, the podcaster, Ron, Wolf-man Ron coming to you live from Fresno, California, this week we’ve got a great show for you folks, this week we’re dialing up old loves, old flames, old trophies. This week we’re in love. I’m in love with you. And you’re in love with me. Listeners, oh faithful listeners, let me hold you in this little girl’s heart while I kiss my own heart to sleep. Ron the Faithful. Ron the Bold. Ron of Oak Meadow Lane. Ron, what a man, what a man, what a man with a mighty young heart.

© 2018 Bobby Eversmann


Bobby is an editor for the IPRC’s 1001 Journal and the national bookseller journal, Deep Overstock. He works at Powell’s Books and has published in Portland Review, Fiction Southwest, SUSAN/The Journal and fog machine. He runs Late Night Pomes.

Mini Sledgehammer January 2018

Ali, our founder and webmistress, was surprised to get this month’s winning story and find that it is by someone she knew in college! Great to hear from you again, Linsey! Love the magical implications in this flash piece.


Character: Traveler
Action: Planning for the future
Setting: A rock garden
Phrase: “Why is there a knot at the end?”


UntitledSquinty selfy

by Linsey Schmidt

Miss Abernathy of SE Green and Clover was 103. On a good day, she was convinced she didn’t look a day over 70, on a bad no more than 85. The neighbors on either side did not know any of this however, to them she was just the little old lady that moved in three years ago to rehab the 70s ranch house. One or two might point out that neither her rock or herb gardens matched the exterior, but she kept the lot up and always paid her HOAs, so she was doing better than most. Sarah, her closest neighbor, was the first to welcome her to the neighborhood, and the only one to bring her consistent joy.

Jeff, the oldest of Sarah’s children ran up to the table, stopping in a skid of gravel. “Did you bring me anything, Miss Abbie?”

“Does a sweet count?” She pushed the plate between him and his brother. Jeff grabbed a twist with an elaborate scroll end.

“Why does it have a knot at the end?” He asked, pulling immediately at the folds.

“For endings and beginnings,” she murmured, but her attention strayed to Sarah’s younger son, so much quieter than his older brother. Tim had grown pale in the time she’d been away, and leaned hard into his mother. Sarah brushed a hand along her son’s head, leaving a streak of sweat in his hair.

“Feeling okay, baby?” she asked only to lunge forward to grab Jeff before grabbed a handful of cookies from the tray. “Don’t ruin your dinner.”

“A cookie won’t hurt you,” Miss Abbie told Tim in a whisper. “Try the one with the sprinkles.”

“it’s got green stuff.”

“Just a few minutes and hours to see you into the future,” She told him. Thyme was a magical herb when used correctly. She was just worried she wouldn’t get enough into him to last out the week.

© 2018 Linsey Schmidt


Linsey likes to write a lot – mostly emails for the corporate world, but fictional stories (short and long form) sometimes make their way in too. She is thankful for opportunities like the mini-Sledgehammer to write outside her ordinary.

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 April 2017

Congratulations to Laurel Rogers, who won this month and also won in April last year! She says, “April must be my magic ticket to Sledgehammer success. It was nice to be back after a few months away while I was teaching. We had a big group this month–spilled over to a second table even–but there was no change in the excellent quality of everyone’s writing. Thanks for another fun round.” Thank you, Laurel!

Prompts:
Character: A tailor
Action: Spring cleaning
Setting: A Catholic church
Phrase: Bippity, boppety, boo

***

Earthquakes

by Laurel RogersIMG_6437

She was drunk.

At least that’s what she told herself, even if anyone watching her would, at worst, call her a wee bit tipsy.

But after years—decades really—of being the village teetotaler, and having done the unthinkable and snitching a sip of the vodka Father Jacob kept in a communion wine bottle on the middle shelf of the mahogany bookcase in his office, Sister Frances figured she was surely drunk. Only that could explain why, after stealing AND imbibing all in the same swallow, she shelved her better self and took another sip. And then a proper swallow.

Maybe even…a gulp.

She looked at the calendar on the wall, which apparently hadn’t been changed since October 2015. She admired the watercolor print of a basket full of shiny red apples and imagined herself reaching and plucking one from its basket.

Forbidden fruit.

She could almost taste it, despite the subtle tingle on her tongue from Father Jacob’s vodka.

Sister Frances sighed with a weight only years of rote certainty could place upon a soul. The calendar lied. There were no bushels of apples—in fact, the tree outside Father Jacob’s office hadn’t so much as budded yet this spring. What little sun peered through the veil of clouds that hung over the village filtered past the heavy velvet curtains and pooled on a threadbare rug.

It wouldn’t do to indulge in such extravagances as new wool rugs, especially in Father Jacob’s retreat so far in the back of the old Catholic church no one visited. Even the Father seemed reticent to journey so far from the loftier heights of the sanctuary.

Sister Frances wondered, in fact, how long since someone had ventured into the musty space. She wrinkled her nose at the dusty bookshelf as she replaced the vodka—ahem, the wine, wink wink—bottle on the shelf. She wondered if she could sing a little tune out the window and then, bam and bippity boppity boo, her fairy godmother would rescue her from the task ahead.

The task assigned by her not-so-fairy-nor-god-but-she-seemed-to-think-she-was Mother Anna. “Spring cleaning,” the Reverend Mother announced over their standard breakfast of sourdough toast, a spread of processed cheese-like fat, orange juice and coffee. Because naturally orange juice and coffee tasted so good together, Sister Frances fumed. Almost as good as toothpaste and coffee.

She was wasting time, procrastinating the spring cleaning she had been assigned by Mother Anna. Might be the last spring Mother Anna was making such assignments. If the tittering of the mousy church ladies was any indication, next year Sister Frances might well be the Mother. The Big Mother on Campus. Like a boss, she thought to herself.

She blushed a little. How in the world had she learned that phrase?

Oh how the world was changing, before her very eyes. And, no, it wasn’t just the astigmatism that came up worse at every eye exam. Age was a bitch, she thought, then she cringed again at her choice of words.

In His house no less, she chided herself.

But most of her wasn’t even listening. Most of her somehow stopped listening a long time ago.

***

Continents drift apart a little each and every day. Imperceptibly. Oh sure, cataclysms of quake and inferno may create visual schisms more expediently, but the geology of change is the slow, steady, relentless separation of masses that once shared everything in common.

And so Sister Frances woke one morning to realize she didn’t know where she was.

Oh, she wasn’t demented or even muddled—this was long before she took a nip from Father’s stash. She knew she was in the convent adjacent the church, where she had done the Lord’s good and holy work every day since she took her novice vows at age 17.

She had walked through the ethereal curtains of stained-glass sunlight, along the center aisle of that same church, her cherubic face scrubbed and rosy behind a white veil. The only wedding dress she would ever wear fell softly from her youthful breasts, spilled over her gently curved hips, perfectly shaped for her and her alone by the village tailor who shook his head sadly every spring as worked on the next set of novice gowns.

She had walked forward to a groom she would never hold.

Who would never let her down.

Who grew more distant through the years, as grooms are wont to do.

Until one day she woke up and didn’t recognize her own life. She had walked a script written by someone else, always sure of its honesty, its goodness, its correctness, until she couldn’t read it any more. She was left wondering in what language it was even written.

***

The future is a funny thing. It can be full of plans and purposes and intentions, yet it’s all just a fiction. Sister Frances never believed that, until she could see so clearly that the story could end in so many different ways.

In fact, the possibilities were so overwhelming, she had half a mind to return to Father Jacob’s bottle. Better be careful not to end up at the Monday night AA meetings, she reminded herself.

She chuckled aloud. Imagine Mother Anna’s face when she served coffee to the group at precisely 7 p.m. and saw Sister Frances waiting for her turn to say, “Hi, my name is….”

A small rumble in this village.

Maybe she could ask to take a trip. Go on a mission to somewhere exotic. Find a way to sneak away from her godly duties with orphans or the sick or the poor and swim naked under a full moon in a phosphorescent sea.

But no one would know. That didn’t seem enough.

She needed something to feel like she was the author of her own existence.

Sister Frances took the bottle off the shelf one more time. A sip. An idea. They hit her brain together.

There would be an earthquake. She would cause it, and it would be known. A relatively small one to be sure, but an earthquake nonetheless. A shaking. A sign that the plates were no longer one.

Sister Frances wondered if that was enough.

© 2017 Laurel Rogers

***

Laurel Rogers is a professional juggler of client deadlines, Uber driver to her three home-schooled kids, kayaking partner to her husband and sounding board to her fascinating friends. She enjoys using short fiction to explore the very nonfictional ways people relate to themselves and each other.