Volume 1, Issue 1
Welcome to the inaugural issue of The Ash. This semi-annual literary journal will appear in October and April. It is edited by your English/Creative Writing faculty for you, the students and alumni of Ashford University. This is a forum for your creative work. It is also an archive of the creative pursuits of this community.
It is called The Ash because, well, it comes from Ashford University. Beyond the wordplay, ash is also the remnant of something that burns; like creativity. Sometimes when an object has burned, its shape is preserved——an entity in shadow in the third dimension——that can still be viewed and approached. However, when one gets too close and makes contact with that, the form collapses, and its majesty is gone. In a sense, this journal preserves the ash of your creative spark so that it lives on as an interactive artifact long after its creation.
The writers and artists whose work is presented here are, or were at one time, your peers. Their work is their participation in the Ashford writing community. Reading their work is your participation in the same community and you are welcome. The creative writing community extends far beyond the confines of Ashford University, and you might find yourself or the writers whose work you read here participating in that larger community as well. This journal is, for all intents and purposes, a springboard to launch your writing into the world…if you’re willing to let it go out on its own.
We look forward to curating this journal and tending your work in the coming issues. We hope those of you who read it will submit your work for consideration. We look forward to reading it.
Since antiquity, locals from Sumba village had suffered drought and torrid sun that had continuously claimed the lives of many comrades. The village was bestowed with sickly soil, which could not support the life of plants. After the sixth week of severe famine, Nikos decided not to trust his only son Wangi with his flocks in the dawn hours of grazing and requested Sandi, his wife not to allow the sun meet him on the bed. Therefore, in the morning, Nikos left leading his flock towards the slopes of the famous Gold Hills. To the locals of Sumba, children were not allowed to go to the upper parts of the hills owing to generational fears that a huge ogre existed on the thicket near the peak of the hills. The villagers believed that the growing number of missing children was attributed to the ogre. Conversely, the locals had invariably believed that the hills had gold deposits on its peaks a viewpoint whose origin could not be traced.
On the memorable morning, exactly a week after Nikos decided to be personally responsible for his flock, various events unfolded leaving permanent marks in the minds of people in Sumba Village and its environ. Unlike other times when he easily locates ample pastures without necessarily climbing the hills, this time in the scorching sun had eaten away huge portions of grass on the slopes. As a viable alternative, Nikos abruptly directed his flock towards the upper parts of the Gold Hills. A day passed before Nikos could return with his animals. In the morning, Sandi secretly decided to communicate the matter to her brother who lived a mile or so away. Before midday, Sandi’s brother took off to search for his brother- in- law. A couple of hours erupted with no signs of the kin appearing, which prompted Sandi to inform the council of elders on the ensuing melee. The council of elders hastily converged to draft the means and sacrifices required in order to regain the lost individuals. With the aid of their trusted wise men, the council of elders agreed to send a legion of twenty-four energetic young men who were to undertake their search for forty-eight hours.
As per their plan, the group split into two groups when they got in the middle of the thicket. With their knowledge of the size of the forest, the two groups took opposite and shorter paths that would cover the entire thicket in a lesser time. Though they could talk to each other, none could trace the other. In the other group, a black smoke billowed from the ground, making each one of them blind. Back in the village, rumours of the ongoing debacle had spread like bush fire. Throughout the night, the village members prayed and crossed their fingers that their beloved relatives and friends would emerge in the morning.
In the early morning, Wangi spread off towards the deep thicket without a weapon or an armoured clothing, but full of confidence to rescue his comrades. To Wangi’s surprise and a sigh of relief, he discovered that the old woman possessed all features of a human being unlike the absurd features related to the ogre. On looking at Wangi, the old woman fell on the ground covering her eyes while speaking in an incomprehensible dialect. With the growing confidence, Wangi slowly and imperceptibly approached the woman with every step evidently proving to be a painful sting to the woman. Luckily, a throng of village members, led by the Chief, the priest and elders emerged with a unified spirit to combat any enemy. To their surprise, they found Wangi unknowingly containing the old woman on the ground. Immediately, the priest realized that the old woman was possessed by evil spirits and a rosary necklace worn by Wangi was responsible for tormenting the woman. According to the priest, the evil spirits do not condone intense lights because they are the rulers of the dark, which can only survive in thick darkness. The priest went ahead and informed villagers that the evil forces that were following the elderly woman could not let her be seen during the day because the powers would be shuttered by the light. He explained why most evils possessed individuals like the elderly woman preferred secluded areas filled with pitch darkness such as in the deep thicket.
After realizing that the rosary was producing bright rays of light that a common person could not detect, the priest produced his and managed to compel the elderly woman to engage in a comprehensive dialect. The move enabled the priest to conduct his exorcism procedures by reciting his catechism, which eventually made the old woman vomit multitude of individuals she had swollen. As people happily reunited with their families and relatives, the leaders of the village were directed to the locale of the gold that the old woman had guarded vehemently under the spell. With a well-managed team of resource managers, the village transformed its status becoming the most affluent village.
Growing up wasn’t the easiest thing I have ever had to do – though there is no alternative for any of us. One thing I never had to worry about was growing up poor. This was not because I grew up with lots of money or lots of things, it was quite the contrary. We never had a lot of anything, but we always had enough of everything.
One thing I do remember was going to this warehouse type of building where we would stand in line for what seemed like hours. I usually knew some of the children standing there with their mothers because in those days you went to the school in your neighborhood. So the children in line were the same children on your street and subsequently the same children in your class room or at least in the school yard. This place was a lot different from the store warehouses we usually went to (Roxies, Farmers Market, and Waltham Meats). At this warehouse there were no advertised specials and we couldn’t pick up what we wanted. It was handed to us. The boxes and cans had no pictures on them and they all looked the same on the outside – white label with black writing. Sealed inside were string beans, corn, peas, applesauce, and my all time favorite, spam-type meat. The only difference in the cans was their size, and everything was labeled USDA. We use to call it “uzzda” food.
Boy did I love that spam-type meat all fried up and crisp. My mom would sometimes cut it into cubes and put it in the powered eggs she prepared on special occasions like Sunday morning before church. The cheese made the best grilled cheese sandwiches in the world. I didn’t really like the powered milk because it was always too watery. This was probably due to her trying to stretch it and putting too much water in it. Did this mean we were poor? I didn’t know; a lot of people in my family and my neighborhood ate like this.
I never felt or even knew we were poor until, one day at a very early age; one of my classmates told me that I was. This happened one day when I came to school with a mayonnaise sandwich. I guess we had run out of the “uzzda meat” this particular day. Unbeknown to me that there was supposed to be something else on the bread besides mayonnaise, I thought it was a normal sandwich. My sisters and I had eaten sandwiches like this all the time. I thought everyone did. So I was quite taken aback when I was asked, “Where is the rest of your sandwich”? That is when I was told, “Wow, you must be poor”.
I learned to recognize Mom having extra money when I was able to slap a fishcake on that mayonnaise sandwich. The fishcake meant that we were doing a little better than usual. Fishcakes were even better than the “uzzda meat”. She did the best she could with what she had and we never went without.
My mother would prepare meals, which seemed so vicariously to me. I very seldom saw her measure anything. It was always a handful of this and a pinch of that. She used to make fishcakes that way also. I never really knew how much onion to cut up, flour to add or how many eggs she would use, but what I did know was how it should look once prepared.
Mom used to love to go fishing and she was always frying up something in the kitchen. I always knew that even after she had put in a hard days work, we would have a hot meal before going to bed. But this fish smell was different from the fish she used to catch and fry. Maybe it was the fish and onion smell permeating though out the house. There was something about the smell of fried onions; it was so inviting. I remember how my mouth would salivate and my stomach would growl just waiting for preparation to be over and we could sit down at the table together. Even now this is a happy memory for me.
Well, on January 5, 2004, we lost Mom to Lupus. She didn’t suffer very long, and it seemed that she didn’t even get old until she got sick. She was 84 years old when she died. The year before that she didn’t even look a day over 65, 69 tops.
Because I made peace with my mother before she died, and growing up in a Christian home, we were taught that Mom had just gone home (to heaven) and that she was better off because the suffering was over. I would be a liar if I said I don’t miss my mother sometime and it is at those times when I do what I need to do to feel her inside of me.
Whenever I want to reach her soul and hold on to it, I go to the market, buy a can a mackerel, come home and prepare that mackerel with some flour, eggs and chopped onions. As I’m mixing that concoxion together, I feel the mushy, gushing feeling as it slides through my fingers. It’s is slippery and nasty feeling. It isn’t even pleasing to the eye but it sure is good. When I start chopping up the onions the tears start rolling down my cheeks.
Are the tears from the onions or is it because I know that soon I will be connected to my mother’s soul. My heart starts to race as I grab a handful of this mixture because I know I’m getting close. I pat it into a round ball and then proceed to smack it flat like and pancake. I slap it in a frying pan with a little bit of oil, and fry that baby up until it is golden brown.
As I sit down to eat this fishcake prepared with so much love, all I can think about is you Ma and this is one of the things that brings us “soul to soul.” That is why I say that fishcakes are not good for “the” soul; it is good for “a” soul, my mom’s. This is how I reach her. This is how I touch her. This is how I love her.
There was a time when there was no Upper City or Lower City; just prosperous Freeport City. Affluence brought new ideals to Freeport, and a glittering new city was built on the creaking steel bones of the old. The wealth and splendor wasn’t meant for the forgotten people of the Lower City, it was coveted by those that conceived of the plate that obscured the sky. Those that now resided above used the people of Old Freeport to build their opulent towers and cast them beneath their feet like so much human detritus. Tension is starting to build between the haves and the have-nots in Freeport, tension that will inevitably reach a catastrophic moment.
Sopha was beside herself with guilt; Marcellus had been gone for too long. She knew what he had planned to do and tried to talk him out of it, but that Marcellus was just too headstrong! Poor Marcellus had gotten mixed up with some freedom fighter types and they talked him into bombing an Upper City building! It was dangerous business that he had resolved to do and Sopha was afraid that she may have had a teary and angry last goodbye. Sopha knew that there still was a chance to turn things around, maybe she could get one last message to Marcellus in order to change his mind; if he loved her, he would. All that Sopha needed to do now was find a way to get the message to Marcellus. She knew that he had to have dealt with some unsavory types in order to even consider going forward. She sat and contemplated by the only begrimed window in a tiny, musty room that hadn’t seen sunlight in decades.
The more she thought about it, the more Sopha was determined to find a way to get her message through. Sure, Marcellus and his friends were right and the people in the Upper City are pretty bad to us, but nobody needs to get hurt. What possessed Marcellus to even attempt do go through with this insane venture was beyond Sopha’s ken.
Sopha’s aunt had been spending a great deal of time with a shop owner from the square, she was always bragging about his Upper City comforts. Whoever was able to get those things down would be able to get something up. Sopha pleaded with her aunt to help her make the connection in exchange for domestic favors, it took days of cajoling with her aunt before Sopha was introduced to a lanky, shifty-eyed man who went by the name of Rhettson.
Sopha strode through the trash-strewn, muddy streets with purpose as she made her way to the meeting point. She walked with an umbrella that seemed to want to get away from her between the ocean breeze that passed under the plate and her momentum. It didn’t rain in the Lower City, but the pipes that lined the underside of the Upper City’s plate frequently leaked, simulating a pitiful and grungy precipitation. When Sopha met the shady man, it was surprising that Rhettson charged double to get something up than he did to bring many of the Upper City wonders, but Sopha was willing to pay any price to have Marcellus come back to her.
Rhettson knew he was reaching on this deal, but the payoff was big. Getting above the plate was a real tricky venture, how the hell had this Marcellus managed to do it and stay up there for so long without getting caught by those scrutinous Upper City police? Rhettson’s usual method of slipping between the levels was more commonly dangerous, sometimes relying on rope and pulley systems among the reinforced megastructure. Of course, few others had the gall to try to smuggle down some of the Upper City tech with all the heat on the tech. A lot of it was real cheesy gear, but the more people are told they can’t have things, the more they want them; especially all the comfort stuff, the luxury market. Rhettson made a very cozy living on the superficial luxury tech, especially since the only time the police in the Lower City would ask about it was if they were looking for some, themselves.
The Upper City was a very different place, sleek, polished, direct sunlight, healthy looking people; someone like Rhettson stood out like a sore thumb. It was going to take some serious guile to find this kid before he got on with what he was planning. Since Sopha had told Rhettson what Marcellus was intending, Rhettson thought more and more about how such a plan could bring on a crackdown…a crackdown that could seriously disrupt his business. Sopha had given Rhettson a picture of Marcellus and a memento locket, Rhettson planned to catch him outside the building he was going to bomb.
Rhettson’s honed reflexes went to work as he subdued a security guard around back of the ill-fated building, taking the guard uniform so that he blended in more and dumping the unconscious man under a loading dock. Rhettson wanted to be inconspicuous as he searched for his quarry. He couldn’t allow this crazy kid to jeopardize his cash flow, forget the girl and her locket if it came down to it: if this kid didn’t cooperate, the only way he’s going back down is off the South Lip, right into the murky harbor.
Marcellus was beginning to question if he was going to make it home to Sopha alive. In a way, it almost didn’t matter. Marcellus knew that what he was doing was just and that even if he didn’t make it home to Sopha, he was making a difference. Marcellus had come too far and had gotten in too deep to turn back now, it was all or nothing. If everything goes as planned, he would be a hero back in the Lower City, maybe even if it didn’t. It’ll be hard to slip away back down home if Marcellus wasn’t fast enough, the blast will surely attract a lot of attention from the police and there was no telling what would happen to Marcellus if he had been caught. It was all down to this, it was do or die.
Marcellus had disguised himself as a building maintenance worker in order to gain free access to the grounds. Luckily, the Upper City folks never look twice at someone like that, they’re so beneath them they’re invisible. Most maintenance workers were very lucky Lower City folk, the rest were the downtrodden of the Upper City. Marcellus carefully worked to set up his painstakingly homemade explosives all along the building’s base, doing his best to hide them in the ornate planters and waste bins. Things took a poor turn, however, as Marcellus noticed one of the security guards becoming interested in what he was doing. Heart racing, Marcellus tried to keep his cool as he gently reached a hand into his pocket to rest on the detonator. The security guard began to make his way closer to Marcellus, as he was now sure the guard was looking right at him…coming right at him! Panic set in…Marcellus was sure that he was caught, it felt like his stomach had dropped into his boots. Why can’t the elitist pricks up here just treat us like people?! Why does it have to takes something like this to send a message?! There was no going home if they had caught him, it was do or die. Marcellus remembered the last words of his freedom fighting friend before he embarked on this mission; If you don’t make it back, Marcellus, we’ll tell your story for generations. The guard came closer and reached out for Marcellus, saying something as he did…but as his mind raced and everything sounded muffled, like he was underwater; Marcellus had made his choice. Just as the security guard grabbed Marcellus by the collar of his blue jumpsuit, Marcellus pressed his thumb into the detonator button…the blast could be felt all the way in the Lower City as jagged steel rained down with the gutter runoff upon the already downtrodden denizens when the plate buckled and split.
By dawn, a spot near the center of the city’s plate now yawned agape, the wreckage having crushed several blocks below. Sopha was in her room, looking out the only dingy window of her tiny, squalid room, weeping uncontrollably for her lost lover and countless others who perished in the breaking point. As she sobbed and wiped her eyes, an unfamiliar warmth settled on her crown when the sun shone through on the people of Old Freeport for the first time in generations.
Christopher Dalton is a man with a longstanding passion for storytelling and has been writing fiction since he was merely a boy growing up in the suburbs south of Boston, Massachusetts. Chris is an English Major at Ashford and wishes to teach future generations how to speak and write creatively, expressively, and with candor.
Reaching for a tattered shoebox covered by cobwebs in the top of a closet, I took the first step toward getting rid of some old family photos. Backing out of the closet, bringing a whiff of decaying cardboard with me, I came to rest in a wing-backed chair in the bedroom. I thought of how only Grandma might have tied the old nylon stocking around the shoebox to keep it secured. Anxiously I lifted the bulging lid with the anticipation of finding memorable faces who shaped my life.
Sherlock himself in a Deerstalker hat, Meerschaum pipe, with magnifier in-hand, could not have inspected each black and white Brownie snapshot more meticulously than I. Most of the photos were discolored shades of gray with white borders and tattered edges. I was searching for familiar faces in unfamiliar backgrounds, awaiting one to speak to me. It grew to be an insurmountable task to drop a single aunt or second cousin in the metal waste can at my feet. Four glasses of wine, and three hours later I had thirty old photos in a sturdy new box and two indistinguishable images in the waste can. Reaching once again into the box, a dog-eared wallet-size photo sheath came up in my hand; it secured a small picture flattened by years spent in a hip pocket like those taken out of Grandpas’ work pants years ago.
I noticed the top of the photo was torn off as I removed it from the tatty picture sleeve. Pieces of the yellowed covering broke off in my hand, revealing the cherubic face of a little girl, framed in a Buster Brown haircut. She had soft convivial eyes, and a tentative smile. She bore an uncanny resemblance to existing youngsters of our family. She peered pensively from the delicate sepia picture, her eyes making contact with mine. Lying on her tummy, with long sleeves over her tiny arms folded beneath her chin, as a head- rest. The little girl laid on the weathered wooden step of an old porch, as if she were just too tired or too short to open the old storm door above her. I was guessing that her loose fitting overalls, and high-top shoes were typical for a three old in the nineteen-twenties. Without hesitation, my hand passed over the waste can, and I placed the photo on the arm of the chair for more careful consideration.
I continued to give every old picture more than a passing glance and the waste can was not getting full. How could I cast off Uncle George and the largest bass ever retrieved from the lake at Pete’s Point, or the snapshot of my mother taken just before she passed away? I really did not bear much resemblance to the beautiful thirty-one year old. I regretted not remembering her, and wondered if we were alike. I was only seven when she died and my memories of her were as diminished as the print I held in my hand. Turning back to the arm of the chair, I picked up the photo of the little girl and headed for the highboy dresser to lay the photo aside for safekeeping. As I laid the picture down, next to an old metal frame holding a picture of me as a child, I recognized the little girls in both pictures had Buster Brown haircuts, the same soft smiling eyes, chubby cheeks, and reticent smile. I no longer wondered if my mom and I were alike.
People walking by, what are they thinking? They’re talking about me, I know it. I sense their anger. There’s no shred of happiness in me; as you pull at the threads of my sweater, the lint falls to the ground. A bug inspects it right before the bird swoops down and eats him. He’s gone forever. Goodbye Mr. Bug. Your life was simple, but plentiful. You lived through many harsh times, but now darkness is all you see as your eyes close for the final time. It’s gone black for you, black as night when there’s no moon out and the stars are hiding with the sun. They got lost today and didn’t make it in time. We hope they’ll be back tomorrow so we can guide ourselves through the no longer blackened field where mice are sleeping in their nests, happy that they’re just mice. So, goodbye Mr. Bug. It was nice to have seen you before your defeat. I hope your day was good and your memory will live on forever. As I pick up the piece of lint, I go on my way, casting dirty looks to the passersby.
I like to walk my fingers across the map,
As if you are only down the street and not miles apart.
Instead they keep going,
That’s the problem with the world being round.
There is no end,
No point of no return,
No falling off the edge.
Just endless searching,
Looking for you.
You are the breaths between the words not written,
Collected in my head in a web
Of delicate patterns,
Strummed by the sound of your voice.
Ariel Aiken not only enjoys writing and working towards her degree, but is also is currently running a small farm in Northern Florida with her husband.
Like the remnants of Hadrian’s Wall, our linguistic origins stand crumbling but not forgotten.
Stalwart and resolute, the stone foundation remains, while our language changes and evolves into
a river of words, dialects and accents: swirling eddies of transformation sweeping into its very
heart. We believe that it is a part of us, but in truth we are a part of it. Our language is living
dynamic, moving, changing, and yet held together by a force that spans regions, oceans, and
nations: the yearning to understand and to be understood.
Amanda Bird is a high school English teacher currently enrolled in Ashford University’s Masters in Teaching and Learning with Technology program. When she is not teaching, studying, or writing poetry, she enjoys her time with her husband and two teenage sons.
We started off much bigger than we are now. Sometimes there are still too many of us to count. Years ago, the women all married and had children at a younger age. These days, they are all marrying and having babies much later in life. We hardly seem to discuss the happy things unless we are together, but are always calling one another right away when someone gets sick or dies.
“Which one is James?”
“Wait, Annabelle or Anne Louise?”
“I don’t know, call your mom.”
“Forget it, I’ll just ask at Christmas tomorrow.”
We always get together for Christmas. We have the same made from scratch breakfast every year: sausage gravy and fresh biscuits, cooked and eaten in my grandmother’s singlewide trailer. We all squeeze into the house like so much flesh being pressed into an old dress that doesn’t quite fit in all the right places anymore, and won’t spill out again until after we have eaten and read the story of the first Christmas. My grandmother makes the roux. My father seasons the gravy and makes sure the biscuits do not burn. I complain about the variety and amount of juice. Cousins, aunts, and uncles discuss children, animals, jobs, food, and the news. Mostly we discuss food. We discuss food while we are eating food.
“Who wants extra gravy on their biscuits? By the way, did John tell you that we had the absolute best egg sandwich the other day at that whatchamacallits place? Tell them Johnny.”
“It was this breakfast deal with egg, bacon, gouda, fried jalapenos and chipotle mayo on ciabatta bread.”
“OH MAN! You know what chipotle mayo is so good on? Can someone pass the jelly? It’s great on turkey, avocado and tomato sandwiches.”
“I had one of those over at Random Dan’s Diner! Is that where you got that from?”
“Is there garlic in this gravy? I bet garlic would be a great addition to that breakfast sandwich you guys were talking about.”
“Can we just enjoy this food, right now, guys?”
After breakfast we all pitch in to clean up. It doesn’t take long because the house is so tiny. The cups and plates are disposable. There is too much food left over. We pack it all into grandmother’s refrigerator, grab her stuff, and herd everyone across the road to my aunt’s house. We will now rearrange furniture for half an hour and argue about which is the best way to distribute gifts.
“Last year we had the couch this way and everyone was uncomfortable, remember?”
“No, I remember everyone was comfortable because we had the couch that direction, but it was a different couch last year. This one is new, remember?”
“What does that matter, it’s the same size. Besides, it won’t matter where we sit if we distribute them by person.”
“It takes forever if we do it by person! I thought we were just going by family?”
“Grandma, will you just tell us how you want us to do this?”
“I don’t know where she went.”
It does take forever by person, so we go by family and adjust the furniture accordingly. No one is disappointed with his or her gifts. If they are, they wont show it. We help the younger kids open their packages. Read instructions. Attempt to assemble what was obviously only meant to be put together by a master engineer. Curse at the instructions. Walk away for five minutes only to return and find that the 8 year old has already figured it out. Google “gifted programs for 8 year olds”. We will then watch a movie that only half of us really agree on.
“Well, I’d say ask Grandma, but she’s disappeared again.”
“What about Christmas Vacation?”
“We watched that last year.”
“So, I hated it last year and I doubt much has changed. What about Christmas Story?”
“It’s already half over.”
“It’s on for 24 hours! Just start it from the middle. Most of us have never even seen it in order to begin with!”
We all agree. No one here has ever seen the movie chronologically. Five people are sulking about not watching Christmas Vacation. Two people are quoting lines to one another from Christmas Story that won’t play for the next half hour. The children are eating candy and playing video games. The dads are napping. I’m sneaking outside for a cigarette. My aunt and mother have opened the wine. We get through the movie and it’s time for dinner. My mother has made a traditional Italian meal for Christmas dinner and most of us are excited about it. My cousin hates Italian food, and the kids are stuffed on candy.
“Time to eat!”
“Can I just take mine to go? I’m still pretty full from breakfast.”
“Mooooom! My tummy hurts.”
“I made too much food here. I don’t know how I’m going to get all of the gifts and leftovers back into the car.”
“I’m sure it will all get eaten, Mom. I’ll take some home too, okay?”
“Okay, where did Grandma go off to now? We need her do the prayer.”
“I knew I shouldn’t have made so much. I doubled the recipe.”
“Mom, it’s fine.”
We eat it all. Every last bit. We also drain four bottles of wine. Not just the everyday regular size bottles. Monster sized bottles of wine. Gone. Any previous frustration or bickering seems to come to an end. Completely forgotten. We pack up, kiss and hug one another. Give our thanks for another great Christmas. Pass on any forgotten last minute happy news. We pack up my grandmother and help her back across the road to her own home. This coming year, maybe we will hug her extra tight before we say our good-byes. It wasn’t long ago that she finished chemo and went through the surgery to have the cancer removed. She’s not exactly in the clear just yet. She’s always been such a strong willed and tough lady. It’s hard to see her so frustrated by what cancer has done to her body. Perhaps this coming Christmas the rest of us won’t be quite so concerned with small frustrations.
Cassie Bolding majored in English at Ashford University.