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Mini Sledgehammer March 2019

 

Congratulations to first-time winner Grace Cook! She took home the title of Mini Sledgehammer winner, a bottle of wine, and a book.


Prompts:
Character: A man with a long face
Action: Setting the table
Setting: On an ocean liner
Prop: A door handle


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by Grace Cook

Whatever I had done to the man standing in front of  me, I’m sure it was deserved. His eyes sparked with the kind of anger only indignant white men are capable of, and his hands curled into monster’s paws at his sides.

I’ll be the first to admit, I am not a perfect person. I don’t put my dishes into the dishwasher as soon as I’m done with them, and last year I committed 26 murders for hire before taking a leave of absence from my contracting duties. Self care is important you know. But also being fair to myself, I wouldn’t have killed any of the people on a whim or to fulfill some nefarious need. It’s my job, and hey, sometimes people need to be taken out. This is, or course, according to the people who know them dearly.

But back to the man standing before me. He doesn’t look very strong. His face has the horseish quality I’d associate with bird-boned runway models and British men teenagers on Tumblr call Daddy. Which isn’t to say he isn’t attractive, he might have been if murder weren’t  burning in his eyes.

The hallways of cruise ships are narrower than one might expect. If he wanted to he could have slammed me against the tacky wallpaper before I’d noticed his presence. But he didn’t which, meant he wanted me to notice.

“Excuse me sir,” I said, and made to walk past him. Before he could raise his angry hands I grabbed his wrist and shoved him against the wall, pressing his hand between his shoulder blades and leveraging all of my weight to hold him in place.

“I could let you go,” I start, he’s fumbling against the wall, trying to push himself away from the wall and back into me. “I could let you go,” I start again, shoving his arm further up, “But my guess you came here to kill me. So start talking before I throw you overboard and you end up on one of the true crime podcasts about mysterious disappearances.”

He goes still for a moment, then he goes limp.

I grab his other hand and bring his wrists behind his back to hold his hands together before grabbing my keycard and pushing him through the door into my cabin. I shove him onto the ground and grab the small gun concealed in an ice bucket.

All of the fight has gone out him, but he says, “You killed my brother. You weren’t very subtle about it.”

He could look like half the men I’d killed before I took my leave of absence. “You’ll have to be more specific. Names and dates are usually a good place to start.”

“Tristan Wood, you killed him in January of last year.”

I wasn’t going to tell him I kill a lot of people in January, the holidays are hard for everyone.

But I did remember Mr. Wood. His wife had paid me a lot of money to end his life.

Looking at the brother I say, “So, what, you thought you’d find me and kill me yourself?”

He doesn’t say anything.

Tristian Wood was an easy kill, if I’m being perfectly honest. His wife, sick of being the brains behind his success, hired me to take him out right after she had finished setting the dinner table. It’s not that hard to sneak into apartment buildings when you’re a young woman. Pretty much anyone will let you in if you look like you need help. I think she wanted him to know she called the hit before he died. But that isn’t really my problem.

I look at the man kneeling on the carpet. I should feel bad, really I should. But I don’t. And if he as the money to track me down, there might be other people here as well.

“Who else is waiting for me to come out of this room?”

He doesn’t answer so I pick him up and push him through the doors onto the small balcony. I hold him over the railings and ask again, nicely.

His breath comes out in short little puffs. “There are two guys waiting for me to come down to the dining room. If I’m not there in fifteen minutes, they’re coming up here to look for you.”

I raise my eyebrow, “You really think you could take me out in 15 minutes?”

Instead of letting him answer I shove him overboard. He doesn’t even make a sound as he hits the water.

When I turn back to the door I see someone trying to jiggle the door handle.

I pull off the cocktail dress and grab the backpack sitting (mostly) packed on the floor. Jumping from one balcony to another takes little skill, but doing it quietly is another issue. I look into the cabin room and see no one around. The glass breaks easily. I look through the drawers and start pulling oversized shirts and shorts out. Okay, lonely bachelor is something I can work with. From a pocket on the backpack I pull out a pair of scissors and cut my hair into something generic and short. I slip on the oversized clothes and wait until I hear my door break open. Once I’m sure the two men are inside I fling open the door in front of me and start walking to the end of the hallway.

I won’t be going to dinner, not looking like this. I feel bad, kind of. I was looking forward to meeting some new people.

© 2019 Grace Cook


My name is Grace Cook; I was born in Vancouver, Washington and attended college at the University of Puget Sound. As of right now I’m working on a stenography certificate in addition to writing the first draft of my first novel.

Mini Sledgehammer October 2018

We love the discordant nature of this month’s prompts and the winning story that came out of it. Nice job, Tovia!


Prompts:
Character: A Buddhist monk
Action: Trick-or-treating
Setting: A wine bar
Prop: A car manual


Miami, 1926

by Tovia Gehl

Miami, 1926. This city isn’t real.

Well, it is. It has buildings and roads and trees and houses. Horses clop and cars crash by, splashing in the rainy streets. It’s the kind of place people come to get lost and remake themselves.

Marina is not here for any of that. She has a bag full of contraband, a face as pretty as the day is long, and she walks with a confident air as she descends the plank of her ship. Even the persistent rain and insistent wind doesn’t bother her. Dressed in a white dress begging for a mud puddle to look sidelong at it, she doesn’t stick out any more than anyone else in this city. Still, everyone calls out to her – the rich sugar baron’s daughter is well known here.

I tip my chin at her when I see her and we fall in, two girls linking arms. I tuck my book, a car manual I have little and less intention of reading, into my purse. It barely fits and wrecks the lines of the fine kid leather, but my brother will covet it, so it’s worth a little fashion faux pas.

“Gotten up to any tricks lately?” I ask. I know her – the world knows her – and she knows me, but I have to ask anyway. We laugh and titter like she doesn’t have a heavy carpetbag bursting with sin.

“Only treats, Eliza, don’t be silly.” With the other half of the passcode complete, I start to gently direct our stroll. Our heels click a medley along the paved streets, and we’re careful to avoid splashing in gathering puddles. She lets me lead – the location of our destination changes every time she gets off the ship.

We pass people dressed in all colors and styles. It’s Miami, and it’s 1926, and you can be whatever you want. Any business, any class, any religion. We pass a man dressed all in orange begging on the street, and Marina flips him a coin. “I heard it was good luck to rub the Buddhist’s bellies,” I tell her quietly, and she tells me not to be rude as she gives him another coin and apologizes for my words. Chastened, I silence myself.

I lead the way to the old wine bar as the night gathers. Closed since the start of Prohibition, the windows are boarded up. She raises a perfect brow at me, dark against pale skin in the pool of yellow lantern light. “A little on the nose, isn’t it?” I giggle at her, but flash her a wicked look at the same time. No one pays us any mind. Two girls giggling at each other means nothing, even though we’re tittering about breaking the law.

I take her around the side of the building and into the alley, then down the stairs and through two doors. The men who guard them let us through without a second thought. I’m the key. This is my brother’s place.

Once we’re in the heart of the speakeasy (and out of the rain), Marina unloads her bag. She’s been carrying it like it’s nothing, but as she unpacks bottle after bottle of strong Cuban rum, I wonder how she’s carried something so heavy this far.

It’s just in time too. With the sunset comes the party.

Men and women crowd together on the dance floor. Everyone greets us by name as they come in – they know where the drinks have come from tonight. Dresses sparkle in the orange glow of our lamps. Red fabric shimmers against the wall, and soon the place thrums with the pound of dozens of feet on the dancefloor.

The party goes late into the night. I’m three drinks deep with Marina on one arm and a handsome sailor on my other – I don’t know his name but he knows mine – when I feel my feet get wet. Looking down, I see a few inches of water licking around my heels. Disentangling myself from Marina and the handsome sailor, I say something about a pipe bursting and excuse myself.

Knowing my brother is busy handling the bar, I seek out the source of the leak. I splash through the packed crowd and follow the flow of the water. But it doesn’t lead to any walls. Instead, it is coming from the staircase. I stare up it, barely able to hear the beat of jazz behind the two soundproofed doors, and cold fear seeps into me.

Because the water is flowing down. Our stairs are a small waterfall, and the flow is intensifying.

My instincts scream at me to run, but I force myself to turn back. I push through the doors, fighting the rise of the water that drags at them. People are already staring at the water. “Police!” I scream in the direction of the bar.

There’s an instant, practiced movement. People flood against me towards the doors and I lead them out. This is what we do, well-rehearsed. The water is up to my ankles by the time I reach the stairs, and I’m the first one up.

Which means I’m the first one to see the waves rolling along the lines of the street. Icy panic races down my spine, because the scent of the sea is in my nose, because this is no pipe break. This is the ocean coming in.

Rain hammers down and the fierce wind yanks at my hair. People pour out around me, and I grab Marina when I see her white dress. “High ground,” I tell her. “We must go up.”

The water swirls around my knees now, and roars down the steps in a vengeful torrent. We go against it, towards Miami Ridge. It’s the walk I make each morning to get a proper view of the ocean, and I know it’s the highest point around. I fight my fear for my brother, but Marina isn’t from around her – and if she drowns, her father will cut off our supply of Cuban rum, and our speakeasy will die. My brother would kill me if I let that happen.

We fight our way against the wind and water up the heights. When the ocean finally lets go of my feet, I can see nothing by grey, furious water ahead of me. Looking back, the city of Miami goes dark as the electricity is devoured by the storm.

Marina tugs me into the sheltered space behind a building. “What is happening?”

She asks me. “Are we going to die?”

The question catches me. It’s the same one my brother asked my mother we were on the boat from New York to Miami with our parents, headed south to start a new life. There was a storm then too. “My mama told me everyone dies twice. Once when you stop breathing, and once when your name is forgotten.” I take her face in my hands and attempt a smile. I am drenched, a ragged thing made of salt and fear, but she almost smiles back of me. “We will not be forgotten.”

© 2018 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 September 2018

This month’s winner notes that he’s grateful to get to “pick up a bottle and book in exchange for a few dubious words.” Congratulations, Craig! He adds, “I should note that there were some truly terrific stories tonight.  These events provide such a great opportunity to hear some fine sentences carved out in just a few minutes by intriguing and clever people.” We’re glad you enjoy them.


Prompts:

Character: A woman executive
Action: Good will hunting
Setting: The International Space Station
Prop: An old radio


Directive 38foster

by Craig Foster

Directive 38 was nothing more than an afterthought, really. An exercise coughed up from an office outside Mission Control with a view toward figuring out how to pass ourselves off to the others, out at the farthest reaches. Presuming they hadn’t met us already, this would be a preemptive strike in terms of letting them know we’re OK. Not to be feared.

Or trifled with, though.

It was little more than a good will hunting mission, and Bobbi W called in Dr. Kuwahara to lead it. She’d been part of the training program near Enoshima, Japan. A test of whether dolphins truly were as smart or smarter than us. The jury was still out, but a few of them made it through school fairly quickly and two had already been granted PhDs. Dr. Kuwahara – a damn bottlenose, no less – had expertise in astronomical sociology and would be put to good use. Bobbi W, the first woman executive at the space agency, set the wheels in motion and arranged for Dr. Kuwahara to be transported in a tank to the launch pad in Kyrgyzstan.

It wasn’t the craziest thing that had ever happened to the good doctor. And she looked forward to presenting humans to the others as best as possible. Leave out the bits about nets and knives. Or weave a story around them that might put everyone at ease. You couldn’t count on an attack on people not also causing some collateral damage in the seas and on the savannahs.

It took a bit to get to the International Space Station, but the launch was moderately safe and the tank held its water.

The welcoming party was limited to the biologist, also from Japan. That didn’t exactly float well with Dr. Kuwahara, but she refrained from spouting too much. Told herself, it’s a flipping test, Sadako. Don’t let them stop you from heading out a bit further. So, she didn’t. Made one of those noises everyone pegged for laughter, and the biologist said something polite and encouraging to her.

They’d built a supermarine for Directive 38. A maneuverable pod filled with water and provided with just enough of the button controls Dr. Kuwahara would be familiar with from her time at the university. The communication mechanism looked like an old radio, which didn’t matter to the doctor, as she didn’t plan to talk to use it. No need to talk to anyone back at the station once she was out and about. There were three channels if she needed them, however: one that received sounds from within a few hundred thousand miles, another that allowed for communication with the station, and a third that played familiar audio from Earth. Some dolphin-speak to provide a presumed measure of comfort. A little bit from above ground, just for kicks. And a mix of French chansons, big band instrumentals, post-punk thrash, and news of the world.

A couple of astronauts joined the biologist, and after a series of checks were made Dr. Kuwahara’s tank was wheeled toward the already-filled supermarine. There was a waterlock filled with just enough liquid to allow for what the humans determined was an easy transfer from one watery home to another. They were half right. Dr. Kuwahara took a blow to the nose during the transfer, but everyone applauded and felt even better when she made that laughing noise again.

She clearly was of the proper demeanor for this mission.

 

Space isn’t empty. Not at all. In fact, it’s packed. It gets lonely because there’s too much matter out there. More than enough atoms to choke an endless supply of dolphins. But Dr. Kuwahara loved it. She turned a few times in the supermarine, staring through the two windows provided. One at the bottom of the tank, and one at what must be the front of the thing. Showing where she was heading, in any event.

She hit the radio and it played La Mer.

The good doctor went over the mission in her head. Humans: 1; Others: 0.5. Just to shw it wasn’t a completely uneven playing field. She played in her head everything she would communicate to whatever she found. Of salt and blood, buckets of fish. How to be right and proper in their eyes. When to speak and when to just watch. Mention their favorite jokes.

Say how to stay alive.

Or maybe reveal the one spot where she knew the humans were vulnerable. For kicks.

The song switched to La Vie En Rose, and this time she did laugh.

© 2018 Craig Foster


Craig Foster is an editor based in Portland, Oregon who every now and then tries to write stories. These usually revolve around oddballs and misfits, the most normal people he knows. Tahoma Literary Review, Buckman Journal, 1001, and Arq Press have published a few of these tales, which should prompt an investigation into their decision-making process. Lastly, the author would never misrepresent his physical appearance with a photo from twenty years ago. There are ethical standards to be maintained.

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 July 2016

Congratulations to Donald on his second win!
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Prompts:
Character: A diplomat
Action: Going viral
Setting: Before the revolution
Phrase: “Gotta catch ’em all”
***

Only the Lonely

by Donald Carson

They call me a monster. And perhaps I am. Donald_Carson

They call me a lover. And I do have my moments.

I do not think they suspect that in my large and fiery heart lies the spark of sensibility. To them, I am just a large lump. A thing to take advantage of until no more advantages remain to be taken.

They talk about leaving me. I would like to see them try! They have hurled themselves away from my massive body but they always return, like fleas flick back onto a dying dog.

They give me no credit for creating them, and perhaps they are right. Perhaps it was not I who brought them into being, but something larger than myself. Perhaps there is a God.

I doubt it.

I was lonely. I longed for a mind to share my deep, dark cavernous thoughts with. And so I fiddled and I fidgeted. I sent lighting where lightning might not have gone. I crafted and I coddled. I was quite clever, if I do say so myself. Eventually things went viral, as they say now, and I sat back to watch.

It took awhile, but I had awhile. Fire burned, and cauldron bubbled.

And forth they came.

How they have disappointed me! I thought to have companions, but instead I have a mange, that spreads across my skin, leaving death in its tracks.

And they think me a monster. Oh, I kill them casually enough, as one brushes a mosquito from one’s shoulder, or poisons ants. Gotta catch ’em all!

So I am a monster. But I am also a diplomat. I want them to one day be my equal, so I try to keep them alive, but I despair how long it will take. Or whether I will have to start over.

They are the humans I birthed in my wet womb. And I, I am the planet they call the Earth. Brooding, scheming, and always hopeful that someday I will meet my equal. Before the revolution that is intelligence spread across my surface I had given up hope.

Now, I have a tiny particle of hope. Will they someday evolve into a companion for me?

Oh, I’ve reached across the emptiness and tapped Venus on the shoulder. I’ve called out to Saturn. But apparently I am the only sentient planet in hailing range.

And while they prattle, and dissect their minuscule existences, and give themselves hugs, and take selfies, I wait.

For a friend.

© 2016 Donald Carson

***

Donald lives in Portland, where he works in digital content and user experience, which is a fancy way of saying he tries to make websites and apps more useful for businesses and their customers. He is a food addict and must eat at least 3 times a day to sustain a metabolic high. He also enjoys avoiding things he knows he should do, working on the same novel for 10 years, and tending to the needs of 2 furry animals which for some reason have taken up residence in his house.