Mini Sledgehammer Writing Contest

The other night I tried something new: I went to a writing contest. It’s called Mini Sledgehammer, and the idea is you meet at a wine bar and you get 36 minutes and four writing prompts, then you write a story. (There is a regular Sledgehammer with 36 hours to write.)

Normally, we would then read our stories to each other, and the organizer would pick a winner. I was terrified at the thought of this. I haven’t written a word of fiction since college. I mean, I’ve lied plenty of times, totally made shit up, but never tried to organize any of it. So to have barely half an hour to come up with something, then have people hear it … well, a wine bar wasn’t the safest place for this old alcoholic to be under the circumstances.

Fortunately, a deus ex machina entered, in the form of about 50 people who streamed into the place on some kind of wine tour, completely swamping any notion of reading anything. Yay! Of course, we still wrote, which was kind of fun — in part because I love writing in the middle of chaos, and in part because it was funny watching all these fun-loving wine people try to figure out why several of us were hunched over computers and notepads in the middle of their party.

Anyway, since nobody got to hear it, I figured I’d share it here. I, of course, think it’s an embarrassment to the English language. But what the hell. It was 36 minutes of writing, and there were a lot of crazy wine people around, asking what the hell we were doing. And if you didn’t figure it out, this is based on a true story.

Okay. Oh, and the writing prompts that we had to include were a writer, moving in, a vet’s office, and the phrase “Out of nowhere came …” And I don’t know why, whenever I set something up to be in italics on my website, it comes out read instead.

Okay again.



The only thing Dublin McLain wanted when he got to Denver was a shot of whiskey.

He wasn’t normally a whiskey guy, but the drive down out of the mountains, in blinding snow and snarled traffic, had turned him nearly catatonic, and frozen his neck and shoulders in anxiety, and now it was in his head that the only thing to loosen him up would be a shot of whiskey. Maybe some ice, definitely no water, and he intended to slap his fists on the bar and yell for it.

He let the image settle into his head, and he started to feel kind of manly about it. I came through the mountains, he would tell them, and it was a mighty hard journey. So it’s whiskey for me, and none of the cheap stuff.

It really had been a crappy drive. He came out of the tunnel at Vail Pass, 11,000 above sea level, and all he could see was the tail lights of the car right in front of him. He decided to just follow that car, but it was going too slow, and when he hit his brakes he started skidding in the snow – towards the swirly blackness in which he could just make out the tops of trees. He tried to change lanes, even though there were no lanes, and from out of nowhere came another car, also going sideways and starting to spin towards him. And behind that was an 18-wheeler going faster than everybody. “If that guy hits his brakes,” Dublin thought, “we are all gonna die.”

It was three hours of that to cover 35 miles into Denver, and now that he was in town, it was whiskey time. And maybe then some writing, because the whole experience was at least going to make a great story some day. Down from the mountain the hero came, into town and straight for the saloon.

Actually, he found a stripmall, with all the same wasteland civilization he’d left behind in Boise: a Thai restaurant, a vet’s office, a taqueria, a tanning bed place, and a sports bar. Fine, he said to himself. Sports bar it is.

Down from the mountain the hero came, and he boldly strode into the, uh, Backstop Inn. It was kind of a baseball-themed place bragging of the “biggest screens on the west side of Denver.” He surveyed the scene: two guys with baseball caps staring at a screen above the bar, three more at a corner table arguing about something, and a skinny young girl behind the bar.

He settled on a stool and Miss Chirpy – that’s what he would come to call her, Miss Chirpy – came over and asked what he wanted. Our hero said, “Uh, whiskey … of some sort.”

“You mean like scotch? Bourbon? What?”

He noticed that the two guys at the bar were listening in, and he tried to turn to look at them, but his siezed-up neck sent pain ricocheting through his system. He winced, and something in their look changed, as well.

“Uh,” our hero said, and he looked around at all the bottles. “Jack Daniels”?

“Sure!” she chirped, and whirled around. She came back with the bottle and said, “Ice?”

Our hero really wanted to say no, but the idea of pure whiskey was actually daunting. So he went with ice, and Miss Chirpy poured him a shot.

“Any game you want on,” Miss Chirpy asked.

“No,” he said, “just in for a drink. Had a crappy drive to get here.” Indeed, he thought, ‘twas a most perilous journey.

“Where’d ya come from?” she said. She was being mighty chirpy. Dublin tried to bring the glass to his mouth, and another rocket of pain went through his shoulders. He also smelled the whiskey, and it was awful.

“I, uh,” he paused, looked at the whiskey, and forced down a sip. It tasted like burning. The guys at the bar were definitely watching him now. “Boise,” he said, but it seemed like his voice didn’t sound right.

“Come in for some skiing?” That would be the fun, chirpy thing, of course.

“No, I’m moving here. I’m supposed to be moving into my apartment in a few days.”

“My boyfriend just got a new apartment,” Miss Chirpy said.

Dublin looked at her and wondered how the boyfriend had gotten into the conversation. He sipped more whiskey. It tasted worse. The hero should have gotten a beer.

Miss Chirpy whirled off to do who knows what, and Dublin looked around. His arrival in Denver was complete, he had conquered the snowy mountains, he had gotten his whiskey, and Miss Chirpy has a boyfriend. Our hero noticed there was a baseball game on the big screen.