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Mini Sledgehammer: January 2012: St. Johns Booksellers

This month’s Mini Sledge at St. Johns Booksellers was a blast! Eight writers came out, and they even brought a couple bottles of wine. Congratulations to Lisa Galloway for winning the judge’s favor.

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Prompts:
Character: Cake decorator
Action: Washing feet
Setting: Childcare center
Prop: Strong scented candle

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Jesus Comes Around

by Lisa Galloway

The gift smelled like cinnamon buns, so to unwrap a Yankee candle was not a surprise. My family is from the Midwest, if I haven’t mentioned it. I rewrapped the candle and brought it home to my housemate telling her it was from my parents for her. They did not buy her a present in actuality, but I felt bad, because she’d spent Christmas alone.

Well, not completely alone, she’d decorated ginger bread houses with brats at Kindercare and after got so wasted that she burnt her Stouffer’s lasagna in the oven. At least watching kids quells her need to make her own babies. Her boyfriend was with his brother’s family. She was not invited. She says it is because they are not married, but I doubt they know about her.

I should mention that he wears a 2 inch by 4 inch crucifix around his fat tattooed neck, and he hates me because I’m queer. Queer like short hair and all my friends are gluten-free vegetarians that change their names. He’s never said as much, but I gather by his tacky, Catholic icons. Not just the necklace but the god-awful tattoos. That and he never speaks to me. In fact, he stops talking when I enter the room or the door.

Her job before Kindercare was as a cake decorator, but she was too high most days to keep the iced piping even and straight. She smokes a lot more pot now that Jesus comes around. I’m not kidding. His name really is Jesus. Oh and in case you hadn’t guessed, he needs a green card. Well, yes, a medical marijuana card would probably help too, but I mean he’s not legal.

She loved the candle. I knew she would. She desperately wants to be suburban, live in one of those half-tan siding, half-tan brick, 2-car garage houses. Jesus is the first boyfriend that she’s had since high school. She’s 32. After she un-wrapped the candle, he picked up the glass jar with his fat kid-like fingers and took a big whiff. He smiled at me, lit it, and then nodded.

My housemate and I get along fine, but we have nothing in common except for eating junk food like dehydrated shrimp and pork rinds and watching Criminal Minds. I said my friends were vegetarian, but I am not. And yes, my real name is Lisa.

The last fight that I overheard between them was this summer. She’d worn flip flops all day. I think it was the 4th of July. They’d been to that abhorrence at the waterfront, and basically her feet were dusty and caked with dirt. He’d told her that she couldn’t come to her own goddamned bed without washing them. She was drunk on $6 solo cups of beer, and she wasn’t moving. Laziness was one of her hallmark characteristics. So, he ended up washing them with a washcloth on the end of the bed. I thought it was tender in a fucked up way, like he was saving her from herself.

© 2012 Lisa Galloway

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Lisa Galloway graduated from Pacific University’s MFA in writing program in 2007. She’s a Pushcart Nominee and author of the book of poetry Liminal: A Life of Cleavage. A NW transplant, Lisa grew up in Indiana where she was adopted into a family with Southern Baptist roots, she contends that the Bible Belt still leaves welts.

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Mini Sledgehammer: December 2011, St. Johns Booksellers

Sledgehammer First Place Individual Dora Raymaker read at this month’s Mini Sledgehammer in St. Johns. Thanks to all the people who came out for the reading!

The writing contest was a lot of fun too. Our prompts were:

Character: the baby Jesus
Action: pitching a tent
Setting: the enchanted forest
Prop: a quart of store brand eggnog

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Untitled

by Pat Jewett

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My favorite eggnog is at Safeway that’s where I’m going now. Tis the season for eggnog. It’s my favorite time of the year.

The eggnog is lined up next to the milk in the milk section in the cooler. I like the feel of the carton, it is cool to touch and the carton is smooth.

It’s cold and foggy outside but the eggnog is safe inside the bag inside my backpack. I take a step and my foot slips a bit on the frozen ground. I’m headed across the St Johns Bridge and into Forest Park for the night. The bridge looks down into the Willamette River. People sometimes jump from the bridge into the murky river. I think maybe they see the baby Jesus down there.

I pull the collar tighter around my neck. It is very cold up here. There are semi trucks and cars speeding across the bridge and it is windy tonight. The moon is full and I like to look at the moon through the cathedral towers on the bridge. Forest Park is there in the haze and from this end of the bridge it looks enchanted. It is enchanted. Very few people know that. Most people come to hike the 80 plus miles of trails but they don’t see how the Forest is enchanted. I know it is.

Halfway across the bridge there are flowers along the rail. I am always respectful of the flowers. Someone has jumped and taken their story with them to the baby Jesus in the water.

I hit the traffic button for the walk signal. The entry into Forest Park are numerous but I like the stairs. Hiking books call the stairs the Ridge Trail Stairs. To me they are just stairs that go up into the enchanted forest.

I adjust my pack by lifting my shoulders up. I can feel the tent pushing against my sleeping bag into the small of my back. That’s the problem with just having one compartment in a backpack. Soon I’ll find a place to camp and be able to sit on a log and warm my hands over a small illegal campfire.

Most people come up into the park and they stay on the main trails. I don’t blame them. It is safer on the trails. Most people don’t realize how many of us live in Forest Park. If you ever are hiking and feel like you are being watched you probably are.

There are people who live in the park and during the day if they don’t go into town they will climb a tree and hide up there during the daytime.

I haven’t been here for awhile. I had been living in St Johns and was working part time at the gas station on Fessenden but it didn’t work out. Too many people, too much noise and someone telling me what to do. I preferred the forest with it’s quiet enchantment.

I step off the main trail and follow a slight path probably made by a raccoon. I try not to damage the undergrowth as I walk my way further off the main trail. I am slightly downhill but there is a place that is level and not readily seen by the nearest trail. For tonight it will good enough. Tomorrow I will go deeper into the forest.

The moon is still shining through the trees but I still need my flashlight. I set my pack on the ground and pull out my tent and poles and sleeping bag and the eggnog. I open the carton and take a small swig of eggnog. It is cold and thick as I swallow it.

The poles are the kind that snap into each other and then I have to weave them through the tent holes. I bought the tent on Craig’s list last year. It is a Mountaineer 2 person tent that I only paid $100.00 for. I had to save for it.

With a rock I pound the stakes into the ground and I unzip the tent and throw my backpack and sleeping bag inside.

I clear the ground in a small circle and start breaking off small twigs and find small branches on the ground. Some of them are damp but I have some dry twigs in my backpack.

I have some newspaper that makes good tinder and I piled my sticks in a teepee around and over the timber. I reach into my pocket and pull out the lighter I found this afternoon.

The tinder lights and the campfire lights up the surrounding trees. I lean against the trunk and take another drink of eggnog. If I sit here quietly the little people will come out of their hiding places and join me in the campfire. Forest Park is home to many things that are unseen by the traveler who just hikes across the trails. I’ve seen people who walk on all fours, deer, elk, even a bear, dead bodies, even baby Jesus. I drink the eggnog and wait in the enchanted forest.

© 2011 Pat Jewett

20-Pounder Sponsors

Thanks so much to our 2011 20-Pounder sponsors, who have each donated $500 or more worth of prizes!

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!

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

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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

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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.”