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Pensworth Spring '14

Pensworth: A Journal of Alumni and Student Writing and Art

New Series No. 11 Spring 2014

Edited by Becky Branham, Student Editor Michael Prewitt, Student Editor Liz Stephens, Student Editor Cristy Hall, Faculty Advisor Jamey Temple, Faculty Advisor and Managing Editor

sponsored by Sigma Tau Delta and the English Department University of the Cumberlands


Editors’ Note Pensworth appears annually in the spring. Alumni and students of University of the Cumberlands may submit work for consideration for the next issue by the last Thursday before Christmas break. Submit original poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, photography, and artwork online at Visit the website for details on how to submit your work. Since its first issue in 1985, its revival in a “New Series” in 2003, and now its current online format, Pensworth has provided an outlet for alumni and students’ creative work, and our thanks go to all who have submitted work to the journal. We believe the current issue once again shows an impressive array of talents. We are proud to publish in this issue the winning manuscript of the University of the Cumberlands annual Creative Writing Award, sponsored by the English Department. Submissions for the Creative Writing Award are accepted in late February and early March. Contact the English Department for submission guidelines. We are also pleased to present the winning piece of University of the Cumberlands annual The Next Generation Creative Writing Award for local eighth grade and high school students. To learn more about this contest, visit

Front Cover: Seth Hale, “Look! I can fly!”


Contents Spring 2014

Poetry April, Emily Hemphill............................................................................................1 Safe Lion, Liz Stephens......................................................................................... 2 Coma Phase, Liz Stephens.................................................................................... 3 Embroidered Work, Kevin White........................................................................ 4 down at arnold’s, Michael Prewitt....................................................................... 6 3:45 in the morning, Michael Prewitt................................................................. 7 The Thank You, Mythcah Godsey........................................................................ 8 View from a Pole Barn, Isaiah Watts.................................................................. 9 Slow Dancing, Becky Branham.......................................................................... 10 Host, Becky Branham......................................................................................... 11

Fiction Voices, Cordellya Smith...................................................................................... 13 Alive @ 5, Jennifer Peckinpaugh......................................................................... 18

The 2013 Next Generation Creative Writing Award Winner Gaping Rift, Loki Searles................................................................................27

The 2012 Creative Writing Award Winner On Not Having a Deprived Childhood, Emily Hemphill........................... 34



Emily Hemphill


in time of daffodils who know winter sunshine has no warmth until today blue sky soaks into a black blanket resting around me like nests the birds build will wrap around warm eggs the green leaves of potted trees stretch upward like a ballet dancer, the roots point down like toes spring rests, a ruffled feather, on my eyelids playing music that only comes once a year my skin turns vitamin D into gladness while I wonder why we ever loved the snow.


two poems by

Liz Stephens

Safe Lion Clay burnt to ignite my sorrow But the flame flickered hopeful sparks And the kiln possessed the roaring chest Whilst my black ice thawed out. Your fur coating blended into the sunset The red apple to the sharon fruit to the banana In a mush with a merged splatter From mane to tail, you deliver a fire. Your radiance can no longer blast away the shivers, Even the lustful tones could not provide harmony When flickers down your body remain lodged Between the cogs of a jagged hope.


Liz Stephens, Safe Lion

Coma Phase Strobe lights stream and fade Just like your strands of memory, I wait to find you Scattered upon the ice block, The waves crash upon that dreadful TV. I hope God isn’t laughing; I already know what those figures mean. That brain of yours is barely the empty nest, Twigs lay helpless so far away no one can gather them, Faith Stacks them step by step until the trail leads back to your sunrise. Mother and Father fly away to grief, as do I. Their vision projects the coldness of your temporary absence, Flames burst out shrinking the bark just like our faith in your survival. We burn while icicles pierce you rmind, The egg lay in the nest angelically lifeless While Mum splays her warm breast over you, Faith continues piecing together your rebirth and Grief shatters us from your decayed function. So you could be the bird who can’t fly But none of us know until you hatch.

Liz Stephens, Coma Phase


Kevin White

Embroidered Work A Russian babushka sets, outside the gate of the Russian bazaar. Maybe like Lazarus, she could not afford a place inside, selling alongside the rich man. But she seems happy and content and proud to show her embroidered works of art. Maybe it was her mother who taught her to make quilts? So many memories, when she and her mother talked and laughed, and quilted together around the kitchen table during the wintertime. Has it been that long? Where have the years gone? She smiles to a prospective buyer, as she sits on her cardboard blanket. Her clothes aged and worn now, as brown as the ground below her. “Would you like to buy a quilt?” her eyes ask and warmly. “I made these myself ”, she says in her aged Russian.


Kevin White, Embroidered Work

They are nice… They would likely sell fine in a clean, well lighted store where customers are bustling amid tendering cash registers. But why hasn’t anybody bought hers? She has not sold one all day, says the man selling something else next to her. Finally, as if in compassion, someone gives to her. Someone has bought one of her quilts. Her eyes light up, as bright as those precious times quilting with her mother around the kitchen table. “Thank you”, she says with redeemed dignity. She may now buy her milk and bread. But more, far more, she may go knowing that her life has worth, far above the value of her embroidered work. (Babushka- Russian word for “grandmother” Bazaar- Russian equivalent to “flea market”)

Kevin White, Embroaidered Work


two poems by

Michael Prewitt

down at arnold’s on one leg the great blue heron stands in the reeds near the edge of the pond. an eyeball away from still, he hunches in the misting grey blue rain. the sky is a hiss both pleased and angry with the browned grass left by winter. it envelops the pond, the fish eyeball peering up, glassy with hours of rain. suddenly, the heron moves. with a few short flaps he is flying, across the pond over the hill and out of my sight. 6

Michael Prewitt, down at arnold’s

3:45 in the morning gulping thick milk right out of the jug, i stare out the kitchen window at a refrigerated sky. lights are distant, resisting across the deep-ditched hollow between two full-breasted hills. as a truck changes gears out on the highway, i return to my bed wrapped warm with blankets, wishing it were raining.

Michael Prewitt, 3:45 in the morning


Mythcah Godsey

The Thank You Tiny copper room Claustrophobia and IVs undress you as rain plummets pavement slick with bacteria after racing toward Tracker tires seething secretly home when Xanax wears thin like my patience and your love for me when I’m not the one you think of when impairment fades and it’s not my name that dribbles out of your disrobed lips


Mythcah Godsey, The Thank You

Isaiah Watts

View from a Pole Barn 1 Peter 1:18-19 We built it with galvanized nails on edge of a rusted bean field. Kicking back and forth through a graveyard of leaves and sawdust, hanging on nailers: lean and swing through harvest dust. Seeds to beans, cow to pouch, pines to posts, nailers, and band boards that bind like dried knuckle blood that carried through us our old man’s curses and Estwing swings.

Isaiah Watts, View from a Pole Barn


two poems by

Becky Branham

Slow Dancing Minutes stretch exiting the maroon Buick. Holding the heavy door the entire time. Right foot, fitted with a small black pump. The end of a silver-grey walking stick. Hastening to steady her. Stumbling his way onto the sidewalk. He hauls his hunched body to the diner. Grasping with strong, blue-veined Hands—drawing her to him. Continue a slow dance to time.


Becky Branham, Slow Dancing

Host Another piece of myself has been taken over by your absence. A kidney, a lung piece by piece I feed you. I swallow hard. forcing the spidery shards of glass down my esophagus, did I cut you out? No. It never works you’re still in there the mirror reflects it as so. Mom—my bipolar parasite.

Becky Branham, Host



Cordellya Smith



I loved my Daddy. He was truly one of the best men

that ever lived. He made sure my Mama, my brother, and I had a place to live and food to eat and clothes to wear. He made the world safe. But even he wasn’t big enough to make the world fair.

Mama never said much to me about what she wanted me

to be when I grew up. She would make me take a break from my school work in the evenings to help her cook supper and wash the dishes. As a child, I was constantly told to put down whatever book I had buried my head in and do something useful. Mama taught me how to grow tomatoes and potatoes and how to sew together pieces of cloth to make Texas star, wedding ring, and gingham girl quilts. But no matter how hard I tried to please her, the rows I pieced together always wound up curling and crooking like morning glory vines around bean stalks.

Mama taught me the skills I needed to survive in her

life. But it was Daddy who actually found a way to tell me what to expect of mine. He told me never to let the teachers know how smart I was. He would never have said that to my younger brother. But it was something I needed to be told because school work was a waste of time for girls. For a young woman who is going to grow up, get married, and have babies education doesn’t matter.


Daddy didn’t understand that I bury my head in books

the way ostriches bury their heads in the sand for a reason. My heart is too big. I want everything. I have always wanted everything. I want to be a good wife and mother. But I want something more for myself as well.

Someone once said that to be educated you have to know

a little bit about everything and everything about a little bit. That is my goal in life. I want to do more than wash clothes and stir steaming hot kettles and fight to keep briars and turtles away from my vegetables. I want to be someone I can be proud of and I want to find a way to silence the voices in my head that tell me I shouldn’t be proud of myself. The voices who have their own ideas of what I should be based on my gender and not on my worth.

Daddy died four years ago this Thanksgiving eve. I miss

him every day. He made the world safe and comfortable. I love him so much that my heart stops a minute every time I remember he is really gone and it wasn’t all a bad dream. There are so many things I wish I had told him. But there is only one thing I wish he had done for me that he didn’t.

I wish to God he could have made the world fair.


My grandmother’s voice is full of cracks because she uses

it to much. It is like corn bread left in the oven to long. She is rough and dry like that too. She always sings the same tune over and over. Hush a-bye, hush a-bye. Those may be the only words she knows from that song. She sings to silence the children she hears crying in her head and to pass the time. When you raise ten children they are with you in the house even when they are not with you in the house. So you keep cooking and caring and singing for them.


Cordellya Smith, Voices

My grandmother is never silent. She chatters and sings

all day long like a caged bird. She fusses over the weather, the crops, the children, the grandchildren, Papaw’s snoring, and the crack in the bathroom windowpane.

My grandmother is never silent. But it is impossible to

figure out which of her ideas are good and fruitful and which of them are weeds. She married during the Great Depression. My grandfather, she says, treated her like a queen before they married. After they married, their relationship changed. That is something she doesn’t talk about. Cordy Ella

We live in a world where ghosts are real

“But no matter how hard I tried to please her, the rows I pieced together always

and the shades of people who died years ago

wound up curling

hover over the living. This is a world where their

and crooking like

expectations and shortcomings are our expectations and shortcomings.

I tell people my name is from one of

Shakespeare’s plays. It isn’t. It is a jumbled up

morning glory vines around bean stalks.”

combination of my great grandmother, Cordy Ella’s, name. My mother named me after Cordy because she wanted me to be like her. Mother thought Grandma Cordy was the only person who ever really loved her. Mother wanted to make sure I would love her forever, so I carry the pieced together fragments of Cordy’s name.

Like Cordy, I have dark hair and a mouth that doesn’t

smile easily. I have her little toe that comes to a triangular point at the end, her sharp tongue and her love of cooking country foods. Cornbread, soup beans, fried potatoes, greasy salad, and fresh polk are among my favorites. Like Cordy, I also have a tiny, Cordellya Smith, Voices


cold house full of children I can’t give all the things I would like. If I had ten pennies to go with my pocket full of regrets then I’d have a dime.

Cordy is with me every day. Her apparition clings to me.

I live with her sadness and her dead dreams. We share them. I want to scream at her sometimes. I want to say, “Hey, look how young I am. I still have life in me. I can still realize my dreams.” But, before I can get out the words, the wind whistles under the floor boards and I go to make sure my children are still tucked in bed and warm. I rearrange lost blankets.

Cordy was as sweet as her recipe for vinegar pie. In my

mind, I hear her telling me that years of wiping noses, washing dishes, and worrying over children will take all my energy away. When my children are finally grown I won’t care if I ever see the ocean or feel the desert sun on my face. I will be content to spend my days sitting in my favorite chair watching as the world wrestles with its problems. Like her, I will love nothing better than to watch my grandchildren play on the yard and hold the flowers they pick me in my hand until they wilt and droop.

I hear her, but I am trying not to believe her.

One Man and One Woman

There is a world inside her home and another one outside

of it. But the only world that is safe is the one inside where she is alone and he can’t touch her. That is the only safe place. She walks on eggs shells all day long. Be careful not to crack the pure white surface of the shell; there might be a bloody red yolk inside.

Smile pretty and live in fear. There are lies in the mes-

sages you hear. Stand by your man until he knocks you down. Then crawl behind him like a shadow on the ground.


Cordellya Smith, Voices

How many bruises was Cinderella hiding under her

pretty satin gown?

No one ever thought to ask.


I can hear everything everyone has ever said to me. The

voices rattle around in my head and my heart and I can’t make sense of any of them.

What should I be and how should I act? How do you

trust? What do you say when everything inside you is screaming and your words hide in your mouth? What does it mean to be a woman? How do you live in a world ran by men?

I wish I could ask Daddy.

Cordellya Smith, Voices


Jennifer Peckinpaugh

Alive @ 5 New Hope Community Facility had only been open for a little over three months and already someone had doodled on the end table in the lobby. Elvis Presley Proffitt kept his nervous eyes on the red Chevelle in the parking lot, and on the redhead at the desk. “The thing with redheads,” he remembered his daddy telling him, “is that they’re either real pretty or not pretty a’tall. There ain’t no in b’tween.” This gal wasn’t pretty—pasty white skin, broad nose, and too many freckles—but she had a good body; he wouldn’t mind putting the blocks to her. Elvis pulled out a cigarette, then cursed when he remembered the No Smoking sign he saw on the door. He looked down at the doodle on the end table that seemed to be staring up at him, pleading, “Why did you agree to come do this, you idiot?” “He’s my brother; ain’t nobody else gonna do it,” he barked at the doodle under his

‘I think you can do whatever you want, as long as you stay away from meth.’

breath. “Mr. Proffitt!” the redhead screeched. She had a scratchy voice. “Too many cigarettes,” Elvis lectured to her in his head. Her jiggly ass led him down the hall to a room with a large black sign with white block letters—PATIENT RELEASE. Pulling out a ring of keys and unlocking the door, she exposed Darrell Ray Proffitt smoking, his shaking


Jennifer Peckinpaugh, Alive @ 5

fingers cupped around the butt of a Marlboro; he never looked away from Fox News blaring on the t.v. “Hey, man! Good to see you.” Elvis reached over and gave his brother’s shoulder a hearty nudge. Darrell Ray pulled out another cigarette and lit it, offering it to his brother then lit one for himself, explaining, “I ain’t myself yet. I ‘preciate you comin’ to get me. I really do. How’s Momma doin’? You tell her I’m gettin’ out?” “Yeah, she’s fine, she’s fine.” Elvis watched as a picture of Ayman AlZawahiri flashed on the screen. “I’d like to shoot that him myself,” he pointed to the screen with his cigarette. “Did you tell Momma I’m gettin’ out?” Elvis sucked in a deep breath and lied, “Yeah, I told her. I told her I was comin’ to get you, but that you’d be stayin’ with me, not with her, which upset her a little, but I figure she’ll get over it. It’s the best thing, doncha think?” Darrell Ray grunted, trying to laugh, but shook his head. “I reckon it is. You’re always thinkin’ aren’t you Elvis?” “Mr. Proffitt,” the redhead interrupted, “I’ll need you to sign these release forms and then fill out this one. It’s just a contact information form so that we’ll be able to keep up with where Darrell Ray is and what he’s doing. And that form there,” she pointed, her freckled, dry hands and bitten-too-short nails running across the paper, “authorizes you to take him into your custody and to be responsible for making sure he gets to his rehabilitation appointments on time.” “He’ll do exactly as y’all say. I’ll guarantee it!” Elvis cut his eyes over to Darrell Ray who took one long toke off of his cigarette, smiling up at the anchorwoman who was reporting about the latest round of soldiers who died in Iraq. “She’s a real looker,” Darrell Ray whistled, pointing with the butt of his cigarette still smoldering, “I’d like to get me a smart, pretty girl like Jennifer Peckinpaugh, Alive @ 5


that someday. You think I can?” “Darrell Ray,” Elvis stated flatly, “I think you can do whatever you want, as long as you stay away from meth. Now c’mon! Let’s go see Momma. I’m sure she’ll be happy as a coon in a wet corn patch to see you.” Elvis ran his hands over the Chevelle, checking for dings or scratches. When Daddy Gene died, Elvis inherited his Chevelle and fixed it up—overhauled the motor, extensive bodywork, new tires, reupholstered the interior with leather, he even put in a CD player. A strung out, jealous Darrell Ray came by Elvis’ garage the day before he was ready to paint it and kicked a size 10 dent in the door; he thought Daddy Gene should have given him the car. It took Elvis nearly an extra week to get that dent fixed just right. Of course, he forgave his brother, but was still very protective of the car whenever Darrell Ray was around. “Think you can stop this thing somewheres?” Darrell Ray whined, only ten minutes into the trip. “Yup, I reckon I can, as long as peeing’s all yer gonna do.” Darrell Ray slammed the door and hoofed it toward the gas station bathroom. Elvis waited, with the motor running, and punched the buttons on the radio. He wasn’t interested in hearing depressing news about war or terrorism or gas prices. Darrell Ray barged out the in door of the Grab ‘n’ Go Mart, twisting his head nervously. “What you got there?” Elvis asked, pawing open Darrell Ray’s bundle that was wrapped up in his arms. “Hey! Keep yer hands to yourself! This is mine. Go get yer own.” “Where’d you get money to pay for that?” “They give everybody $20 who leaves the clinic and completes the program,” Darrell Ray explained, a hurt look dropping over his face. “Hey, man, I didn’t mean….”


Jennifer Peckinpaugh, Alive @ 5

“Yeah, Elvis, I know exactly what you meant! Look, man, I’m clean, and this time, I want to stay clean. You know, I’m figurin’ on joining the army?” “Why the heck you wanna do that, ‘specially now? Don’t you watch the news?” “That’s exactly why I want to do it!” Darrell Ray waved a nacho cheese finger in his face. “There ain’t nuthin’ left in Middlesboro for me, ‘cept drugs and all the people I used to drug with. I want to do somethin’ good with my life for a change,” he warbled, washing down a bite of corn dog with his 20 ounce Big Chug Mountain Dew. “Listen little bro, I don’t wanna be the bad guy here, but the Army is real particular, know what I mean?” Elvis put the Chevelle in gear and pulled out on 119, away from Harlan. The smell of the corn dog was getting to Elvis, but Momma’s home cooking would be worth the wait. He’d wanted to smack Darrell Ray for wasting his $20 on gas station grub, but when he figured some on it, decided Darrell Ray had earned it. In between swigs of Mountain Dew Darrell Ray explained through a belch, “I done talked to a recruiter. He said if I could keep my butt outta trouble, they’d be proud to have me serve.” “Well, you better just concentrate on doin’ that first. You done failed at rehab four times. Maybe number five’ll be your lucky time. ” “I’m gonna kill me some terrorists!” Darrell Ray held his fingers and arms M-16 style, shooting into trees and other cars, his mouth spitting out the perfect staccato— tsch, tsch, tsch, tsch—from the fake gun. “Just like GI Joe, man!” he howled. “Darrell Ray!” warned Elvis, shaking his head, “you’ll break Momma’s heart if you go, you know that don’t you?” Darrell Ray dropped his firearm and wrapped up the crispy end of the corn dog in paper, wadding that up into a little ball, holding it tightly. “Well, at least I won’t disappoint her no more.” He pointed Jennifer Peckinpaugh, Alive @ 5


to the Bose radio, “Hey, can we listen to some news? I just got real used to it while I was in rehab. They don’t want you listenin’ to much of nothin’ else, on account of the temptation. You know, listenin’ to songs you listened to while you were gettin’ high or watchin’ shows you used to watch while gettin’ high, that sort of thing.” Elvis approvingly shook his head, “Oh yeah.” Royal blue and white rooster curtains swished back and forth over the window of the door of the trailer. As soon as Elvis pulled up, he bragged to Darrell Ray about the indoor/outdoor carpet he put on Audrey Proffitt’s concrete block steps. “Now she don’t have to worry when it’s wet, ‘specially with that new rail I put up. See? I reckon instead of bein’ mad I didn’t follow him down to them dang ‘ole mines, Daddy’d be proud. He never thought of nuthin’ like that.” “That’s ‘cause Daddy was always workin’, an’ it killed him. How does that Brad Paisley song go, ‘bout leavin’ Harlan alive? I guess I defied all the odds, huh?” Darrell Ray jutted out his chest. “Well, not quite yet, little brother.” The trailer door whipped open and Audrey Proffitt held out her arms. “Ooooooh! Darrell Ray! Darrell Ray! I didn’t know you was comin’. Why didn’t you call me? I guess it’s a good thing I done run up to the Save-A-Lot.” “Hi Momma!” Darrell Ray wrapped his arms around his mother, picking her up and swinging her around in circles. “I’m a new man, Momma! I really am! You’d be proud of me.” “Honey, I always been proud of you, you know that? An’ Elvis, too!” Audrey pointed to Elvis, shaking her bony finger at him. “Why didn’t you tell me you was pickin’ up yer brother? I didn’t have no notion he was due out.” Elvis shook his shoulders at Darrell Ray, quickly spurting out, “Aw, Momma! I done told you that. You’re just confused ‘bout what day it is. I told you.”


Jennifer Peckinpaugh, Alive @ 5

“Well, it don’t matter now. I’m just glad to have both my boys here. Let me cook you lunch. I bought a right fine smoked ham at the store and my neighbor ‘cross the ridge brought me some good scarlet runners yesterday afternoon late; she put ‘em up this past summer. I remember I helped her break ‘em while we watched Wheel of Fortune. And Darrell Ray, for some reason I bought a package of them brown n’ serve rolls, just the kind you like. I reckon I must have knowed you was comin’!” she laughed. Elvis, Darrell Ray and Audrey plowed through their meal—perfectly silent. Even the snow falling outside made more of a to-do. Audrey pulled her hand away from Elvis and put it to her eyes, wiping away mascara heavy tears. “Oh! Darrell Ray! Why you wanna do this?” “Momma, we done been through this!” Darrell Ray mumbled through his last bite of mashed potatoes, “I’m goin’ to Iraq because I want to, I need to. There ain’t nothin’ left here for me.” He wiped his mouth with a red and green striped napkin, looking over at the gaudy Light-Up-An-Angel that topped his mother’s tree. Bill O’Reilly mouthed off in the background, something about the true cost of war. “So, am I nothin’?” she angrily sniffed. “Don’t start that crap!” Darrell Ray sucked through his teeth. “Hey!” Elvis hollered, standing up over his brother. “Don’t you dare talk to Momma thata way! You still ain’t too big for me to whip you.” “Shoot! Then why ain’t you goin’ over to do what I’m doin’? You ain’t whippin’ nobody! You’re too old and fat, Elvis Presley!” “Boys! Boys!” Audrey Proffitt stood up between her sons, waving her arms. “It’s Christmas! This could be the last time…we need to be kind to each other,” she called them both down. “I want to pray for you, Darrell Ray. Y’all come sit on the couch with me. I just need to pray!” her chin at her chest, blubbering. Jennifer Peckinpaugh, Alive @ 5


“Lord, we ask these things in your blessed name. Amen.” An Army chaplain stood over Darrell Ray Proffitt. A nurse and doctor in fatigue green scrubs were on the same side of the bed as the chaplain, and Elvis and his girlfriend, Sherry Parnell, were on the other. Elvis blotted his eyes and looked up when a hospital aide walked through and flipped on CNN. “Here it is!” she announced, bopping through the rows of beds, playfully pulling at soldiers’ toes. “A group of soldiers at Ramstein Air Base in Germany were paid a surprise visit by President Bush yesterday. As you may remember, the squad of Ft. Benning soldiers is responsible for single-handedly rescuing two American soldiers, three top-ranking Iraqi generals and civilian media personnel kidnapped by insurgents three weeks ago. They will be honored for their heroic service in May at a White House Rose Garden ceremony. Now, let’s head back to Shannon at our weather desk to wrap up today’s news brief. Shannon?” Everyone clapped and whooped, except Darrell Ray and one other soldier; their hands too mummified with stiff wads of s’more marshmallow puffed bandage. “Hey, you ain’t cryin’, are you?” Darrell Ray snickered, nudging his brother with one of his injured hands. “Don’t think I won’t whup you!” Elvis warned, pulling back his fist, a possum grin stalking his face. “Sorry Momma can’t be here, but you know how she is. She was just sure that our plane would be shot out of the sky by terrorists, or that we’d get in a storm over the ocean and crash, then be stuck on an island forever. I done told her a blue million times that people fly on planes every day, and make it back alive. So, I guess you’ll just have to settle for ‘ole Sherry here.” Elvis winked at Sherry and leaned over, giving her a stout peck square on the lips. “Oh, I see. Where’s mine?” “Sorry. She ain’t got a sister.”


Jennifer Peckinpaugh, Alive @ 5

“Well, what does her brother look like?” Darrell hooted. “Sherry here,” Elvis explained, “works for the Middlesboro Times. I thought maybe, if you felt up to it, you could talk to her—an exclusive. I’d really appreciate it.” He winked at Darrell Ray, who nodded his head and winked back. Darrell Ray touted, “You got you one of them smart and pretty girls.” “Yeah, I did. I think she’s a keeper.” Elvis patted Sherry’s leg. Darrell Ray shifted on his pillow and looked over at Elvis for several minutes. “Well, I kept my butt outta trouble—never thought you’d see that, huh? Some days, didn’t know if I’d see it either. Guess I have come a long way…. I went over there an’ did what I said I was gonna do.” “Yup, you sure did. I’m proud of you, Darrell Ray.” Elvis Presley Proffitt leaned over into his little brother’s ear, whispering, “Just like GI Joe, man.”

Jennifer Peckinpaugh, Alive @ 5


2013 Next Generation Creative Writing Award

Fiction by Winner Loki Searles, Williamsburg Independent School


Gaping Rift He would refer to himself by a different name every single day. Some days, he would be Napoleon. On other days, he’d take the name Nikola. However, the name others most frequently called him was Nash. And so purely for continuity’s sake, he will be referred to as Nash. Nash stood six feet and four inches from the ground - a giant of a man by any means. From the towers of his shoulders, the ever-present dark, brown trench coat draped all the way down to his ankles. From his neck, a torn and wrinkled red tie - as old as the pavement he stood on - hung rather sloppily. Underneath both coat and tie, Nash wore a bright red flannel shirt, and a pair of dime-store khakis. His hair was a light gray, and unusually short for someone like him. Every physical detail about his appearance all pointed to one word: homeless. During the brightest hours of the day, Nash would hang out in different diners throughout the city. Usually the owners didn’t mind, as he was no trouble maker, was calm, and was very polite. He also kept the customers entertained by telling his wild stories of his life; and he would tell these zany stories so often, that after a while, he became in some ways a type of tourist attraction. People from numerous cities would come just to hear Nash’s many stories. “This red tie,” he would oftentimes begin, “this red tie here is what separates me from all the communists taking over this city. It keeps me safe from them - them blue-tied communists!” See, Nash had a rather odd history of spontaneously bursting into fits of paranoia. Although, he hadn’t had one in around ten years, he was still a diagnosed schizophrenic. He had very strong beliefs that anyone wearing a blue tie was a communist spy. One time, he was arrested for stealing eleven bottles of SportsAid.


When asked about his reasons behind the crime - sometime after he had been calmed and rested - he responded, “I thought I had a tumor in my eye.” The earliest parts of Nash’s history remained a mystery to everyone - even himself. Some days, he used to be a pilot in World War II, who had found the Fountain of Youth after he had crashed in enemy territory. On other days, he grew up in the wildest regions of Russia, and was raised by a family of snow rabbits. And despite whatever history Nash gave those who asked, it was almost agreed upon by everyone that the homeless bard had no form of education. He was illiterate. He couldn’t do any forms of simple or complex maths. The only history he knew is what he had lived through. Often, he couldn’t differentiate a male from a female. And he didn’t understand the life cycle of most animals. He actually knew no science. Some even speculated if he knew that Earth revolved around the Sun. But despite his very poor knowledge on any subject, Nash was in no doubt a very compelling and brilliant story teller. So, leave the few, distance past incidents of petty theft and insult, Nash was virtually no trouble to the city, and a much appreciated individual. The only small foible that ever haunted him was his constantly growing fear of what he called “The Screamers”. The screamers were, in his words: “Terrible, terrible creatures. About as small as a human’s head. They’re wrinkled - look like a deflated potato. They constantly scream in terrible anger in pitches so loud, sometimes I bleed from my ears. Some are a bright pink, some dark brown, other a mucky, dirt colour. But all of them are constantly screaming, and looking for humans to devour. I see them every day, and they hide in plain sight amongst us. I am the only one that is able to see them for their terrible, true nature. Everyone else seems to turn a blind eye, or just don’t care about the terrible midgets around them. And so, to stay on the good side of the populace, I pretend to not notice either. But secretly, I always notice. I always watch. I am a silent guardian among the common folk. And when the day comes that the screamers finally turn on us...I’ll be there to make history. Except for a few minor variations here and there, Nash told essentially the exact same version of the story time and time again. However, no one sane person ever bought into the story and it was, perhaps, the only story that ever seemed to discomfort listeners.


Loki Searles, The Gaping Rift

Communism and immortality were okay, but as soon as Nash began to ramble about aliens, that’s when he would start to repel people. So, seeing this, he would often keep that story for last, or just not tell it at all; despite being ignorant, Nash was not stupid. But even though he was not stupid, that doesn’t mean he wasn’t completely insane. And so with Nash’s deeply held beliefs of the “screamers”, you can only imagine the shock in his soul on that snowy, winter day. He finally saw, through his eyes, the first screamer attack. Now, here we are, in present time, as Nash lies dying in the snow. He heard the screaming of a person. He turned, to see someone lying flat on their back on the side of “We marched the sidewalk screaming in utter agony. The rest of on, leaving the this story will be shared through Nash’s eyes and mind, so that you, the reader, can experience the screaming, the exact amount of insanity that he experienced his entire life... dead, and the *** Where did it all go wrong? Why do I

dying behind.”

have to die...? Am I not the hero, finally? Am I not what the people’s protector anymore? Do they not love me anymore? I should think back...I should recount the whole story. Maybe I’ll be able to realize what went wrong. I saw a person. I saw a person lying flat on their back, screaming in complete agony. I turned to see where the disturbance came from, and saw them there, on the sidewalk. A crowd began to form around the frightening scene, and soon I became part of the crowd, and joined in to find out why the person screamed. One person rushed over to the screaming person, a person in a black coat. I saw him crouch down beside the screaming person’s head - a look of fear on his face. The screaming person yelled, “Oh, God, help me, please!” The black coat person seemed to not know exactly what to do, and simply

Loki Searles, The Gaping Rift


screamed to others around him to, “Find someone! A doctor, if you can!” And suddenly, just as a few people from the crowd ran off to find professional help, I saw a gaping rift tear open from the body of the screaming person. Blood and liquids of many colours spewed in all directions from the large wound. And like a beating heart, I saw the gaping hole expand and tear. I heard a single pop, like a bone being dislocated, and saw a form begin to exit from the rift. Like shoving a watermelon through a straw, I saw some sort of a monster tear its way into reality from whatever dimension it had crawled from. At this point, the screaming person had hushed, and had fallen unconscious. I saw the black coat man begin to tear the creature - which I now recognized to be a screamer - out of the unconscious person. After a few minutes, he successfully ripped the terrible monster away from its victim; however, as I saw the puddles of blood spill in gallons from the victim, I feared their fate wasn’t lucky. Finally, the monsters I had warned this fine city about for years had began their rebellion against the human race. Right here, in front of us, we had witness one emerge from and kill a human host. And it wasn’t long until the ungodly monsters decided to take more of us to the grave. In a loud shout of triumph, I ran towards the black coat man, and took the alien from him. “I’ve told you for as long as I’ve known!” I yelled. “I told you these aliens were not to be trusted!” I yelled again. Without mercy, I threw the retched creature to the ground, and after it landed violently, I crushed it head underneath my foot. “We may have lost one of use today,” I explained, “but their sacrifice was not wasted! We must fight back at once! We must kill them before


Loki Searles, The Gaping Rift

they kill the rest of us!” As I shouted this, I saw the crowd around me scream in fear. One by one, they all started to run from me, except for a few, who stared at me in complete terror. Was I too loud? Did I act to violently? Did the humans still trust the screamers!? Enraged, I yelled, “You fools! How do you still trust these terrible things? Did you see what they did to that poor person? Did you see the carnage they are able to do!?” But still, the people ran from me! They still did not trust my absolute truth! They chose to side with the screamers, and they pitied the one I had killed. Eventually, none of them stayed with me, and the entire crowd had fled in foolishness and stupidity. If they wanted to be murdered by the screamers, let them. I already tried many times to warn them... As I watched them all run away from me, I heard behind me police sirens. I turned, and saw police just pulling up to the scene. Help had come quicker than I expected, and so I waved my arms at them and yelled, “Don’t worry! I’ve already killed the screamer! However, I could not save the person it attacked!” None of them seemed to hear me, so I started to run towards the rescuers, covering my eyes from the bitter cold winds. “I said I’ve already killed the screamer! Don’t worry, it’s de-” I was interrupted by a loud bang. I grabbed the right side of my chest in agony, and looked down to see blood squirting from right above my nipple. I had been shot. Confused and scared, I took a few more steps - my blood tainting the white snow as it dripped. “No. No! You got the wrong bloke! I’m the he-” Loki Searles, The Gaping Rift


I was interrupted again, and this time fell backwards onto my back. Everything in my whole chest hurt, as this time, I was hit right in the heart. Every breath hurt terribly. Every heart beat hurt terribly. I stared up into the sky, hearing the crunching of snow underneath the boots of the officers that shot me. They ran towards the person that the screamer had killed. They all ran past me, ignoring me dying. I was very sad, and tears began to run into the snow with my blood. I was very cold. I heard behind me, the officers speak to the person. They asked if they were okay, if they needed help, if they were hurt. The person, now apparently awake, could only answer back with one loud statement. I thought I had done the right thing, by killing the screamer who had attacked them, but they apparently did not. In a high-pitched, sobbing tone, they yelled over and over... “My baby! He killed my newborn baby!” “He killed my baby! My little Taylor!” “Oh, God! He killed my little baby!”


Loki Searles, The Gaping Rift

2012 Creative Writing Award Winner NonFiction by Emily Hemphill


On Not Having a Deprived When I was eight, I loved ponies. They were my favorite. I convinced my dad, who never subscribed to anything, to buy me a membership for the Pony Club because I would get two books, a cardboard barn, and six little plastic ponies. Every month they would send me two more ponies, and two more books. Books were also my favorite. My mom’s favorite was to take us on educational vacations. Annapolis, Fort Lauderdale, Jamestown, Teach’s Hole, Williamsburg. I liked vacation because I could read books in the car, we ate out a lot, and we usually did some fun things. My daddy’s favorite was camping. Mom didn’t like camping much, and none of us liked camping when the tent was about ten feet away from a railroad track that featured a nightly train at whatever time it happened to be right after everyone fell asleep. My daddy had a bunch of memories about camping as a kid, and he thought our childhoods would be “deprived” if we didn’t go camping ourselves.1 Maybe that’s what kept him going when, at the end of a six hour drive to historic Williamsburg, Virginia, he had to put our tent up in the pouring rain by the light of our minivan headlights. His yellow rain jacket glowed like a lighthouse beam, floating in the air as if unattached to his dark jeans. 2 His only weapons against the water and the wind were some thin fabric and skinny tent poles. We packed everything back into the car the next day so we could move the tent out of the small lake underneath it that we had floated on in our sleep. Daddy told us the story of when he went camping in a storm, and the memory made

1 With a sister one year on either side of him, his family had taken a month-long road trip west across the U.S. They saw just about everything, from Mount Rushmore to the Grand Canyon to Yosemite. 2 His jacket really was yellow.


Emily Hemphill, On Not Having a Deprived Childhood

d Childhood him excited that we would have our own memory of this one. There were a few key differences. He had been much closer to home, and he had been on an island. Assateague is a barrier island off the coast of Maryland and Virginia, who share a claim to it.3 There is one building on the entire 37-mile-long collection of sand and dune grass, a bathhouse for those who camp in the national park. Everything is better on this island than in Ocean City.4 In the summer, everyone wants to go there, to the Boardwalk. It’s your typical tourist destination: carnival rides, arcades, Ripley’s, and a long, trashy beach with a lot of bad food.5 Despite its popularity, Ocean City is a facade. On Assateague, the “My daddy had a bunch of memories sun rise is brighter, about camping as a kid, and he thought the waves are bigger, our childhoods would be ‘deprived’ if we the beaches cleaner, whiter, shellier, sea didn’t go camping ourselves.” glassier, and sharktoothier. At night there is nothing to see by but the stars and the moon, and the golden campfires that dot the beach far enough apart for each man to make himself think that he is alone. These fires are only present in the campground area. The rest of the sand is off-limits because of the permanent inhabitants, who lend the island its story-book quality. Marguerite Henry’s classic children’s stories6 have ensured that when most people think of the barrier islands – if they think of them at all – they think of the ponies. Most of them are paints, but some are chestnut, and some gray.7 3 The barrier islands, Ocean City and Assateague, are protectors, shelters that keep the mainland safe from the brunt of the ocean. 4 This island stretches north of Assateague into Delaware. Just as its name suggests, it is a city that covers a whole island. Ocean Highway is the only road that runs the length of it, crossed by roads every block that have numbers instead of names. 5 Of course, there are some local staples as well, which you should not end a visit without trying: Fisher’s Popcorn, Dumser’s Ice Cream, Dolle’s Salt Water Taffy, and Boardwalk Fries (not the chain). 6 Misty of Chincoteague, Stormy, Misty’s Foal, Sea Star: Orphan of Chincoteague, Misty’s Twilight – among many others that are about ponies and horses, but not about barrier islands. 7 Paint: a mix of white, chestnut, and/or black splotches. Chestnut: warm brown, sometimes with a hint of red. Gray: although these animals appear to have white hair, it is really gray, like the skin underneath it.

Emily Hemphill, On Not Having a Deprived Childhood


But it is Chincoteague that Marge chose as the setting of her stories.8 All that her readers would know of Assateague is that it is where the ponies live 362 days a year – every day that the Pony Penning doesn’t take them to Chincoteague.9 Pony Penning is a child’s dream. In mine, it was a Wednesday, and Chincoteague’s salt water cowboys swam out to the larger island and galloped around, rounding up the ponies so they could herd mare and stallion, colt and filly through the three minute swim back to town. The sea water made their coats gleam in the sun. It dripped off their tails, one crystal sphere at a time, and danced through their ragged manes, tangling the parts left loose by the island’s elements. They were terrified, but beautiful. They auctioned off some of the babies the next day.10 On Friday those ponies all swam back home, wild and free again. Free to leave hoof prints in sand that might soon become a castle, to stand stubbornly in the middle of Assateague’s road, keeping tourists captive on their dunes. Free to be as wild as their island is. My daddy never saw the Pony Penning, either, though he did camp through a bad storm on Assateague when he was 12. Maybe his memories aren’t so unbelievable. The thing about trains is that you can feel them in the ground a long time before they get to you and a long time after they’re gone. I opened my eyes in the dusky tent, and saw mom’s half of the air mattress sink lower as my daddy got up. The light he turned on didn’t wake the boys. 11 He put on that glowing yellow rain coat and some sneakers. I fell asleep as he was zipping the tent back up, and saw a younger version of him wandering around on the dunes in a storm, trying to pen a pony. 8 This island is smaller, more southern. Although still considered a barrier island, it lies in the bay between Assateague and mostly Virginia. With only 9 square miles of land, it is the buffer of the larger island that allows a rural population of nearly 3,000 people to live there. 9 Held every year since 1925, Pony Penning is a three-day event in late July, overseen by Chincoteague’s Volunteer Fire Department. 10 They did this in order to raise money for the VFD. 11 I pretended it didn’t wake me, either.


Emily Hemphill, On Not Having a Deprived Childhood

Contributors Becky Branham, Senior Mythcah Godsey, Alumna Seth Hale, Freshman Emily Hemphill, Senior Jennifer Peckinpaugh, Graduate student Michael Prewitt, Freshman Loki Searles, HS Student Cordellya Smith, Graduate Student Liz Stephens, Senior Isaiah Watts, Graduate Student Kevin White, Alumnus

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Pensworth Spring 2014 Issue  

Pensworth Spring 2014 Issue  

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