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Mini Sledgehammer August 2012: St. Johns Booksellers

Néna, the owner of St. Johns Booksellers, says she loves hosting Mini Sledgehammer because once a month she gets some bedtime stories. Not sure how she slept this month: Creepy, trippy, and gross are just some of the words you could use to describe these stories.

This was the first Mini Sledgehammer for most of this month’s participants, but it was a veteran who took home the prize. Congratulations, Elisabeth!

Character: Man waking from an alcohol-induced slumber
Setting: The underworld
Action: Shaking hand as though to shake something disgusting off
Prop: Book losing its pages



by Elisabeth Flaum

Jim lifted his head and dropped it again. It went splash.

Groaning he lifted it out of the puddle. It seemed to weigh far too much; his neck strained from the effort, water running down his cheeks, until he finally rolled onto his back and lay in the wet.

“Never again,” he mumbled.

“Heard that one before,” said a voice. Jim turned his leaden head till his eyes fell on the familiar shape of Toby lying beside him in the muck.

“How’d we get here?” Jim asked his friend.

“Tequila,” Toby answered decisively, crawling to his knees. “Had to be the tequila.”

Slowly the men got to their feet, shaking the thick black water from their hands and clothes. Jim rubbed his face, flung a blob of mud from his fingers, and looked carefully around.

“This ain’t the Strand, Toby,” he said.

“Nope,” his friend answered. They stood gazing back and forth. It was a street, or seemed to be; light from invisible streetlamps reflecting in black puddles, a dark musty smell settling over them. Above, there was only blackness, thick and empty. Jim shivered, claustrophobic.

“The hell are we?” he muttered.

Toby pulled a tattered book from his pocket and flipped it open, pages scattering and fluttering to the ground. He peered intently at the pages in his hands.

“I think we’re off the map.”

Jim stared down at the sheet floating in the dark puddle at his feet. It glowed gently, like a sickly moon, dimming slowly as it sank into the blackness. He looked up for the source of the light, but found none.

Toby flipped a few more pages, and another leaf took flight. He ignored it, shoving the book back into his pocket.

“Well,” he said. Jim looked up expectantly, but Toby had no more to say.

“What do we do now?” Jim asked, his voice nearly a whine.

Toby shrugged. “Dunno. Should be light soon. Then we’ll see.” He stretched hugely, then looked around for a dry curb or spot of pavement. There was none; he sat back down in the wet.

“Toby, I don’t think it’s getting light.”

Toby snorted. “Don’t it always get light? One way or the other?”

“Not this time,” Jim whimpered. “We’ve gone beyond this time, we ain’t ever gonna wake up outa this.” He glanced at his friend, wringing his hands anxiously, but Toby lay back in a puddle, arms folded behind his head, snoring gently.

“Some pal you are,” Jim muttered, lowering himself to the ground. He sat back hard, his hand sinking wrist-deep in the muck behind him. He pulled it free and shook it clean, wiping it ineffectively on his jeans.

“C’mon Toby,” he whimpered. “We gotta get outa here, man.”

Toby only snored.

Jim huddled shivering beside his friend, every nightmare horror passing through his mind. Ghosts wailed in the distance, the faceless dead lumbered by, sloshing through the thick puddles. Rats chittered and scampered in dark corners. Jim hugged his knees, trembling.

Somehow he dozed.

“Wakey wakey old buddy!”

Jim peeled open one sticky eyelid. The flesh-toned blur before him resolved into Toby’s face. Jim mumbled incomprehensibly.

“Tha’s right,” said Toby with a deep chuckle. “It’s light out.”

Jim looked around. The hard ground was as black, the sky overhead as impenetrable as before.

“No it ain’t,” he cried. “It’s no lighter than it was before.”

Toby laughed again. “No?” He reached up overhead, stretching his full height, his hands vanishing into the blackness. There was a mighty scraping screeching noise; Jim clapped his hands over his ears just as a blinding light came pouring in from overhead. The screeching stopped; Jim moved his hands from ears to eyes, peering cautiously through his fingers. A perfect circle of clear blue sky shone down above their heads.

“You remember where we had that tequila last night?”

Jim shook his head, still hiding behind his hands.

“Underworld,” Toby said with a laugh. “You got to remember not to use the back door.”

Slowly, memory dawned. Jim lowered his hands to his lap and broke out in a broad grin.

“We took the drunk’s exit.”

Toby shrugged. “Seems appropriate.”

Jim clambered to his feet and thumped his friend on the back. “That’s great! We’re not dead!”

“Not so far,” Toby chuckled.

They stared up at the circle of light.

“So…” Jim began.

“You readin’ my mind?” said Toby.

“Hair of the dog?”

Toby clapped him on the back with a reverberant guffaw. “You da man, Jim.”

Arm in arm the two friends sloshed through the muck back into Underworld.

© 2012 Elisabeth Flaum

Elisabeth Flaum is a new writer trying her hand at science fiction, and has so far been rejected by multiple well-known magazines. She also writes poetry on topics ranging from Mount Hood to Mars, with a touch of love and death thrown in. A sampling can be found at http://elisabethflaum.wordpress.com.


Mini Sledgehammer June 2012: St. Johns Booksellers

It was a very small group this month, but we had a good time writing anyway. Elisabeth returned with more magical realism to take the prizes!

Setting: First day of summer vacation
Prop: Road-killed skunk
Action: Spilling coffee
Phrase: Don’t tread on me


The Lake

by Elisabeth Flaum

Jim floored it.

“You can slow down, you know. They won’t catch us.”

He hit a bump, and my coffee went all over the floor. I swore loudly, and he let up a bit.

“Sorry,” he mumbled. “I just don’t want to get stuck in vacation traffic.”

“Well then take the last day off,” I said, sopping up coffee with the assorted paper napkins accumulating in the back seat. “Or wait a week. You don’t have to be in such a hurry.”

We drove on in silence for several miles. Then the car began to sputter. Jim leaned forward and peered down at the dash. It was his turn to swear as he thumped his fist against the display.

“Dammit! I forgot to get gas.”

“And you never got the gauge fixed,” I sighed. The car coughed and sputtered some more, and drifted slowly to a stop. Jim leaned his head on the steering wheel. The smell of coffee rose up from the carpet.

“What do you want to do?” I asked. He didn’t answer, just kept staring at the gas gauge as if he could fill the tank and start the car by sheer force of will.

“Sweetheart,” I said gently, “why don’t we try something different?”

“Like what?”

“Look where we are.”

He raised his head and looked around. We’d made it just past the boundary into the state park, and immense trees towered over us. Sunlight filtered gently through the leaves. I opened my door; the only sound was a soft breeze just stirring the distant branches.

“Come on,” I said. “Let’s take a hike into the woods. We can let the horde of summer vacationers pass, and pitch our tent right here. Tomorrow we’ll find a ranger or someone who can help us with the car.”

Jim gazed upward, dappled sunlight falling on his weary face. Slowly he smiled.

“Who needs the lakefront?”

“That’s the spirit!” I jumped out of the car, pulling open the trunk. “Water, bug spray, first aid kit. That’s all we need.”

Just then the leading edge of the horde of summer vacationers began to pass. RVs, station wagons and SUVs stuffed to the roof, the entire population of our small college town seemed to be sweeping past. The smell of exhaust and freshly pressed skunk drifted over us. The first wave passed; Jim peered at the small squashed animal lying in the middle of the road. The stink was overwhelming.

“Don’t tread on me,” Jim muttered. He turned to me with a grin. “Let’s get out of here.”

Together we pressed through the dense wood. Every once in a while the sound of passing traffic or the smell of skunk would waft by, soon to vanish in the sounds and smells of the forest. A small brook babbled cheerily nearby. Birds sang. Waving ferns brushed against our jeans. The stresses of the school year fell away; our steps grew lighter and lighter.

The light grew lighter as well. Jim moved ahead of me through the trees. The branches thinned overhead; the babbling of the stream became a soft rushing noise. Jim stopped at what looked like the edge of the world. I hurried to catch up.

“Wow,” I breathed. Rather than ending, the world opened up before us. A narrow greensward dotted with wildflowers stretched out, leading to the sandy shore of a sparkling lake. The sun, setting behind us, shone in every color on the crystal clear water.
Jim took my hand. “Look, our own private lakefront.”

I gazed in awe. “How did we not know this was here?”

He shrugged. “Nature’s little secret. Our reward for a job well done. Maybe it’s a mirage.” He dropped my hand and whipped off his sweaty t-shirt. “Let’s find out, shall we?”

Suddenly I felt every speck of sweat and dust on my skin, every ounce of dirt that had settled on me over the term, every petty complaint and problem and annoyance of the last nine months, itching all over. I grinned at him.


In moments we shed our clothes, and hand in hand dashed madly for the sparkling water, towards the first great plunge of summer.

© 2012 Elisabeth Flaum

Mini Sledgehammer May 2012: St. Johns Booksellers

We often see themes in stories that aren’t necessarily inherent in the prompts, and this contest was definitely one of those. Stories covered psychosis, murderous dreams, and games the mind plays when it thinks it’s found a killer. Sarah Lambert’s story stole the prizes for its “most creative use of a prompt and best incorporation of an ending, according to judge Néna Rawdah. Congratulations, Sarah!

Character: A man who has killed
Action: Lying down
Setting: A small-town parade
Prop: A city bus



by Sarah Lambert

What time was it?

The man woke to a pounding in his head.  What time was it?  There was a thrumming noise in the background, strange and incongruous to the thumping in his head.  Hung over.  Was it a hang over?  What had he done last night?

He realized slowly that it was pavement under his head.  The grit of gravel against under his cheek said that whatever had happened, his night had not involved the warm embrace of a good woman.  Gradually his senses took in other things – the taste of bile in the back of his throat, the brightness of the sun shining in his eyes.  Morning, was it morning, or had more of the day passed?  How much time had he lost?  What time was it?

Slowly he moved to sit up and realized his body was too sore, too stiff, for such exertions.  The noise in the background grew louder and began to shape itself into distinct sounds.  Brass music, cheering, an engine honking.  Was it a parade?  The thought was so ridiculous he almost laughed out loud, but his throat was raw with vomit and no sound came.

The man lay still on the pavement, willing movement but surrendered to the awareness that none would come.  The parade – if that’s what it was – came closer.  Where was he?  Laying still was his best action, but he allowed his eyes to move and gradually adjusted so as to come up on his elbows.  The sun was bright overhead, his awareness had not been wrong.  He’d been lying in an alley behind what looked like a warehouse, slightly back from a street.  The sidewalk of said street had a scattering of people on it, none of whom was looking at him.  They were all looking out, waiting for the…the honking, and the brass instruments, and the people…the parade.  The goddamn parade.

The man remembered being a child, his excitement at 4th of July, begging his parents to take him to the parade.  He wanted to see fireworks and sparklers and eat a hot dog and enjoy the music.  Somehow waking battered and hung over with no memory in an alley, the presence of a parade brought all the innocence of the child he had been forcefully back to him, and the man smiled with the delight of one who’s parents allow him cotton candy.

That was when he noticed the blood.

Not a lot, not enough to be his.  On his hands mainly, but there were splash marks up his arms.  His heart froze in his chest, and somewhere deep inside he felt a moan but no sound came out.  Blood.  What had happened, where was he, what time was it?

Once long ago in another life he’d received a massage.  At the end of it the therapist had said, “when you are ready, slowly turn to one side and sit up.”  He heard her voice in his head now, clear as if she had been standing next to him, and he slowly rolled to his side and pushed himself up to sitting.  The effort made him dizzy but he succeeded.

The parade was closer, almost to his block.  He saw a child waving an American Flag.  Was it the 4th of July?  He was probably the only person in the world at that moment who didn’t know.  The child had a flag, he looked for sparklers but didn’t see them.  He liked sparklers.

No one saw him, or if they did they pointedly looked elsewhere.  He didn’t know how he looked, but he could venture a guess.  It would probably be easy to ignore him, to assume he was street trash and leave it at that.  Another day – yesterday – he would have done the same.

He had money, and a home.  A job, not much but enough.  The parade was at his street now, and the thin crowd made it easy to see.  The expected brass band at the front, no doubt with a sign announcing they were part of some community center, a black car with the mayor (it did most of the honking), others to follow, his vision blurred and memories began to splice back together in his mind.

He’d taken Julia out – his on again off again friend who was sometimes more but usually less – a nice quiet dinner away from the city.  His car broke down on the way there.  She was unforgiving of his suggestion they get a cab to go the rest of the way and had used it to take her home instead.  He couldn’t leave his car and was mad at her for abandoning him.  Fortunately the road was on the route of a city bus and the driver was able to take him part way to a mechanic shop.  He had to walk the rest of the way, but it was okay.

His memory suddenly became blurry again, his heart rate increasing.  Something about the mechanic shop…something there.  The sound of the parade was no longer comforting or innocent to him.  It was clashing against the terror of his memory.  There had been a drug deal, he had walked in on it, his life had been in danger, and he had survived.

That was what the man remembered as the parade marched on.

His hands were red but they would wash clean, as the whiskey had washed his memory.

© 2012 Sarah Lambert


Sarah Lambert is a local business owner who enjoys writing for the most part as a hobby, though is not above attempting the occasional book. More of her writing is available on her blog, Notes from a Rational Psychic, at www.bodyinsights.com.

Mini Sledgehammer April 2012: St. Johns Booksellers

The prompts were marvelously specific this month, which led to themes ranging from love to murder, and almost every story had room to grow much bigger. What a blast! Congratulations to Mr. McLaren, whose winning story earned him a copy of Ink-Filled Page and a $36 gift certificate from St. Johns Booksellers.

Character: A slam poetry champion
Setting: On an apartment building fire escape
Prop: A venetian glass paperweight
Phrase: “There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you.”


Slam Judge

by T. A. McLaren

Somehow Stillman had allowed her to talk him into judging a poetry slam. Judging. Poetry. And he was already late.

His good friend Eleanor Barnes, English teacher at PS 109, had organized the Poetry Slam for the past six years.  She said the kids would remember a scorecard they got from a real-life detective.

He was familiar with the neighborhood around the high school. He had lived not far from here when he first moved to town many years ago. He came back sometimes to visit a buddy who lived in an apartment building across from the high school.

He parked down a side street and was taking a shortcut through an alley when the explosive sound of shattered glass brought his attention to a spot not 5 feet in front of him. The heavy brass base of a venetian glass paperweight remained dented but intact. The splintered red and blue glass around it was like a bright and brittle obituary.

He looked up past the hanging ladder to a window opening onto the third floor fire escape. It was open and a heavy red curtain was flapping in the wind.

Otherwise, there was nothing unusual going on. No one around. No other sounds except cars on the street. He was intrigued but remembered his judging duties. He continued to the end of the alley, across the street and into the high school.

When he entered the auditorium Eleanor shrieked and ran to him.

“Stillman, dear, we were afraid you were caught up in some dark and mysterious adventure.”

“Sadly, no, ” he laughed as she pulled him in. He returned her hug.

“Come on,” she said, “lets get you down in front.”

The logistics were simple enough. He was given a stack of white poster boards and a fat sharpie. As each contestant concluded their performance – there was no other word for it – he was to provide  his Olympian judgement (on a scale of 1-10), hoisted high above his head for all to see.

Eleanor was MC. After laying out the ground rules, she introduced the first poet.

Stillman was surprised that he enjoyed the first reader’s piece as much as he did. He liked the attitude, images, and brutal honesty, both social and personal. Many of the subsequent writers were good, too. There were a couple of exceptions.

One young man, reluctant to reveal any vulnerability, still managed to devote five minutes to his broken heart, repeating the quotation “there is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you”.  Maybe the kid thought it was spelled “baring”.  Whichever way he spelled it, Stillman shared his agony.

At the conclusion, his friend tallied the votes and announced the winner. It turned out to be the first poet. Stillman got up to congratulate her and say goodbye to Eleanor.

As he was talking to the young woman, he noticed Eleanor jog quickly up the center aisle to meet two policemen who had appeared at the back of the auditorium.

Stillman followed his intuition, excused himself and quickly headed for a side door. He cut quickly through the school grounds, and back across the street to the alley.

He looked up at the fire escape. A cop was peering out the open window on the third floor. On the street, near the spot where the paperweight had landed not an hour before, a trench coat had been hastily thrown over a broken, crumpled body.

© 2012 T. A. McLaren


I write for work as a systems analyst. I started writing fiction with Write Around Portland a few years ago. The Mini Sledgehammer is the first prize I ever won. Despite my excitement, my so-called friends are insisting that I keep my day job for the time being.

Mini Sledgehammer March 2012: St. Johns Booksellers

We had two newcomers at this month’s Mini Sledgehammer in St. Johns, and they really made the judge work hard! Our winner, Elisabeth Flaum, was one of them, but it’s wasn’t just beginner’s luck. Her story was great.


Character: Elvis
Action: Trouble fixing a bride
Setting: Arbor Day
Prop: Garlic



by Elisabeth Flaum

I walked through the park in the spring sun. I hadn’t known there would be an event here, I just stumbled upon some kind of celebration. Earth Day or something. Arbor Day. Children selling seedlings, booths of people selling plants or landscape services or for some reason, yoga. I wandered among the noise, my thoughts drifting.

At the far end I drifted to a stop in front of an ornate display. A colorful banner read ‘Save the Presley Foot Bridge.’ An Elvis impersonator finished setting up his boom box and began belting out tunes. A whole tribe of people stood behind the tables, handing out pamphlets and hauling in any handy passer-by. It wasn’t long before one of them spotted me. I deftly made my escape as she approached.

Or so I thought. I hadn’t gone twenty yards when a flock of children engulfed me, chirping. One of them pressed a flyer into my hand as they dispersed. ‘Save the Presley Foot Bridge.’ Ten yards further along, I noticed a table of young people selling plants bore the same banner. And the t-shirts on the volunteers. ‘Save the Presley Foot Bridge.’

My curiosity piqued, I returned to the display at the far end, where I was quickly engulfed by the tribe.

“All right, you’ve got me. What’s the Presley Foot Bridge?”

A young woman with warm dark eyes took me by the hand. “Come and see.”

Beyond the hubbub of the festival, beyond the soaring flocks of children, beyond the reach of the Elvis music, she led me into the trees. A tiny wood beyond the park, rich with birdsong and the rustle of wind in the leaves, the scent of wild garlic rising as we crushed the plants underfoot. The girl clutches my hand, her fingers soft and delicate in mine, and pulls me to a stop at the edge of a clearing.

“Do you see it?”

I peer out from under the trees, blinking in the sunlight. Tall grass waves in the breeze, fluffy clouds scud across the vivid blue sky. I see nothing resembling a bridge. I start to turn, to ask this girl what she means by this, when from the corner of my eye I catch a glimmer of… something. I turn again; with my head at just the right angle I can see it. A shimmer in the air, like heat rising from the road, but with a suggestion of color, like the faintest of rainbows. I turn to my guide, incredulous.

“You can see it.”

“I can see something. I think.”

“Not everyone can.”

“Tell me about it.”

“This land belonged to a family called Presley. No relation to Elvis, that’s just a bit of fun for the campaign. But they left the land in trust. They created this place as a passageway between this world and the next. But it was never finished.”

“Wait a minute. Between this world…”

She nodded. “And the next, yes. In the Presley family, knowledge could be passed down directly from preceding generations. They wanted to share that ability with others. But the last Presley crossed before the bridge could be completed. There’s no one left on this side to finish the job. Until… until you.”

“Me? Wait a minute. You’re talking about communicating with the dead. A bridge to another world. That’s impossible.”

Her dark eyes gazed into mine, all-seeing.

“It’s not. You know.”

As she said it I knew she was right.

“It only takes that special kind of trust.”

Suddenly it wasn’t a young girl’s voice I was hearing. It was the voice of my own great-grandfather, a man who was ancient the day I met him and who never grew less so. A man who appeared to me still in my dreams, as he had in my childhood, whenever I needed a guiding hand. He was there with me in the clearing in the woods, there with me and this girl I’d never seen before.

I looked into those dark eyes and saw myself. I reached out and took her hand. Together we stepped out into the sunlight, our feet climbing an invisible rise, riding on that special kind of trust. I heard the music, smelled the wild garlic again as we stepped into another world.

© 2012 Elisabeth Flaum