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Flash Sledgehammer 36-Hour Writing Contest: Wordstock Edition

Congratulations, Deena Anreise, winner of Ink-Filled Page anthologies and $10 off entry to next year’s main Sledgehammer event, the 36-hour contest!

Incorporating the prompt roots, Deena wrote this piece of flash fiction:

We clung to familiarity, to the place of our birth, as our father dug us out dandelion-style, using his multi-syllabic wanderlust like a sharp spade or spud bar. Eventually, he would win us out.

Deena Anreise is a prolific writer, young mother, and publishing graduate student at Portland State University. She writes young adult genre fiction (urban fantasy), adult and middle-grade contemporary lit fiction, and creative nonfiction for Oregon Music News. Deena lives in the stunning cultural mecca that is Portland, Oregon where her two wildly “entertaining” sons make sure that she is never ever bored.

Mini Sledgehammer: St. Johns Booksellers Birthday Edition

Happy Big Six, St. Johns Booksellers!

Before her store celebrated its birthday this past Saturday, June 25, Néna Rawdah messaged us to ask if we could work with her to host a Mini Sledgehammer as part of the celebration: “If you’re up for it, that would just round out the day for me.” How could we turn down something like that? Not that we’d want to anyway–we heart this Portland bookstore and appreciate the many ways it supports us, and all of its neighbors.

What a great turnout! Writers and friends of writers both. We judges had to debate the many merits of the four submitted stories, which ranged drastically in tone and topic. In the end, though, we were unanimous: congratulations, Brynn Tran!

Thanks so much to everyone for coming out. Those who did also learned that that evening launched our second permanent Mini Sledgehammer series. Now join us every second Thursday at 7 p.m. at St. Johns Booksellers!

***

Prompts:
Character: A cute girl bass player
Action: Nibbling on a pen or pencil
Setting: Over yonder
Phrase: King me!”

***

The Professor

By Brynn Tran

She could taste the salt on her upper lip, feel it stinging her right eye. The setting sun burned orange and she glared at it as she dragged the cumbersome case up the gravel road. It was hot. Too hot for eight in the evening. To hot to drag her bass over every dusty, dry hill. Too hot to hurry. Her car thought it was too hot, too, and gave up three miles back. Now her makeup was running and her hair was plastered in golden snakes to her forehead, and all she could see was a mire of green-black retina burn. She glared at the sun, daring it to set. “Fuck you, sun,” she said.

A figure shimmered in and out of existence between heat waves over yonder, perched atop the next hill. The girl hesitated. “Hey,” she called. The figure’s head snapped to. “You have a car?” she asked, immediately regretting it. If he had a car he would be in it, anywhere but here. It was unusual, standing alone in the middle of nowhere. Then again, she was the one with a tube top and a fourth of a string quartet.

“Not anymore, miss,” the figure replied. The notebook he was holding snapped shut, and his pen played about his lips. He smiled wanly. “Are you headed over there?” he jerked his thumb over the crest of the hill and, as the girl approached him, the lights of a town winked at them both.

She felt like a triumphant checker. King me, she thought. Please.

The man laughed good-naturedly at her relieved face. His eyes crinkled up at the corners, a cool blue, like a teacher the girl had once known. He reminded her of her high school orchestra conductor and she reminded herself why she was walking. This was her dream. All she wanted was to make it. To make it big, to make it to this one gig and be golden.

“Let me carry that for you,” said the man. He reached over and took the bass from her. She suddenly felt lighter than air. Perhaps it was his cologne. “What’s your name?” he asked.

“Jen,” said the girl. “You don’t have to do that, really.”

“I insist,” said the man. “What are you doing out here all by yourself?”

“I’ve got a show tonight with my band. There’s gonna be some big names there. Producers, that kinda thing.” Jen was getting ahead of him, speeding up. She figured she had about twenty minutes to make it to that great hulking blob in the distance. Since it still looked like a blob, it would likely take much longer. “So… what are you doing out here? Writing?”

“Sure,” he said. “Notes. Observations. That sort of thing.”

What could he be taking notes on? Jen wondered. There was really nothing for miles, except the town.

“I’m a scientist.” It was as though he knew her thoughts. “A professor,” he added, as an afterthought.

“Where do you teach?”

“Oh, I don’t teach anymore.”

“Why?”

Jen whirled at the sound of a heavy clatter and found herself staring down a cool blade. A knife – no, a scalpel. Her instrument rocked from side to side where it fell. It was the only sound. She didn’t scream. She didn’t even breathe. His icy fingers gripped her by the hair.

Why?” the Professor parroted. “Because I’m starting my own project,” he said.

The obsidian scalpel flashed. She didn’t even scream.

Very carefully, the Professor lifted the latches on the case and removed the bass. He placed it on the side of the road. Then he folded up the girl, stuffed her inside, closed the lid, and continued on his way towards the lights of the town. The sun slipped below the horizon.

© 2011 Brynn Tran

***

Brynn shares about herself and her story: “I just turned eighteen and graduated from Lakeridge High School in Lake Oswego, and I’ll be attending Reed College next year to study English. The Professor in this short story is actually a character I made in my creative writing class this year, who I had no intention of writing about. The ironic thing is that his last name is St. John.”

Mini Sledgehammer: June 2011

If you’ve ever thought the judges have an easy job choosing these winning stories, you’re very wrong. Three of us debated for a very long time this month–so many of the stories were incredible! We finally decided on Amy Seaholt‘s story, and it was thrilling to watch her reaction. It was as if she’d won a game show!

Thanks so much to everyone for coming out. We hope to see you next month, and the month after, and of course at the main event in September.

***

Prompts:
Character: A water park attendant
Action: Adjusting a telescope
Setting: An eerily empty freeway
Phrase: “You’re never going to believe this.”

***

Untitled

By Amy Seaholt

Justin’s shift ended at 7 p.m., though Raging Waters stayed open until 9. His dad said it was called that because the waters were raging with bacteria. Justin always chuckled at this, not because it was funny, as his Pop thought, but because it came from a man who only cared to shower once every few days and who Justin knew didn’t properly wash his hands after using the toilet.

Justin was far too old to be attracted to any of the high school kids who would flip their ponytails or snap their gum at him in an unpracticed attempt at flirting. They seemed to think that the job held some glamour. Or maybe they were just looking for free admission to the park.

Anyone his own age thought that it was a menial position and that he was incapable of impressing any girls with it. He knew this was true, so he didn’t tell anyone he knew at the State college about it. He even took pains to wash the chlorine smell from him as completely as he could before going to classes.

When Susan, his biology lab partner during summer term, got close to him to do a fetal pig dissection, he felt sure that she wouldn’t smell the chlorine over the formaldehyde. She had a good nose.

“Do you lifeguard?” She had asked.

“Yes, part time,” he replied, not wanting to go into more detail.

Where?

He pretended not to hear, he was so focused on the pig.

“Where do you lifeguard?” she asked again.

“Oh, just a place.” He was trying to be vague.

She narrowed his eyes at him. “Why are you avoiding the question. Do you work at Raging waters or something?”

He gave a slight nod.

“I used to love that place! I went about ten times every summer as soon as my parents would let me go by myself.”

Shhh! We’re going to get behind what everyone else is doing. He said. It was the first time he really noticed her long, smooth brown hair, wide eyes, her long neck. She was cute.

“I think it’s cute.” She said. “I just work at Starbucks. Boring.”

It was the cute comment, and that he was thinking the same of her at the same time, that gave him the courage to ask her out.

“You’re never going to believe this, me being a professional water park attendant slash biologist, but I know a cool place where you can see billions of stars. You have to get out of the city, though. You want to come with me sometime?”

Her eyes crinkled up when she smiled.

So after Justin’s shift ended at 7 he took a long shower to get rid of the chlorine smell and the stray bacteria that his father would suspect was there, and he picked up Susan for the drive up 99, then 70.

They spoke about high school for a while, and he explained that he had taken Dr. Greene’s astronomy class during the previous semester and had really gotten into it. Now he liked to take time-lapse photos of the stars. He was a little worried, revealing this to her, but she listened intently and the conversation was so easy that time passed quickly. Before he knew it he was pulling over.

“You can’t stop here, it’s the middle of the highway!” She had another one of her grins that pinched the edges of her brown eyes.

“Don’t worry. Nobody comes this way this time of night.”

He got out the tripod and telescope and began to set it up. “What do you want to see first. Saturn? The Orion nebula?”

“Yes. Any of that.” She said genially.

The more time he spent with her the more relaxed he felt. It was going really well.

“Okay, he said. Come down here and take a look.” He indicated to the telescope.

She bent her head to the eyepiece. Can you see it ok? He asked. She said it was a bit blurry. As he adjusted the focus he inhaled the fragrance of her curtain of hair. His heart beat a little faster and he wondered if he should kiss her. His palms began to sweat and he could feel himself getting red.

At that moment, headlights, coming fast, swept around the bend. His nerves already on edge, he failed to warn her, verbally, to move out of the way. Instead, he yanked the telescope up and pulled her arm to direct her to the edge of the road. Except that he did it too quickly, out of order, and slammed the telescope sight into her beautiful brown eye, tumbling her to the side of the road.

She was holding her eye, lying on the side of the highway, he was hovering over her, as the intruding car came to a stop to see if all was all right.

© 2011 Amy Seaholt

***

Amy Seaholt is a realtor by day and a writer by night. She is learning that if you actually want to get published, you have to let people read your work. You can read a little of hers here: http://brandofcrazy.blogspot.com/. She lives in Northeast Portland with her husband and two young children.