A Story of Determination

By: Manar Almidani

It was a humid August day when I walked into my 7th grade class for the first time. Everything was new to me. I had arrived in America a mere two weeks ago after narrowly escaping the violent Syrian civil war. I sat down at my desk, looking around, taking in my new environment when my thoughts were interrupted by whom I assumed was my new teacher. She briefly introduced herself and then started handing out test packets for the summer reading that the students were assigned. I glanced over the packet knowing there was no way I would be able to answer these questions. I kept canvassing the questions again and again frustrated by what I perceived was my own incompetence.  After giving up hope, I handed in the paper blank, something I had never done before. I sat back in my desk, overwhelmed and defeated by my rocky start to the school year in my new home.

The hopelessness I felt slowly started to morph into determination to learn English in order to do well in school, communicate well with my peers, and express my thoughts and ideas. Initially, mastering the English language was an obstacle in my way that I had to overcome in order to succeed and grow in my new environment. I needed it to survive. I knew I had to be determined, patient, and focused if I wanted to be able to keep up with my peers. I acknowledged that if I worked hard, it would pay off eventually. I started to stay after school for help, take time out of my day to learn vocabulary and grammar, and rewrite passages out of books, so I could learn new words and look up the words that I didn’t know in the dictionary. With the help of siblings, my ESL teacher, and my hard work, I passed my ESL test with a score of 5 out of 5. The journey was not easy, to put it lightly, but I enjoyed it every step of the way.

Eventually, I have come to have a hunger for a language that once sounded so foreign to me where I now devour anything I can get my hands on from books to magazines. My five years of hard work and diligence have payed off so that now as a senior in high school I can take two AP classes and write this essay.I recognize that I have come a long way from that first day of school in 7th grade, but my learning does not stop here. I am continually increasing my vocabulary and honing my English skills. It is an ongoing process, but it is one that I enjoy and welcome it with arms wide open.

Flower

By: Anonymous

A potential flower remained inside its small, dark seed, packed down by dirt, ever since she was planted within the garden. The brown, heavy dirt became more and more packed down with each step a random stranger or wild animal would unknowingly take over her. She did not think too much of this,”surely enough I will be above the dirt and feeling the sunshine,” she said trying to reassure herself. Absorbing every rain droplet and ounce of sunshine, she was satisfied. “This is how you grow,” she said over and over still trying to help her confidence. However, she watched as every flower that surrounded her grow beautiful and vibrant with an array of colors and sizes, unlike the little seed who remained small and different from everyone else. With every flower that became beautiful, the seed felt more and more worthless; and her own confidence diminished. She allowed herself to sink down into the dirt and accepted she would never be like the others. But, with every droplet of water and ray of sunshine the seed unknowingly became bigger, stronger, and more beautiful. As she worried about those around her she did not see her own progress in becoming who she really is. Soon, the warmth of the sun and the breeze of the wind engrossed her. With her eyes widening and her smile taking up her entire face, she saw above the dirt and saw herself for what she became. While worrying about what others were doing and how they were doing, she forgot about her own progress and what she had potential in to become.  

 

The Oval Carpet

By: Elizabeth Parent

Sitting in his tiny square room, the little boy could just about do anything. He could fly, time travel, or he could even become invisible.  When he got home from school, the little boy ran quickly up to his room and opened the door to a million possibilities.  Crisscrossed upon the little oval carpet in the middle of the floor, he escaped life for awhile and closed his hopeful eyes.  Even with this magical world, however; there was still a reality out there that he couldn’t ignore.

In the room next to his he could recognize words he wasn’t supposed to say and sounds he wasn’t supposed to hear. He huddled into a ball as his mother cried to his father about a multitude of mistakes that were made.  After the yelling was over and done with, he’d inch towards the wall and press his curious ear up against the cold rough wood.  He’d fall asleep to his mother’s loud breathing as she sniffled herself to sleep.

The little boy realized not all rooms were like his.  His room was a wonderland of make believe happiness and treasures, while his mother’s was a prison of sorrow she couldn’t escape.  The little boy loved his mother to bits and pieces, so her misery made him unhappy.  This dreadful unhappiness was unshiftable even by that little oval carpet.  The boy, so broken from all of the sadness, wept into his pillow and stayed home from school.  His room metamorphosed into a dark barren of wasted dreams drifting in the air.

With all of her efforts, his mother couldn’t lift his heavy burden.  Every night the same terrors were heard and every day the boy grew a little more aware.  He realized soon what had to be done.  He picked up his weak and frail body, climbed down the carpeted stairs, and entered the kitchen where his mother sat slouched over a cold untouched cup of coffee.  She lifted her tired head so the bags beneath her bloodshot eyes were visible, her hair pulled into a knotted bun and roots shown.  Even with all of this, the boy realized, his mother was stunning.  He walked over silently and took her small hand into his. He guided her up to his magical carpet and sat with her, crisscrossed and daydreaming once again.  Him and his mother stayed for hours, flying through the clouds and waving to planes as they passed by.  Laughter echoed through their small house.

Every afternoon after school, the little boy and his mother sat upon his small oval carpet and dreamed up an eternity of happiness.  The sounds stopped at night, and instead of hearing tormented sniffles, he heard discussion between his mother and father of dreams they have, and places they wish to go.  He fell asleep with a smile on his face, ear pressed against the rough, but seemingly warmer wood.  

As the boy grew, he never forgot his rug that now sat in a box tucked in the closet.  Every once in awhile he/d dig into the tarnished cardboard and stroke the fabric inside.  Now, instead of dreaming to fly and time travel, he dreamt of having a family of his own, a son or daughter he could introduce the world of possibilities to.  

The little boy, who once sat upon a carpet dreaming, now sat on a small couch next to his noticeably older, but still beautiful mother.  Together they daydreamt of all the things that were still dreams, but never unreachable.  They laughed as his father broke out into a crazy dance and pretended he was a rock star with long messy hair and face paint.  In the back of the boy’s mind, he still remembered how it felt to be completely empty.  He knew his mother could never forget the words that were said, but every day he helped her pick up the pieces of regret and glue them into a picture of beauty.

Memories of laughter and love were present as the now grown man stepped into his childhood home.  He sat where his mother used to sit and closed his tearing eyes, remembering her smell and the sound of her soft, lovely voice.  He climbed up the carpeted stairs and went into his old closet where that ripped, ruffled cardboard box sat.  He picked it up, dusted it off, and left his empty childhood dream land, locking the front door of the house behind him.  

An Out of this World Experience

By: Brianna Whitlock

Shooting, soaring through the pitch black sky, light up with fluorescent stars scattered across the atmosphere. My trip to this place was the only truly pure and good aspect of it. Home, where I’m from isn’t what most are use to. I’ve gone my whole life, homeschooled, in me small shelter on the northern hemisphere of Jupiter. My kind, usually of pale complexion, no need to eat, sleep,or breath, no one lies, no one loves, and no one dies. When I came to this place you call “Earth” I was disturbed by how different other living specimens could be.

My family and I just migrated to the Earth just a few days ago. We came in search of a new world. Our home planet was completely destroyed by an unknown source and we all had to flee to other planets. I liked the way we lived back home. It was what I was use to all of my life. We went out in the morning and did our daily yoga on the roof of the house to gain energy from our five suns. Then we all went inside and chatted with the family until it was time for education. At noon everyday, we would sing our planet’s anthem, loud and proud. At night when we would go out and socialize with all of the neighbors until the daylight struck again and we went back to do our yoga. However, at our new home, it is much different. They have to sleep and eat to charge their bodies, they believe in the strangest thing like a, “Higher Power”. They’re all obsessed with this concept of, “Love”, which I don’t know too much about, but it sounds pretty depressing to me.

Since we were going to be living on this planet now, mother said that we needed to learn to do things like the humans do, and that included going to public school. Going to human school was a completely horrific experience to me. No one likes you there. I got called a, “Freak” for doing my morning yoga and going outside to recite my anthem. I was taunted because of the formal way of my speak, “Anorexic” because I did not need to eat to be healthy like everyone else, and frankly, their food disgusted me. I became, “A disturbance” when my family and I strolled the streets at night looking for neighbors to converse with.    

I started to hate the way I was. I felt embarrassed by my family and where we came from. The others on this forsaken planet made me feel like it wasn’t okay to be who I am, like I didn’t belong anywhere nor even deserve to be on this planet. I stopped doing things that I loved to do, such as yelling my anthem at noon time. I forced myself to eat the grossum cow meat that that they love all so much, and drink the sugary liquids they all admire. I was turning into a being that I didn’t want to be, but I felt as though I needed to be in order to thrive on this planet. My mom started to notice the changes in me. She saw that I was no longer that proud, happy-go-lucky life form that I use to be. Whenever she’d ask, “What’s the matter?” I couldn’t give her a straight answer. This planet has ruined me.

 My parents sat me down one night and talked to me to try to change my depressed mindset, “Yes, we should try to fit in, but never forget our family tradition, don’t be ashamed of who we are because that is what makes us unique and wonderful.” I spent the rest of the night, alone, trying to remember who I was before I came here, how happy I was, and how proud I was to be from Jupiter. The next day, I got out of bed, went straight to the roof, and did my yoga for hours on end. At exactly noon, I screamed my Anthem, right in the middle of my fifth period algebra class, with no remorse.  I realized that who I am is an okay thing to be. No matter what anyone said I wanted to be me, I was proud to be me. If I, a strange alien from another world, could be comfortable with being who I am on this earth, anyone can!

Alter

By: Juliana Rivera

“He’s beautiful, Laura.”

“Can I hold him?”

“Not yet, Laur. Remember, the doctors have to run the tests.”

“Oh. Yes.”

Laura was laying flat on her back in her hospital gown staring at the blue fluorescent lights that lined the ceiling. Her husband, Isaac, stood by her side with his hand resting on hers trying to look hopeful as a nurse dressed in black scrubs walked away with his newborn. He had tired eyes that had shadows beneath them. His weak smile couldn’t hide his fear of another failure. Laura didn’t move. Her black hair was perfectly brushed and she was calm. Her labor was painless just like it always had been. She sat up quickly as the nurse in black scrubs returned. She was empty handed.

The nurse walked over to the side of Laura’s bed across from Isaac.She outlined a square in the air with her pointer finger and a transparent screen appeared.

“This is your twelfth delivery, correct?”

“Yes.” says Laura.

“Okay,” the nurse says. She runs her fingers across the floating screen.“How many times have you been successful?”

“Once.”

“And that child’s identification number?”

“LS00867.” says Isaac.

“Alright,”the nurse taps the screen again, “Nine years old. Successful alterations. Born on February 12th. Alice?”

“Yes, that’s her.” says Isaac.

“Okay. Laura you haven’t had a successful childbirth in years. We’re unsure what the issue is.Your newborn, LF03855, was a failure. Alterations were successful but his brain is underdeveloped.”

Laura’s yellow eyes fall to her lap. Isaac tries to comfort her.

“You’ll be given recovery vaccines in a moment and you can be released in a few hours. If you’d like we can send LS00867 in, aswell. We’re sorry.” The nurse wipes her hand over the floating screen and it disappears. She leaves the room.

Laura doesn’t move. Isaac rubs her back.  

“I don’t understand.” Laura whispers.

“Honey…I’m sorry,” Isaac says, “This happens to everyone. It’s difficult, I know, but most deliveries are unsuccessful.”

“No, Issac. They say one out of five deliveries are successful. I’ve had twelve. This isnt normal. There’s something wrong with me.”

“No,no. You’re fine.”

“I’m not! There were no alterations this time- no height request, no skin shade request, no hair change. I didn’t even ask for purple eyes this time.”

“It’s more complicated than that, Laur. They still have to alter things where you ask for them or not; Like the lungs and the skin cells. They’ll die without these changes. The world isn’t as pure as it used to be.”   

“Just because it’s not how it used to be, doesn’t mean that this is how it’s supposed to be.” says Laura.

The next moments were blurry for Laura.

Laura fell into a deep depression. She sat in her room for days at a time. She stopped leaving her house. After two months Laura’s sadness turned into ambition. And that ambition turned into rebellion.

It was a dark foggy night as usual.

Laura stares up at her glass ceiling to look at the moonless sky. Isaac lays beside her looking up a small floating screens with words dancing across it.

“I wish I knew what stars looked like.”Laura says.

Isaac gave a “hmph” as a response. He reached over to his night table, still looking at his screen, and pressed a button that made a small beep. The glass ceiling immediately was covered in tiny yellow lights.

“No, I mean real stars.”

“What about these?” Isaac pressed another button and the lights turned purple.

“Those look just like Alice’s eyes.” Laura says.

Isaac finally looks away from his screen, “Hmm. Yeah they do, actually.” He says.

“What do you think she’d look like if we didn’t alter her?” Laura asks.

“Well..she’d probably have brown eyes. Like your father”

“What if we didn’t alter anything, though?”

“Honey that’s not-”

“What if we didn’t change anything and we just let children be born. What if we left it all up to nature and what not?”

Isaac sits up and the floating screen disappears, “Laura, it wouldn’t work. You can’t keep beating yourself up over all of this.I know it’s hard hun, but i think we just accept that we’re not meant to have another kid.”

“No. I want to try one last time.”

“Laur-”

“Please, Issac, ” Laura sits up, “just this one last time and then I promise I’ll be finished. Please.”

“I don’t want you to have to go through that again.” Isaac says.

“I can take it. Please. Last time and then no more.”

Isaac lays back down. “Okay.”

A few months later things were looking brighter for Laura and Isaac. Her pregnancy was going well.  However, Laura didn’t schedule any doctors appointments. She never went for checkups or follow ups. She stayed home most days. For all she knew, her daughter and Isaac were the only people who knew of her pregnancy.

“How was the ultrasound today?” Isaac asks one night.

“It was good,” Laura lies, “our baby is doing great.”

“I think this will be a success.”

“Me too.”

Laura had no idea how her fetus was doing. She didn’t know if it was healthy. She didn’t know anything. She had been doing her best to hide her consisting from the rest of the world. She had a plan that no one could know about; not even Isaac.

The ninth month had arrived and Laura knew that time was running out for her to execute her plans.

On the 48th night of the year, it was time. Laura, petite and plump, slipped away from her husband and her bed. She drove 36 miles south and went to the institution she had been communicating with for the last 8 months. It was in the middle of an untouched field. In the middle of the field was a wooden cabin that’s as unlike any of the buildings that existed elsewhere.

Laura limps into the cabin. It was dark and quiet. Laura think about leaving but suddenly she heard a click and saw a flash. The cabin is lit with yellowish bulbs of light. And a woman emerges from the corner of the the one room cabin. The woman was older and almost a bit dirty. Her hair was frizzy and wavy. Her eyes were dark brown. Her skin didn’t glow as much as Laura’s. She had a roughness about her that was shocking but beautiful.   

“You’re right on time” The woman says,

“Hello.” says Laura.

“How are you feeling?”

“I think I’m ready.” Laura says over a groan of pain.

“Here, lay down. This is going to be painful.” The woman leads Laura to a bed in the back of the cabin where the light is more aggressive and a young girl is sitting. She was brown eyed and tan. It was clear that she no alterations done.

“Is she…?”  Laura begins the ask as she gets on the bed.

“Yes. She’s a natural born,” The older woman says, “And so am I.”

“I knew it was possible.” Laura says through another groan.

“Yes. It is.” The woman begins tying Laura’s wrist to the sides of the bed. The young girl stands up and gives a kind smile.

“How bad will this be?” Laura asks.

“Unlike any pain your kind has ever felt.” The woman says.

Hours and hours pass. Laura’s screams pierce through the walls off the cabin and echo into the night. But finally they stop.

A knock is heard on the cabin door.

Isaac enters.

He looks around the dim cabin and sees nothing but a bright lamp and a bed in the back of the room. He walks over searching for any sign of life. He immediately stops when he sees the dark red liquid covering the floor. His curiosity pushes him forward and he come across a familiar face.

“Laura.”

He becomes still.

“Laura…..no.”

He finally comes close enough to touch her cold pale face. Her yellow eyes are wide open staring blankly towards the sky.

“No.” Isaac becomes weak and falls the side of the bed.  “I told you, Laura! I told you! Why?”

He sobs clutching her small cold body. He cries for a while until he hears a whimper from the other corner of the cabin. He falls silent. He hears it again and the sound of someone saying “shhh.”

Isaac gets up and follows the sound to a closet door. His shaking hand reaches for the doorknob and it creaks open. The older woman and the young girl are crouched on the floor. In the woman’s arms is a bundled blanket with spots of blood on it. They are all speechless except for the whimpering fetus.  

“Who are you?” Isaac asks.

The woman and the young girl reman silent.

“Is that…” Isaac stars at the baby, “give it to me.” The woman and girl still stay quiet. “Give it to me!” he yells viciously.

The woman finally gives up the baby and shields the younger girl from Isaac. Isaac holds the fetus and stares at it as if it is some kind of abomination. He looks back at his wife’s corpse and clenches his jaw. He starts away towards the doorway.

“What will you do with the child?” The woman calls to him.

“I’m turning it in” He replies.

“But your wife- that’s all she wanted. He’s vital, he’s alive. He’ll will survive in our environment. He’s your son.”

“She’s dead,” snaps back, “My wife is dead.”

“But-”

“Say anything else and I’ll turn you in, too. That girl of yours will be locked away for good. Like the rest of those messed up kids.”

Isaac walks out before anything else can be said.

Bootlegging

By: Katie Lacadie

There are rumors – stories – about Joe Hancock, the best criminal out there. It’s said he’s escaped the feds in 13 different states and has been part of over 6 different car chases, only one of which he got caught and sent to jail. Even then, he paid bail within two hours. If there’s anyone who can make a living being a professional thief, it’s Joe Hancock. Rumor has it he’s running a speakeasy somewhere in northern Illinois. Only the best of the best know the location of it, but everyone is allowed in – as long as they can find it.

_________

I smile my most charming smile as I lean over the bar. It took Art and I two months to build, sand, stain, and install the whole thing, and she was my pride and joy. The name, Hancock, was ornately carved into the top of it. I figured if my legend were to live on, I might as well have a little fun with it. The night was just starting to pick up, it was only 8:30, and I knew well enough how busy Friday nights could get. I was freshly stocked from Art’s buddies, plus my own personal stock of homemade beer I brewed in the room behind the bar.

All of my alcohol was served in Coca cola bottles, it was my trademark. I smiled to myself as I pulled two bottles from under the counter. A pair of my regulars had just walked in and I was ready with a hand out for their money. They’d come in the East entrance, as usual.

Hancock’s Speakeasy had four entrances, each with their own well-paid guards watching out for the feds. Whoever owned this house before my grandparents had been paranoid of something, because their basement had four tunnels, each about half a mile’s walk underground before a ladder led up to the surface. When Art told me he inherited the house, I knew it would be the perfect place to run my crime business. As a cop, you might think he’d turn me in immediately, but I pay rent and give him half of the profits on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. He wasn’t in favor of Prohibition anyway, so he let me set this place up. What he didn’t know was that I worked dozens of side jobs a week through this place. But hey, what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.

I took in a deep breath, letting the familiar aroma of the whole place settle in. I ran the bar six days a week, and it was slowly becoming home for me. The heady wave of alcohol that spread throughout the room when I first opened my personal brewery room today still hung in the air mixed with dust and the potent smell of oak from the wood that my bar was made of – all with a thin layer of sweat and body odor that was decidedly less pleasant.

Just then Art came through the door that leads out behind the bar. That’s the house entrance – for staff only. In which case is only Art and I. “Hey Joey, how are things going?” Art is the only person to ever call me Joey, and it never really bothered me. As a kid, if anyone called me anything other than Joelle, I would punch them. Anyone other than my brother, of course.

“Back from work so soon?” I asked. Usually his shift didn’t end until nine.

“Yeah, Bert came in early so I was relieved from my post. I’m just going to bathe and read for a bit. I’ll be down to help restock around 12:30.” I nodded and he patted my shoulder before heading upstairs. He didn’t mind endorsing crime, but for some reason he was squeamish about taking part in it. That might be because he’s a cop.

A lock of hair fell in my face and I blew it out of the way impatiently. The night had barely started and my braid was already coming undone. Over the next hour customers filtered in and ordered drinks, including a few jazz musicians with their instruments. I let them play here for 10% of their profits. It wasn’t much, but I enjoyed their music and I trusted them not to rat me out. They wanted liquor just as much as anyone.

“What’s a pretty lady like you working in a place like this?” A newbie. Most of the time I was grateful and welcoming to them, more customers meant more money, but some were just insufferable.

“I own the place,” I answered quickly with a sly smirk on my face. “Drink?” I asked. His eyes widened, then slit as he became skeptical.

“No, Joe Hancock does.” This man had a problem with closing his mouth. It stayed slightly open for the entirety of this conversation. I wanted nothing more than to give him a drink and send him out of here.

“Yes.” Men had to start to get it through their thick heads that women were perfectly capable of running their own businesses. I smiled condescendingly at the man, whose mouth was still, unfortunately, open. Realization slowly filled his eyes, and before embarrassing himself further, he turned to examine the chalkboard hanging up behind me. On bad days, we sold three different types of liquor. On good days, we sold maybe five. Today we had seven types written up on the board, and I was excited. He chose his drink – my homemade beer, the most expensive I ever sell. I smiled and leaned under the bar to grab one. Each shelf was labeled, since all of the bottles were the same. I handed him his drink, he handed me the money, and finally the transaction was over. His irritating stupidity made me wonder how the hell he got here in the first place. Someone must have told him, there was no way he figured it out on his own.

Most of my regulars had figured out who I am by now, especially those I’ve done business with before, but I never tell anyone outright that I’m Joe Hancock. I let them figure it out all on their own, because they usually never expect it.

A hand shot across the bar, wrapping around my wrist. I lifted a single eyebrow. “Women belong in the home,” a foul stench traveled from the man’s mouth to my nose. This was nothing I sold, he clearly snuck in his own liquor, a transgression I did not take lightly. The man in front of me had a thin greasy mustache to match his oily hair, and a sneer to tie it all up perfectly. He was so clearly one of the elites of society who thought he owned every building he stepped in.

“If you have a problem with my business, you can leave,” my voice was dangerously calm, I was holding back a storm. Incidents like this happened far too often for my liking, but in this society it was to be expected. Men owned the world, and they expected women to bow down and listen to them.

Mustache pulled my arm across the bar roughly, but before he could make another move, I slipped my hand easily from his grip and pushed my flat palm against his face. Blood dripped from his nose as he was dragged backwards by some of my regulars. I nodded to them, and they escorted him out.

In a world so hard for women to gain respect from men, I’d managed to do quite a job of it. Those who knew me, and what I stand for, were always ready to defend me. Plus, I sold them the best homemade beer in the country.

A few hours later, I was drenched in sweat and moving at lightning speed, raking in the money, when a very familiar face walked in the North entrance. My jaw dropped to the ground and my motions slowed. His hair was longer than I remembered, and darker. His curls were the same though, unkempt yet stylish. A new scar on his left cheek marred his perfection, but somehow it made him look more like himself. A dark trench coat adorned his shoulders, and it was open revealing suspenders over a white cotton shirt. He walked with a familiar gait that I’d never be able to misplace or forget.

He hadn’t changed much since I last saw him. On the other hand, while I was still irritatingly blonde and short, I’d changed quite a bit in the past few years. An air of mature confidence that had been reckless misjudgment last time I saw him surrounded me now and propelled me through the day. My clothes were considerably less conservative, yet responsible at the same time. Art called me a walking paradox, which I didn’t mind at all.

The man standing in front of me whistled and I shook out of my stupor, trading him a Coke bottle for change. I slipped the money in my pocket and continued my work, watching the familiar face move across the room with my eyes. He headed straight towards me just as the bar crowd was thinning. I picked up my cleaner – a tube-shaped bristle brush connected to entwined pieces of wire – and dipped it into the soap bin. I always have my customers leave their empty bottles on the end of the bar so I can clean and reuse them. It took me a long time to collect them all and I hated losing them.

The newcomer leaned casually on the bar as if he’d been here a million times. He stared at me, waiting for me to say something. I rolled my eyes and decided to appease him.

“You’re a little less dead than I remember.” I cracked a smile. I’d honestly thought he’d died and it was a dark period in my life. The edges of his mouth quirked up, revealing his dimples without even a whole smile. God I’d missed him.

“Did you miss me? Did you cry at my funeral?” His honey eyes glinted. They were the lightest shade of brown I’d ever seen, almost amber. I’d always loved his eyes.

“Didn’t even know there was a funeral, I read it in the paper, actually.” I tilted my head to the side, another lock of hair fell into my face. This time, he reached out to flick it to the side before I could even react. I shot him a glare, but he simply smiled at me. “So how’d you get out of it? Last time I heard you were hanged in London,” I questioned.

His smile grew wider, like he’d been wanting me to ask him that very question from the moment he walked in. “Well,” he sighed like this was all a great inconvenience to him – not explaining, not even being here in my speakeasy, just life in general was something to sigh about – as he took a seat at an empty bar stool. “I have to admit, I had help. The boys got there just in time, actually. They helped me fake my death and everything. Rupert even killed the executioner and took his place.” He smiled blissfully like this was one of his most happy memories.

“How is Rupert? Is he here with you?” I asked. I’d always loved his pack of friends, they were rowdy, and thieves of course, but good-natured. He grimaced and took a sip of the water I’d just placed in front of him – he was allergic to alcohol, poor soul.

“Nah, he high tailed it to Canada to follow some girl. He’s head over heels.” He took another sip of water. I watched him carefully, still handing out drinks and taking money throughout this conversation. He was used to my multitasking, or he used to be. He didn’t seem put-off by it, so I simply continued.

“I’m glad to hear he’s not dead. Same to you, how long have you been in town?” I asked him leaning against the bar just in front of him. By now it was almost midnight and most of my customers were in for the night. Many would stay for the music, not many more would be buying another round of drinks.

“About two days.” I scoffed at his reply.

“How long have you been in America?” He looked up from staring at the word Hancock carved into the bar. Up close, I could tell that his scar had come from something jagged, like pipe or glass. He was never one to let someone hold a knife to him very long before they were on the ground with his gun against their nose.

“About a week.” This made me smile as I cleaned out the newest pile of bottles.

“Took you that long to find me did it?” I joked. He shook his head in a laugh, long curls bouncing with each movement. “Didn’t seem very hard for you, how’d you do it?”

“Magic, as usual.” I pushed his shoulder while he cracked up. It was one of our old jokes from the good old days. I hadn’t heard it in a while. “I came ’round earlier this morning. I knew Arty got the house, figured he knew where you’d be. He showed me around this place, I told him I’d show myself out. I took that tunnel there,” he pointed to the North entrance that he’d come from, “And memorized where it let out. Arty told me to stay away from you – he’s not really fond of criminals, especially not me – but I didn’t really feel like listening.” Of course he didn’t. He and my brother had been at odds with each other for as long as I could remember.

“When do you ever?” I asked. I smiled at him, it was hard not to.

“Jesus it’s really good to see you Eddie.” He looked up at me then, and I could see the muscles in his cheeks moving. Edward Johnson and I had dated for six years and been partners in crime for about ten. We’d even moved out to England together before I was forced to come back to America. I left him behind, but I still knew too much about him for my own good. This was his thinking-very-hard-about-something look. Suddenly he shook his head with another laugh.

“We heard stories about Joe Hancock all the way in England.” He shook his head again before looking me in the eyes. “Never in a million years would I have guessed it was you, Joelle.” I pressed my hands together, an old habit, and they stuck a bit from the grime and drink residue that always coated them after a night behind the bar.

“I’m just full of surprises.” I was leaning over the bar too much, I knew very well what I was doing. I missed his eyes, his voice, his hair, everything about him. It might have happened, we might have rekindled our relationship right then, but it was that moment that the whole place decided to get a little quieter. My head jerked up to see some of Crowley’s men striding towards my bar. A small bit of panic entered my heart, but I swallowed it and crushed it. I had to remain calm.

“Head towards the other side of the room, I’m going to have to deal with this,” I whispered to Eddie before making a gesture to the jazz band to keep going. He nodded, not questioning me – he knew better. A rustle spread through the crowd, the band slowed to a stop, and drinks were set down with a clink.

Chicago was known for their gangs, and they held no qualms about stretching their borders. I shared territory with Crowley’s crew, and thank the Lord that he hadn’t shown up with his cronies tonight. I hated diffusing fights, and several of my bottles ended up getting smashed when Crowley decided to show his face. These men were known to spread fear, and that’s exactly what they were doing.

They swaggered up to the bar like they owned the place. “We need to speak with Joe Hancock,” the tallest man said. His arms were thicker than my head and he took up the space of three bar stools.

“And why’s that?” I asked, adding a sickeningly sweet edge to my voice as I leaned on the bar. I wasn’t even that close to the man, but I could smell his rancid odor –dead rats, feces, dried blood, and BO – and decided leaning on the bar wasn’t my best option.

“None of your business.”The man sneered down on me, something I was too used to here, but not something I appreciated. He was going to regret saying that. I was seconds away from pulling out my gun and daring him to speak to me like that again when Art came barreling in from the door behind me.

“Hey-” he stopped whatever he was going to say when he saw the three men taking up the bar space. “What’s going on here?” He asked. I could see the hungry glint in the burly man’ eyes, so I pulled Art over to my side protectively, praying with everything I had that they didn’t recognize him for the cop he is. I jabbed him in the side, he knew better than to come down here while business was still open.

“This is my brother Arthur, say hello to Crowley’s men would you?” I looked at him. He waved shyly towards them. I just needed to make sure they didn’t think he was Joe Hancock. “Now, Hancock never does business with organized crime, and you guys know it. We have a treaty, and I suggest you honor it.” It wasn’t really a treaty. It was more like you stay out of my way, I stay out of yours with you rat me out, I rat you out mixed in.

“Actually, we’re not with Crowley anymore. He’s been overthrown by this kid.” The three large men parted to reveal a skinny little brat about twenty years old. He had fiery hair that hung by his ears and was wearing the same outfit as Eddie, minus the trench coat. He came towards me with his hand outstretched. I shook it.

“Hi, I’m Marcus. My sister was part of the suffrage movement.” He said this as if it explained why he was shaking hands with a woman. “Crowley and I have come to an agreement, and I was informed that Hancock has the best way to get the things you want.” He shrugged. “I’d like to include him in my deal.” I couldn’t help myself – I was intrigued. I nodded my head towards Art.

“See him over there in the trench coat?” I asked him quietly and pointed to Eddie. He looked, and his face darkened, but he nodded. “Tell him to man the bar if you don’t want to do it.” I smiled to myself as I turned. That would be a conversation I wanted no part in. No matter his opinion of my former partner in crime, he was going to have to talk to him, and that was his own fault for breaking his own rule.

“Follow me,” I waved to the men and the boy. Marcus followed without hesitation, surprising to me, but hey, his sister was part of the suffrage movement. His men were reluctant, but with no other choice but to follow their leader, they started walking. I lead them to the back where my office is and sat behind my desk. “Close the door behind you.” The two brutes were intimidating, yes, but if they answered to the green bean of a man, I was less afraid than I normally would have been. Sure, I’ve set up plenty of jobs through criminals of all walks of life, but the mob was generally something I liked to stay out of. However, I was up for a challenge.

“Where’s Joe?” The kid asked. I gestured for them to take a seat and propped my chin on my hands, elbows resting on my desk.

“You’re looking at her. You could call me Joelle if you must, but with business partners I really do prefer Joe.” I smiled sweetly waiting for them to digest this information. The large one who first spoke to me is again the first one to speak.

“But-“

“Yes, yes alcohol is banned, women can vote, and now a woman is selling you alcohol, America is going to hell in a handbasket.” I waved my hand around flippantly before looking right at Marcus with another killer smile.

“Now, you said you wanted to do business.”

______________

Finding Hancock’s illicit business is hard, but finding him is even harder. You need money? A crew for a job? You need someone to help you find the best buyer? Hancock is the man you need to find. Rumor has it he’s in control of one of Chicago’s largest gangs, working with the masses to bring down Prohibition for good. Rumor has it, he has the feds in the palm of his hand. There are stories – rumors – about Joe Hancock. Some say he’s a ghost, some say he’s a legend, some say he’s not even a he at all. One thing is for certain, he’s recruiting and he’s ready for a fight. Are you willing to join?

RED HALO

By: Anonymous

I was standing in line at the amusement park, looking at the giant roller coaster with pure horror, when I saw her. Out of the corner of my eye, there was a thirteen year old girl. She was alone, with the pink balloon tied to her wrist in a sea of people, standing perfectly still in a moment of cold contemplation. The dress she wore was tattered-crimson stains and shredded fabric on her shoulders and thighs. Her hair was matted in her ponytail. She had shining blue eyes that were red with tears.

“Hey!” I called out, across the masses of people meandering the park. “Over here!”

Head turning, eyes widening, and feet racing, she looked at me for a moment in terror and took off in a random direction. The balloon is carried with a gust of wind.

“Wait!” I yelled. “Come back! I can help you!” I slid under the rope of the entryway to the rollercoaster, and dashed. I didn’t have any sort of a plan, but from the look of the blood on her dress I knew that something horrible may have happened. I had to find her.

I took off into the crowd, shoving my way through as strangers gawked. Muddy footprints on the sun drenched sidewalk became less frequent the more I jogged into a clearing. Taking a look around, I noticed they were leading to a corner in between an ice cream shop and a burger joint.The heat enveloped me into exhaustion with crisped shoulders underneath my t-shirt. Still, I carried on shouting, “Hey! I’m sorry I scared you. I just want to help…”

Sobs quietly echoed in the walkway. I did not dare to move for a moment, taking a subtle step backwards. They were from a dark entryway, where a charm bracelet glimmered at the catch of light. Thoughtfully, I took a few cautious steps forward to what appeared to be a closed, cobblestone shop. Kneeling down at the steps, I sat on my legs while the girl remained still the shadows. She gasped sharply but did not try to escape. Reflected light from the window pane  to the right illuminated a young face with a scratch on her lower lip and twigs in her hair. The charm bracelet has a small golden plate with the name “Jolene Matthews” inscribed on it in swooping letters written in cursive.

“Is your name Jolene Matthews?” I cooed.

No answer. Jolene fondles the charm bracelet on her wrist. The movement seems involuntary, as if it is a compulsive habit, and a wild look takes over her expression.

“Do you need me to call the police? Did something bad happen to you?”A small fissure in feeling seems to shake through her and her fingers tremble before she crosses her arms and shuts her eyes. I can tell she is listening but refuses to respond. She rocks back and forth and back and forth.

“It’s okay to be afraid.” I assure her, looking for words that may stir her to open up to me or at least urge me to do something. She grimaces and shakes until, to my surprise, her eyes meet mine for the first time since she sprinted off.

A sole tear runs down Jolene’s flushed cheeks and she cries out, “Can’t you see?” She  violently reaches for me but her bruised hand goes directly through mine, like I am made of water vapor. I look at my skin-translucent, pale, unfeeling. Numb.

Jolene screeches through tears. “I just want to be left alone! I don’t want to help you!”

“I don’t understand.” I manage to whisper. I am interrupted by blaring sirens.

An ambulance whizzes by the street and unloads a frenzy of paramedics. I take off running after it, until I find myself in a crowded square, as crimson oozes onto the tile through the cracks, trickling and collecting around a woman’s head like a halo.  

My heartbeat feels like it’s in my throat. She’s wearing the same t-shirt I am, right down to the small hole on the left shoulder. Running my fingers through my hair, blood seeps onto my fingertips.

I don’t even remember falling.