From the Desk of the Editor;
Hello and welcome to the Fiftieth Issue of Volume Three! We have a very exciting issue with work from two outstanding up-and-coming authors. Though they were born in different places and times their work has come together to entertain and delight us.
In news my personal web vlog on YouTube was lunched a few weeks ago and is starting to become more regular. Check out Filozophy for incite to my mind and work.
Also stay tuned for changes in our submission requirements. Nothing major—we are just rewording and adding in a few things to clarify the process.
VERY IMPORTANT!!! If you have been waiting on a reply from us for more than three months PLEASE email us with a query. We are getting to as many submissions as we can but would love to know if you are waiting to hear from us still. Thank you!
Now on with the show,
Daniel J. Pool
Timmy the Mouse
By Claire Ashmead
Mmm, cheese…. Timmy smiled in his sleep. Who doesn’t love a good chunk of tasty orange cheese? Well, in all honesty, Timmy didn’t really know because he had never actually tasted cheese, but the stories about Great Grandfather Thomas that had been passed down in his family for generations were all about cheese. Nobody could quite remember whose grandfather Great Grandfather Thomas actually was, but everyone agreed that he was the only mouse in The House who had ever successfully stolen cheese.
Plenty of other mice had tried, but Thomas was the only one who never got caught. Timmy’s own father Tom had tried to steal cheese once, but he never came back. It was generally agreed that The Human had gotten him and that he died a very painful death. After that, Timmy’s wife Janice made him promise that he would never try to steal cheese. Timmy had willingly agreed, but there was nothing he could do to force himself to stop dreaming about cheese. Tonight was the fifth night in a row.
Timmy smiled again. His nose quivered and he smacked his lips as the block of delicious, orange cheese floated closer and closer, until it hovered tantalizingly in front of him. He could almost touch it with his whiskers. The smell of its richness filled his nostrils. He closed his eyes and opened his jaws to sink his teeth into the slice of heaven and then felt a sharp pain in his mouth and woke with a start. He had bitten his own tongue. It did not taste like cheese.
Timmy muttered irritably to himself and rolled over to go back to sleep, but he couldn’t get the smell of the cheese to leave him alone. Even wide awake, he could smell it. He sat up in bed and sniffed. Could it be? He slipped out of bed and followed the smell of the cheese along the wall to the door, where he stuck his nose out of the hole and into the living room and gave one big, long sniff. Yes, he definitely smelled cheese. Part of him looked back towards his bed where Janice slept peacefully, but the smell of the cheese pulled him out of the hole and across the beige carpet towards the couch.
The cheese lay on a small plate on the table next to the couch. It was not an easy climb. It took Timmy a few tries, but once he was on the table, there was nothing between him and the cheese. He could finally sink his teeth into the wonderful delicacy that his father had died for. He stopped at the edge of the plate to relish the rare specimen in front of him. He sniffed with all his might. Mm hm. That was the stuff. He had just climbed onto the edge of the plate when all of a sudden something shiny sped through the air, hit the plate with a deafening clank, and sent Timmy flying through the air! He hit the wall, slid down behind the couch, and thumped onto the carpet, where he sat without moving.
What on earth was that? Timmy shook his head. The Human must have seen him. He had to get back to the hole. He crawled under the couch to the far corner and peered across the room at the hole in the opposite wall. There was a lot of open space between here and there. Timmy took a deep breath. Keeping his eyes on his destination, he darted out into the open and made a mad dash for safety.
Almost there, Timmy felt a sharp pain in his tail. He pulled himself away from it and burst into his entryway, slamming into the drywall on the other side. He sat still for a moment, waiting for the stars to go away, and then tried to stand up, but lost his balance. He tried again with the same result. What was wrong with him? Why wasn’t his tail working? He turned and tried to look at his tail, but he couldn’t see it. He turned further, but it wasn’t there! Where had it gone?
Outside the hole, The Human picked up Its knife and dropped the severed mouse tail in the garbage. Next time, It thought, I’ll get the rest.
Inside the hole, Timmy shook as he stared at the spot of blood on the carpet and resolved that he would never, ever, dream about cheese again.
About the Author;
Claire Ashmead is an elementary education undergraduate at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. She has spent 19 of her 22 years in Alaska. From 3rd to 8th grade, she attended the Aurora Waldorf School in Anchorage, where she grew to love all art forms, including writing poetry and fiction.
By Paul Peppers
The boy studied the creek water. It was dark green, and rich with tiny floating particles. Against the far bank a tan water snake undulated lazily under the overhanging foliage. What began at the bridge as a small branch of the river had widened into a large pool. The banks on both sides were choked with brush and brash wood growth and it was evident that no one else frequented the spot. The Aluminum cans old plastic cups and assorted garbage that littered most places along the river were conspicuously absent.
Ricky Jenson had thrown him in the river the day before. Pete told the big bully that he couldn’t swim; told him several times-yelled it, but the older boy just laughed and pitched him in the water anyway. Pete decided that he wasn’t going to be humiliated again; and he sure didn’t want to drown. He was going to learn to swim.
“This is it,” he said into the silence and picking up a stone he pitched it at the snake. “Get lost,” he said. Instantly the snake slipped beneath the surface with a ‘plop’. “I’m gonna swim today and no darn snake is stopping me,” he said.
Stripping down to his underwear He walked cautiously into the shallows testing the ground to make sure that no glass bottles were on the creek bottom. Though it was eighty degrees on a warm March day the water was cold. He gritted his teeth as the liquid crept up his legs and splashed against his groin. Pausing when the water was up to his waist he took a deep breath and pushed forward paddling vigorously. He pawed at the water for all he was worth but managed to do little more than splash the brush along the bank before sinking like a stone. He involuntarily sucked some of the green liquid up his nose and rose spluttering to the surface with his brown hair plastered to his face and his burning nose streaming snot and river water. Gradually his heart rate slowed; he relaxed a little-and he tried again.
“Whoa! Right there,” Ray, yelled. “No wait-back a little, back… Stop goddamn-Stop!
Frustrated Ray got up and looked out the door at the boy. “I said stop boy,” he said.
“I wasn’t even turning it dad,” Pete, said.
“Well shit,” he said, “the hell with it then. We don’t get twelve worth a damn anyway. I don’t reckon turning the goddamn antenna is going to help anyway.”
Sighing with relief he returned to the house.
“Deddy, do you know how to swim?” Pete asked cautiously unsure how the old man would react.
“Do I know how to swim? Do I look like a rock to you? I spent twenty one years in the Navy boy, “ he said indignantly. “Hell yes I can swim.”
Ray, Pete’s dad, was the perfect image of a “retired navy man.” His thinning hair was cut in a grey peppered flat top. His belly bulged from under a red double knit shirt and his skin was tanned a dark jaundice brown. Ray could also drink enough beer to float a battle ship without apparent ill affect. The old man sucked thoughtfully at one of his few remaining front teeth, took another drink of beer and crushed the empty can making the hula girl tattoo on his forearm dance. He tossed the can into the trash bin.
“Will you teach me?”
Ray was sharing his attention between Pete and the television set. Channel twelve was showing a base ball game, so Pete was mostly being ignored.
“Boy, if I go to the river there’s only one thing I’m going to do, and that’s catch some fish” He paused to burp and another beer hissed as he pulled the pop top loose. “I sure as hell can’t fish if you go splashing around in the water scaring them away. Why do you want to learn to swim all of a sudden anyway?”
Pete shrugged noncommittally. If he said anything he knew it would just cause trouble. He glanced at the television screen. The players were fuzzy and almost invisible due to the poor signal.
“Get your brother to teach you,” his dad said waving a hand in dismissal. “And keep it down I’m trying to watch the goddamn game.”
They said it was best to learn to dog paddle first and then the rest was easy, but Pete didn’t believe it. Anyway ‘easy’ was a catch word that salesmen used: easy off, go easy, easy does it, whatever. If it was easy everyone would know how. He looked at the green creek water. His gangly frame and skinny legs were out of proportion to the size of his feet. Standing there wearing nothing but his underwear he felt awkward and embarrassed even though no one was there to see him. He was at that ‘puberty’ stage of life when it seemed everyone has an embarrassing comment to make: “You’re growing up,” or, “Look how big your feet are!” or worse yet-“Oh, your voice is changing!” Due to this kind of talk he had become somewhat self absorbed lately finding peace in his own company.
His saggy underwear threatened to slide down his legs, and he was forced to hold them up. He thought about going swimming without anything on, but was afraid to try it. If swimming was easy no one would ever drown. Jumping in the creek he tried again.
That weekend grandpa Odell died.
With the death of Odell a somber mood descended on Pete’s house. The children: Pete, Carl, and Prissy, all three sat silently at the kitchen table. They were dressed in their best clothes a fact which Pete considered to be unlucky under any circumstances and his mom was crying. She was in her room and he couldn’t see her, but he could hear her. Ray’s deep voice could be heard comforting Olene. The calm sound of it was like a verbal sedative gradually calming her. Soon she began to quiet in response to the soothing sound.
He looked at his brother and sister in turn. They both sat quiet staring at the floor. Pete had never heard his mother cry before and was at a loss-was he supposed to cry too? He cared about grandpa Odell but other than a few brief visits he’d spent little time with the old man. The truth was he hardly knew grandpa Odell. He looked at his brother. Carl was five years older than he was, but no clue how to behave could be found there.
Ray entered the kitchen. “You kids go ahead to the car. We’ll be along in a minute. I’m going to help your mother. She’s taking the news badly. You kids need to mind your manners during the trip. I don’t want any trouble today.”
“Yes sir,” they all said.
Deddy how come he died?” Pete asked. I fell when we were working on the roof and I just got the wind knocked out of me.”
Ray took a seat at the table. “A fall out of bed would probably have killed your grandpa. He only had one lung left. The doctor took the other lung a few years ago because it was eat up with cancer. It was a miracle the old man lived this long. He was eighty years old you know and he used to smoke them strong cigarettes -Pell Mell’s-no filter; smoked them for years. Back then everybody smoked… They put him on a machine for a while to help him breathe, but his brain just plain quit working. Then the doctors decided to unplug him. That’s not how they put it though. The doctor said they were forced to ‘remove him from life support,’ but t it amounts to the same thing doesn’t it? Uncle Bryson was there when grandpa breathed his last breath and he said it sounded like a sigh of relief to him. The fall aint what killed Odell. The lung cancer is what done it. Just took a while for it to finish the job is all.”
. Death is part of life kids-live all you can before you die”
Grandpa Odell was from Boaz Alabama and, like a salmon returning to its birth place, he had to be buried in Boaz Alabama. Pete slept through most of the trip. And being only eleven awoke faced with a crowd of relatives that he didn’t know. They all seemed to know about him though. They hugged him, shook his hand, patted him on the back, and made other friendly noises. He recognized a few faces and one in particular; his aunt Madge. This was not necessarily a good thing because Madge was a little scary.
She was so big that she would probably have tipped a see saw her way if the fat lady from the circus was on the other end. She chewed tobacco too and loved the stuff so much that her cheeks were always full. She stuffed them so full that tobacco met in the middle of her mouth giving her voice a muffled sound. Even though she was at a funeral, Madge’s face was packed full of tobacco. She grabbed him by the arm as he neared and in a paroxysm of grief mashed his face into her doughy cleavage. He found himself wishing he’d taken a few deep breaths to prepare. The smell of lilac perfume was overpowering.
“You poor child,” she mumbled through her tobacco muffled voice and patted Pete’s back with a huge flabby hand. “I’m so sorry about your grandpa Odell, dear. I know you miss him.”
She released him, apparently expecting an answer. Gasping for air Pete red faced he stepped quickly out of reach. ‘Uh, yes maim,” he said. He didn’t bother to tell her that he hardly knew grandpa Odell.
The fat of her elephantine arms wobbled as she reached for him. This time he remained judiciously out of her reach.
It seemed like a message had passed between the adults. Some important knowledge that he was not privy to but badly needed to know. Butterflies stirred restlessly in his stomach and he felt a sense of fear and guilt all mashed together. Was he supposed to look at grandpa Odell? No one actually said- go and look at the dead man nor did they tell him not to. However people continued to walk solemnly past the coffin; some cried, some didn’t, and some betrayed nothing. Pete looked at the corpse; it was unnaturally pale under the harsh fluorescents and a thick waxy film coated the dead lips. He realized with a shiver that it was wax keeping the dead mouth from gaping open.
He was still staring numbly at the coffin when he felt his mother’s tiny bird like hand on his bicep. Her fingers dug into the muscle like talons.
“Come and say goodbye to your Grandpa,” she said.
Choking back his reluctance he let her lead him toward the coffin. He glanced sideways at her. Her face carried an expression he’d never seen there before. Her brown eyes were swollen from crying and her curly red hair was in disarray. The state of her hair struck him in a way that nothing else had. She had always been extremely concerned with her appearance. Every other week without fail she went to the little beauty shop in town. He felt All of a sudden that something important had been taken from him; something that could not be replaced. They paused at the casket. Close up to the body the unreality of the thing was magnified. Veins snaked through the pale flesh of grandpa Odell’s face like thin green wires holding together the parchment thin skin like the head of a paper Mache doll.
“Look at him,” she said -tears streaming down her cheeks. “He looks like he’s just sleeping doesn’t he son?”
He doesn’t look real, Pete thought. It’s not a person anymore. It’s a thing.
She rubbed her hand tenderly across the oily hair and bending forward kissed Odell’s pale dead forehead.
Live all you can before you die, Pete told himself.
“No I have to stay here and baby sit,” Carl said sulkily into the phone and brushed his jet black hair out of his eyes. “No, they don’t get home until around six. “ He was silent listening. “Alright see you.” He returned the phone to its cradle and stared at Pete for a few seconds. “Go wake up your sister and get a couple of towels, and put some shorts on if you want to get in the water. Don’t tell mom and dad about this.”
Carl took a plastic comb out of his back pocket and combed his thick hair back in an Elvis look.
Pete moved sullenly away. He hated the way Carl always bossed him around when mom and dad were gone. Just because his brother was five years older he thought he was the boss. Pete knew that sixteen years didn’t make a grown up no matter what Carl thought. Then it hit him- We are going swimming. With sudden excitement he ran to wake his sister. He couldn’t swim a lick but he could wade and anything was better than staying home all day with nothing to do.
As he was leading Prissy into the living room with the towels under his arm he heard the impatient blaring of a horn.
“That’s Jenson,” Carl said, stepping out the door and waving to his friend. “Come on slow pokes lets go.” He said impatiently over his shoulder starting for the truck.
Prissy was still rubbing sleep from her eyes. Her black curls were in a tangle, but she picked up on the mood of excitement and smiled happily.
Ricky was a heavy set boy with red hair, pale skin, and large dark freckles. Freckles that looked like warped pennies stuck to his pale face. The truck was the rustiest vehicle Pete had ever seen. It looked like some prehistoric creature that might fall over dead at any second. The Chevy was jacked up so high that the springs sagged dangerously toward the driver’s side and the engine skipped and sputtered erratically puffing smoke from the exhaust in small clouds. Pete figured it was trying to ask for help by smoke signal.
Carl looked at the truck with envy. Ricky was one of the few boys, in the little mill town where they lived, lucky enough to have any kind of vehicle at all. Girls at school were always asking to go for a ride.
“Come on Pickles,” Ricky said. He said the name like it was an insult and revved the engine causing the old truck to rock back and forth. “Let’s get gone son.”
This wasn’t the first time Carl had heard his last name framed as an insult. So, he ignored it by reflex. The Kids he’d grown up with were experts at coming up with new insults and after years of hearing such witticisms as pickle puss, pecker pickle, peter piper picked a pack of pickle peppers, and the like, he was pretty much immune to anything they could throw at him.
Jenson started backing the truck up while Pete and his sister were still scrambling onboard making them jump the rest of the way onto the bed of the truck. As it was Pete still had to grab his sister by the wrist and pull her onboard to keep her from falling. Sitting down he pulled the edge of his t-shirt up to keep from choking on the sudden dust cloud that billowed around the truck as Ricky backed the rattling old jalopy out onto the dirt road and hammered the gas causing the truck to fish tail. He watched them in the rear view laughing hysterically as the two kids slide helter skelter back and forth across the bed of the truck.
“Jerk!” Pete yelled.
Jenson couldn’t hear him over the roar of the engine and the country music blasting from the radio. Not that it would have made a difference. He was laughing so hard that his pale face matched the color of his red hair.
The swimming hole was a popular spot; evidenced by the garbage that littered the area. Empty plastic containers, old beer cans, and other miscellaneous litter made gay spots of color here and there along the river bank; the dirt of which was pressed firm and slick by the many feet that had passed across it.
Carl and Ricky wrestled and pushed each other until off balance they both hit the water. Charles landed first then rose spluttering and gasping. Ricky promptly pushed his head back under. This was easy for Jenson since he was taller and heavier than Charles-a fact that the boy seemed to badly want to make clear.
Pete frowned in disgust seeing his brother being bullied.
“Lay off Ricky,” Carl said, pushing Ricky’s hands away.
“Lay off Ricky,” Ricky mocked. “What you going to do about it Pickle puss?’
Carl swam out of reach.
Pete remained on the bank looking at the water with trepidation. He couldn’t swim and was afraid that if he waded into the pool the red headed bully would dunk him the way he’d dunked his brother. He didn’t think Carl could stop it either.
“Peeeete,” his sister said plaintively.
“Ok,” he said, and spread a towel on the bank for her to sit on. Then he dropped down next to her. “We’ll sit here and get some sun sis. How’s that.”
“Ok!” Prissy said happily.
Ricky scrambled up the muddy bank preparing to dive in again. “Aint you going in?” he asked.
Pete made no reply.
“Can you swim?”
“No,” he replied grudgingly.
“You want to learn?”
“Can you teach me?” he couldn’t keep the excitement from his voice.
“Sure,” Ricky said coming close and patting him on the back in a reassuring manner. Then he grabbed the waist band of Pete’s cut-offs jerked the shorts tight, giving him an instant wedge, and frog marched him forward pitching him headlong into the river. Pete hit the water thrashing wildly in an effort to save himself. He was panicking-he was drowning- He was in chest deep in water with his feet planted firmly on the bottom.
Ricky laughed like it was the funniest thing he’d ever seen.
Humiliated Pete said nothing.
The teacher left the room and the kids all started talking at once like the “go ahead and talk” switch had been slid to the on position. Pete remained silent looking at the long pony tail swaying in front of him. He wanted to talk to Carol. He longed to, but was unsure how to get started. He’d been sitting behind her for most of the school year yet could count the number of conversations they’d had on one hand.
Carol was beginning to show signs of maturity. The small budding mounds of her breasts were outlined against the Atlanta Braves jersey she had on, and her slim legs swelled attractively from her white gym shorts. Neither of those things, though worthy of attention, were what attracted him to her. The beautiful jet black hair swaying before him was what drew his eye. He started to speak but only managed a strangled grunt.
Carol turned sideways in her desk to look at him. “You say something Pete?”
“Um, uh, hi,” he said lamely.
“Hi,” she said. She was quiet for a few seconds. “You were pretty good on the broad jump at the track meet,” she said. Mom and dad were there and dad said you were a real jumper.”
“Hey thanks,” he exclaimed surprised, “I gave it everything I had.”
She smiled at him as if he’d said something witty.
“I talked to my mom about you. She thinks you’re a nice boy and said she wouldn’t mind if you came over to visit some time; maybe for dinner or something.”
Say something dummy, he told himself. Say something… The silence lengthened uncomfortably. “I’ve been teaching myself to swim,” he blurted finally, and his face heated up like his scalp was on fire.
“I wish I could swim,” she said.
“Really!” Pete was ashamed of his inability to swim. It hadn’t occurred to him that someone else might have the same problem.
“Yeah, we have a Winnebago,” she said, “and likes to go to the lake every weekend. We camp, swim, and cook on the grill- you know I say swim but I can’t really swim. My friend Melissa goes in the water a lot she can swim. She learned at the Recreation Center last year-she laughs at me but I don’t care. Dad and mom say anyone can swim it just takes practice.”
This was more than Pete could process all at once. Blinking his eyes against the rapid fire assault like a sailor tacking into a gale force wind, he said: “Well we could both learn- together -I mean swim -uh at the same time and everything. I found a spot that nobody else uses and it’s not too deep.”
“I do wish I could swim,” she said.
“It just takes practice,” he said, feeling more confident.
“Are you asking me out on a date Pete?”
“Ummm!” The whole business of dating was a big unknown. He knew his face was crimson. He took an anxious look around to see if anyone was watching and sighed in relief when he found that no one was paying them any attention.
“Uh, sure,” he said, “I guess.”
“Great,” she said, genuinely pleased, “when?”
“Um,” Pete thought hurriedly- “How about Saturday?”
Carol scribbled on a scrap of paper and handed it to him.
He accepted the paper numbly, and looked at the phone number. “Hey, uh, ummm, uh.” He was saved from responding further because the teacher entered. The room fell silent, and Carol turned forward in her seat. Saturday, he thought, and breathed a sigh; that gives me the next four afternoons to practice.
The old man was sitting in their worn naugahyde recliner and he pinned Pete under a fierce stare the minute he stepped through the door. It was obvious that he’d been awaiting his arrival.
“What have you been doing that makes you late every afternoon boy?” he demanded, and didn’t wait for a reply. “I asked your brother about it. He said he doesn’t know where you’re going.”
Remaining silent Pete shuffled his feet on the hard wood floor. He was afraid that if he mentioned the creek his parents would forbid him to go-afraid he’d drown or something.
“You know your mom loves you, but she’s been through a lot son and you’re worrying her sick.” The old man didn’t care about much but when the woman of the house complained he took an immediate interest.
“I just go walking around,” Pete lied. “I’m eleven years old dad-I don’t need Carl to baby-sit me. I’m not doing anything wrong anyway.” He detected the whining note in his own voice and clammed up immediately.
His dad sucked thoughtfully at a long brown tooth. “I reckon eleven is kind of old,” he said thoughtfully. “It sounds like your growing up some, so I guess we can give you a little Leeway. But don’t push it boy. If you’re not back in this house by dark I’m coming after you. You don’t want that to happen.”
Pete stood silent for long seconds while his dad looked at him.
“Yes sir,” Pete said, realizing that a response was expected from him. “Thank you!”
“Ok, I’ll talk to your mom about it. If momma’s happy everybody’s happy,” he said. “Now bring me a beer Palmer is about to win another one.”
The boy followed the trail to his swimming spot and felt a glow of pleasure when he found it once again deserted.
Stripping down to his briefs he walked into the creek feeling the cold water rise up his body like an old friend. Today is the day, he told himself. Pushing forward and digging in he kicked his feet. He sucked a little water into his nose and without pausing blew it back out ignoring the burn. He paddled and paddled and then realized that his feet weren’t touching bottom. I’m swimming! He realized. I’m swimming and I have a date with Carol tomorrow. A real date! And can teach her how to swim too
His saggy drawers slid down his bony legs and floated forlornly to the sandy creek bottom. He swam like an Olympic hopeful his naked rear end shining triumphantly through the green creek water.
About the Author: