One Way Ticket

I sat on the elevated train staring down at the city below; an old patchwork quilt, each cross-stitched intersection frayed and worn through. Countless abandoned buildings covered in graffiti flashed through the window. Broken glass hung from window frames like jagged icicles, mounds of debris littered the vacant lots, and drug dealers stood on street corners, waiting to mete out their latest fix.

The recorded voice announced our stop and the train screamed to a halt. “This is our stop,” I told my younger sister Tiffany.

The train doors slid open and we trudged down the metal steps, the humidity causing our clothes to stick to us before we reached the bottommost stair.

Tiffany wrinkled her nose. The strong smell of urine had become more pungent with the heat. A hot day in the city, in the old neighborhood Tiffany and I had briefly lived in after our parent’s divorce.

I noticed Tiffany’s electric blue high-tops bounding onto the asphalt and shook my head. They clashed with the drab scenery surrounding us, standing out like a floodlight in the dark. “I can’t believe you wore those.”

Tiffany shot her tongue out at me and smudged my brand new running shoes with one of her sneakers.

I jumped aside. “Hey, watch it. Oh, come on!” The pristine, white leather had a black smudge covering the tip like an ugly bruise. I wiped at the blemish cursing, knowing it wouldn’t come off, and was immediately proven correct. I stood back up giving her a hard look.

Avoiding my eye, Tiffany smirked and looked with expectation at the crowd of bustling commuters. People hurried past us, rushing towards buses that sped away, leaving behind billowing clouds of gray smoke. Forgetting my shoes, I joined Tiffany in searching for the woman we were supposed to meet.

“She’s not here,” I said.

“We just haven’t spotted her yet,” Tiffany replied, her coffee eyes scanning every face in the place.

I shook my head. In spite of my resolve not to hope she was there, my heart drummed an anxious rhythm against my chest. Tiffany, even more wound up than me, cracked her chewing gum, sounding more like an elephant devouring peanuts than a fourteen-year old girl.

I stole the letter clenched in her hand and scanned the loopy script written there. A pang of longing I hadn’t expected to feel hit me when I saw it.

“Are you sure you’re supposed to meet her here?” My voice was rough with an emotion I didn’t want to feel.

Concerned, Tiffany shot me a look, but I ignored her, not wanting to confess my weakness, and focused on the letter. That chapter of my life and the pain that went with it was behind me, but I couldn’t help feeling a powerful, residual ache at the memories that were resurfacing.

Reading the letter, a mixture of anger and pity for Tiffany bubbled up inside me. Anger that she had allowed this drama back into our lives again, and pity that she still needed a connection to the person responsible for so many of our hardships.

“Yes, Zak, for the hundreth time, I’m sure,” she replied, snatching back the letter with a cold stare and a scowl.

She flipped open a compact mirror and admired the blue streaks that ran through her shag hair cut like ribbons on a birthday present. She was just about to paint her lips the same shade when I ripped the stick from her hand. “Aren’t you a little young to be wearing this stuff?”

Tiffany frowned at me. “I’m a freshman now. Dad said I could wear it when I started high-school.”

“It’s only July. School hasn’t started yet,” I quipped, waving the lipstick just beyond her reach.

Instead of reaching up for it, Tiffany punched my arm. It didn’t hurt, but she looked so pathetic that I gave it back, feeling a little ashamed of myself for taunting her, then I remembered the black smudge she’d just planted on my shoe and I didn’t feel as bad.

Without applying any of the lipstick, she shoved it in her duffle bag. “What are you so grumpy for?”

I knew she was right, but I lied anyway. “I am not grumpy.” There was some truth to the statement. I wasn’t grumpy, we were grumpy.

“Could have fooled me.”

Ever since our estranged mother’s letter had arrived last week I had been on edge, barking at people louder than the dog. It had been ten years since we had seen the woman who had birthed us into the world.

During that time, Dad had remarried a woman named Denise. She made him happy, she made us all happy, giving us what we needed needed — selfless love and understanding.

Though Tiffany was reluctant to agree with me, I felt that Denise was our real mom. She was the one who went to all of my soccer games and Tiffany’s swimming competitions.

She was also the one who had stood vigil at my hospital bed when my appendix had ruptured, gave me spontaneous tips about what girls like, and why it was so hard for me to understand them sometimes.

When the letter had first arrived, I had felt dregs of emotion stirring in me, my rebellious heart starting to get excited that she had finally reached out to us after all these years. Quick witted logic had shot through my sudden, irrational reaction, forcing me to remember when she had left  Tiffany and I at the DHS office and walking away like she didn’t know us.

I can still feel the disbelief and confusion as she hurried through the glass doors, ignoring my screams that she take us with her. It had taken Dad weeks to find us and get us back home with him.

Another fruitless glance and I snapped at Tiffany. “I told you this was a bad idea.” I swallowed the lump in my throat, my insides coiling like barbed wire.

Red-faced, Tiffany retorted, “I didn’t ask you to come.”

“Oh yeah, like I was really going to let you come down here by yourself. You’re lucky I didn’t tell Dad and Denise what you were up to.”

I had sworn that if she ever came back, I would never see my mother again, but I had insisted on escorting Tiffany to the bus station. I didn’t want her coming to this place alone.

Loathe to admit my hypocritical nature, I also ached to see my mother’s face again, to feel her embrace me, and to hear her voice saying my name. I wanted to show her how much I’d grown and make her regret ever leaving. So like an idiot, I led Tiffany to the appointed meeting place, sat down on a bench beside her, and waited.

The time passed slowly, seconds melted into minutes, until finally an hour had gone by. While Tiffany dug around in her duffle bag, I couldn’t help staring at a piece of chewing gum on the ground. All I kept thinking was, if someone steps on that it’s going to stick to the bottom of their shoe, just like we’re stuck here waiting for a woman who’s not coming.

“That’s it,” I snarled, inwardly reaffirming my vow to never let my mother do this to me or Tiffany again. “We’re leaving.”

Tiffany paused and looked up from her bag, unfathomable sadness on her face. “Let’s give her a couple more minutes,” she pleaded, “She may have gotten lost.”

I could tell by the look of defeat in her eyes, that Tiffany knew it was pointless to wait, but the desperation in her voice held me fast. I nodded. “Two more minutes and then we’re out of here.”

“Okay,” Tiffany whispered, eyeing the crowd. A second later, Tiffany was on her feet, her face beaming as she shouted, “Mom!”

My traitor stomach leapt as I saw the profile of the woman Tiffany had spotted, a pretty face with a pointed nose and waves of long, brown hair framing the sides. I couldn’t believe it, was that really her? The woman heard Tiffany’s cry and turned reflexively toward us. I got a good look at her and my heart sank, it wasn’t our mother. The woman gave us a quick smile, then looked away, and jogged toward her bus.

I turned to Tiffany. Silent tears slid down her cheeks. I wrapped her up in a tight hug. “Come on. Let’s call Denise to pick us up. She may be a nag sometimes, but she’s always there when we need her.”

Tiffany gave a small nod and leaned into me as we walked. I called Denise and told her where we were. She didn’t ask any questions or scold me for taking Tiffany into such a rough neighborhood. I think she knew from my voice that I was upset and not able to talk.

As Tiffany and I slowly made our way through the station toward the terminal building, Denise’s face drifted through the crowd of people, a sad smile tugging at her lips.

“Mom,” Tiffany cried running to Denise and embracing her.

“I’m so sorry she didn’t come.”

Tiffany pulled back, shocked. “How did you know?”

Denise gave her a moms-always-know look. “I saw the letter on the kitchen table yesterday.”

“Oh,” Tiffany said, sheepishly, “I don’t remember leaving it there. Sorry we didn’t tell you.”

“No more secrets,” Denise said with a knowing glance at me.

I acknowledged my tip off with a small smirk. Hoping my parents would see the letter, I had placed it on the table before I’d gone to bed the night before, and slipped it back into Tiffany’s bag before she’d woken up. After all the separation anxiety Tiffany had suffered from our mother abandoning us, I thought Dad and Denise should know what was going on.

“No more secrets,” Tiffany agreed.

Denise smiled.

We strolled toward our minivan with the large stickers on the front bumper reading, Soccer Mom and Swimming Coach. I let Tiffany ride shotgun and climbed into the back, stretching out across the seat.

I couldn’t help thinking about my mother. I hated her for forgetting Tiffany and me again. But, at least this time I was better prepared for the outcome and able to help Tiffany deal with the disappointment. It also made me realize that although I couldn’t control what my other had done to me, I could control how I handled it.

While Tiffany and Denise chatted about their upcoming ‘girl’s day’, I began to doze off, the last bits of anger and resentment melting away, when I suddenly remembered that it was Saturday–our ice-cream parlor day. Corny, but it had become a tradition in our family and who doesn’t like chocolate fudge sundaes?

Denise remembered, too because she caught my eye in the rear view mirror and said, “Who wants ice-cream?”

Tiffany turned around in her seat and looked at me. “I do,” we chimed in unison.

Denise laughed.

If anything, this experience with my mother has taught me one thing: Life is like a bus ride.

Some passengers were like my mother and wanted a one way ticket, an easy way out of a situation that they couldn’t handle. Others preferred a round trip, an opportunity to separate themselves from a difficult situation for a bit and then return to deal with it.

As for me, well I hate riding the bus, but it might be fun to drive it.

 

Captain Hook: Villain or Victim? First Entry

Hook
Illustration By: Made By Momo

 

Captain Hook: Villain or Victim?

By: David J. Locke

Chapter 1

            Would you believe me if I told you that I met the most notorious pirate who ever lived; the scallywag of all scallywags– the only buccaneer Blackbeard himself feared– and that I survived to tell the tale?

If you don’t believe me, listen to my story and let’s see if I can convince you of its veracity. If you do believe me, you must also listen to the

tale, for I’m sure you will learn things that you never imagined.

It all started one fine morning in early April 1913 in London. I remember it quite clearly. It was a glorious morning.

Despite a slight nip in the air, the sun was chasing away the last tendrils of stubborn fog that clung to the corners of buildings like sticky fingers and that hovered in the air like slow-moving phantoms. In a steady

ebb the unwanted specters dissolved, sunlight piercing their opaque bodies until they dissipated, and a vibrant blue sky emerged.

It was my first day at my uncle’s accounting firm. That morning I was wearing my favorite new bowler hat and was fastening the buttons on my coat so as to keep out the chill when a plucky little rascal, beckoning to his classmates to wait for him, streaked across my path. He nearly collided with me. Luckily, my impeccable balance saved us both from a terrible spill.

Hook
Illustration By: Made By Momo

“I say, young man,” I admonished him, readjusting my hat, “Slow down.”

A tattered book tucked under his arm, the lad spun around, his legs pumping for all they were worth, and he gave me the briefest of glances.

“Sorry, sir,” he shouted, before completing his dizzy rotation, and falling into line with the boys who walked several paces ahead of us.

“Hey lads, guess what?” he said.

The boys, steadfast in their march toward school, barely acknowledged the younger boy who’d barreled into their midst. “Guess what?” he repeated, “I told you I was right about Captain Hook!”

A jeering round of laughter broke out among the group. Much too intent on proving his point, Jo-Jo ignored the jibe. “Me dad heard another man talkin’ about Hook at the Liar’s Pub last night.”

“Not that again,” a dark-haired boy said, “Everybody knows that only bairns and the addle-brained Darlings believe in Captain Hook.”

“Mr. Barrie believed in him,” Jo-Jo said, “He wrote the book about Peter Pan.”

“You mean that fairy tale he wrote?” Eyes mocking, the dark-haired boy shook his head. “You’re as fuddled as your dad.”

Another rousing chorus of laughter broke out among the group, prompting Jo-Jo’s footsteps to stall. Head hanging, he fell behind the rowdy band, dragging his boots across the cobblestones.

I felt a certain sympathy for Jo-Jo. As a young lad, I had also been ostracized by people because I voiced my fantastical notions. Most of them still thought I was a mad man for taking an annual holiday to visit Ireland in search of leprechauns. I haven’t found one yet, but I most certainly shall.

Jo-Jo’s plight, though quite sad, turned out to be a most fortuitous opportunity for me. It seemed almost providential that this high-spirited boy had chosen the same exact route as me to walk to the school.

It was a sign that I should change my career from accountant’s apprentice to journalist. Some of you may think this is rather abrupt. Never fear, dear reader. I’m something of a Renaissance Man. My ability to flitter from one job to the next, without any related experience, is renowned in these parts.

Yes, I could see it all quite clearly. I’d seek out Captain Hook, conduct the interview of a lifetime, and become an immediate sensation. First things first of course. Before I could begin my investigation I had to speak with young Master Jo-Jo and discover the whereabouts of the infamous Captain.

Fingers itching to transcribe the lad’s account, I approached him and I saw that his eyes were glistening with unshed tears. “I say there, Jo-Jo, don’t let those hooligans get you down.”

“No one ever believes me.” He kicked at a loose stone and watched its progression across the street. With a loud clacking sound, the stone bounced off of the wheel of a passing bread cart and was lost from sight.

I inhaled the fresh scents of yeast and dough drifting off the cart, and my stomach reminded me that I hadn’t eaten yet. I disregarded the sensation and focused on the matter at hand. “I believe you.”

Skeptical at first, Jo-Jo’s eyes were slow to light up, a small grin plucking at the corners of his mouth. “You do?”

“Of course. You seem like an honest fellow.”

Warming to my sincerity, Jo-Jo gave me an eager nod, his grin widening. “Oh, I’m very honest, sir. I’m the only one in the whole class who’s never had to do lines for lying to the teacher.”

“Splendid.” The sun warming us, we resumed our trek toward the school and my uncle’s accounting firm. “So tell me your story of Captain Hook.”

Jo-Jo’s eyes turned serious. “It’s no story, sir, it’s a rumor.”

“Quite so. Go on.”

“Me dad heard that there was a great hullabaloo at Kensington Gardens the other night. A constable arrested a man, who was running about waving a butterfly net.”

Jo-Jo proceeded to do a wonderful impersonation of someone swinging a butterfly net while he spoke. “The man was yelling that he was trying to catch fairies for Captain Hook.”

Like a fisherman’s knot, my breath lodged in my chest. “Indeed. Did the man say anything else?”

Jo-Jo gave a solemn nod. “He said Hook is alive.”

“He survived the crocodile attack?”

“Aye.”

“Extraordinary! Did he say where Hook was?”

With a victorious smile, Jo-Jo nodded. “He’s living on Madagascar.”

For the briefest of moments, I was unsure. Like everyone else, I had read Mr. Barrie’s account of the Darling’s adventures in Neverland.

I had participated in lengthy debates about the book’s credibility. How could you not? The excerpt of the poor boy losing his shadow in the nursery was legitimate. I lose my shadow every single night when the lamps go out.

Of course I believed that Peter Pan visited small children in our world and lured them to Neverland.

The questions nagging at me were: How did Captain Hook survive the crocodile attack? Did the captain really come here or was it an imposter? And finally, why would the captain come here?

If the rumors concerning Hook were true, this could be the biggest opportunity of my aspiring journalistic career, a chance to talk to the old scallywag and end the argument over the truth of Peter Pan’s existence. And even more appealing, I could be the first to write Hook’s version of what happened with Peter Pan and the Lost Boys.

I peered down at Jo-Jo and extended my hand in friendship. The school bell rang. “I say, my good little man, you, best get to school. Thank you for passing on the rumor.”

“You’re welcome, sir.” Jo-Jo shook my hand and tore off down the street disappearing into a tidy brick building with the rest of his classmates.

As for me, I promptly made an about face and retraced my steps back the way I’d just come. Kensington Gardens was a few blocks from the stately home I shared with my grandmother; a kind and wealthy woman with an affinity for opera glasses and snuff boxes.

With purpose, I strolled into Kensington Gardens, toward The Long Water. An array of flowers lined my path, their soft petals waving to me in the breeze.

I strolled further down the cheery lane, admiring the neatly trimmed lawns and hearty geraniums guiding my way. Even now, as an adult, I often visit the lake while on my way to search for fairies. Ever since my grandmother read me Thomas Tickells’s poem Kensington Gardens, I’ve had a fascination with them.

Peter Pan’s statue stood on a raised circular dais, close by The Long Water. It is widely believed in these parts that fairies erected the bronze statue one night last year as a surprise for children.

Naturally, I assumed that if there were any sign of recent fairy activity, it would be near Peter Pan’s statue. It didn’t take me long to find a ripped piece of mesh lining from a butterfly net. From a branch bathed in sunlight, the ragged scrap beckoned to me, flapping like a moth stretching its wings before its inaugural flight.

I picked up the netting, a newfound purpose brewing inside me. As I slipped the netting in my pocket, I knew what I had to do. I would quit my new job at my uncle’s accounting firm and prepare for an adventure on the high seas.

Huzzah!

 

 

 

 

Tomato Graveyard

“Today’s the day,” Lauren said, “I’m gonna hop Old Man Ernie’s fence and dig up one of his wife’s bones.”

“From his tomato graveyard?” Jose squeaked.

Exasperated, Lauren replied, “She’s buried under the tomatoes, right?”

Jose nodded. “That’s what my sister said.”

“Cool,” said Mark. He pulled a piece of graph paper from his pocket. “I drew a map of Ernie’s yard for you because of all the bushes along the perimeter of the fence.”

Jose ignored the map. He looked confused as he whispered the word perimeter to himself. He remembered learning it in school. It had been one of their vocabulary words, but he couldn’t think of the definition. Of course Mark remembered it and knew how to use it correctly in a sentence. He was good at everything and everyone knew it, including him, especially him.

All the kids in the fifth grade hated when Mark used big words like perimeter. Unlike all those other kids, Jose was the only one who had the guts to ask Mark what the big words meant when he used them or question Mark when he disagreed with him.

“What’s a perimeter?”

Mark sighed. “A boundary, you know something you can’t cross.” Looking quite smug, he returned to his briefing. “The tomato graveyard is on the right side where the shed is. The dogs are chained up on the other side.”

Jose gulped. Every single kid on the block, even the teenagers, were afraid of Ernie’s dogs: two, large, black, sleek-skinned Doberman pinchers named Demon and Killer. The word on the street was that Ernie had traded his wife’s soul to the devil in exchange for the black eyed beasts.

Jose shivered. “Are you sure the dogs are chained up?”

Mark rolled his eyes. “I watched Ernie put them out there this morning from my window.”

“Oh, but what if–” Jose said.

“You worry too much, Jose,” Lauren said, flashing Mark an adoring smile. Jose frowned at her, but kept quiet. Like every other kid in the neighborhood, Lauren admired Mark and did everything she could to earn his approval. Lauren turned back to Mark’s neatly drawn lines and perfectly colored perimeter. “Is the shed unlocked?”

Mark nodded. “There are lots of shovels in there, too.” He eyed the backpack Lauren was wearing. “Did you bring the beef jerky for the dogs?”

She nodded.

“Do you really think jerky will keep them quiet?” Jose asked.

“My dog loves meat,” Lauren replied.

“So does mine, but she eats jerky really fast. Don’t you think…”

Mark glanced at his watch and cut across Jose’s question. “It’s 11:30. Ernie’s car is gone so he already left for work. Lauren will hop the fence and you and me,” he continued, staring at Jose, “we’ll be the lookouts.”

Jose gulped again. “This is a bad idea.”

“Shut up, Jose,” Mark said, “If we find his wife’s bones we’ll be heroes.”

“We’ll be famous,” Lauren said, “My aunt works for a newspaper. She could write about us.”

Eyes shining, Mark said, “And put our picture in the paper, too. Let’s go!”

“You’ve already had your picture in the paper, two times,” Jose said to Mark.

“So?” Mark and Lauren chimed together.

“Whatever,” Jose mumbled.

“You can always go home,” Lauren said, “No one is making you come with us.”

Jose wanted to go home. He thought this whole idea was stupid, but if he bailed out now and everyone found out they’d think he was a chicken. Kids would tease him for the rest of his life. He could hear their jokes and laughter ringing in his ears already. “I’m coming.”

The trio trooped over to Old Man Ernie’s house and peered at the fence. Tall shrubs, wild and overgrown, poked through the fence and blocked their view of the yard.

“Where’s the gate?” Jose asked.

“There isn’t one,” Mark replied.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“I have bad feeling about this,” Jose whispered.

Smiling, Lauren began to climb the fence, but as she got to the top her smile vanished as she lost her balance. With a scream, she dropped and disappeared into the bushes.

“Oh, no!” Frantic, Jose paced back and forth, trying to find a smarter way into the yard. “Are you okay?”

“My ankle hurts,” Lauren gasped.

Jose looked at Mark. “What are we gonna do?”

Suddenly pale, Mark shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“What do you mean you don’t know?” Jose spat.

From inside the yard, the dogs started barking, their chains clanking as loud as a car alarm.

“Help me,” Lauren cried.

Looking less sure of himself, Mark called, “C-can’t you climb back out?”

“I’m stuck,” she replied, shaking the bushes.

“We’ve got to get her out of there,” Jose yelped.

As Mark hesitated and fell back, Jose scaled the fence and leapt over the bushes, landing in the yard. He glimpsed the dogs, snarling and straining against their chains, and began pulling on Lauren’s arm at once.

“Stop,” Lauren yelled. She was wedged into the hedge, her bag twisted and tangled through the branches.

“I’ll cut your bag off with shears.”

Jose dashed through the tomato graveyard and toward the shed. He whipped open the weather worn door and rummaged through the lawn tools, the dogs’ barks louder than ever, echoing up and down the alley of fenced yards. Knocking over shovels and buckets, Jose spotted a pair of hand shears lying on a table and scooped them up.

“I’m coming, Lauren,” he shouted.

“I don’t think so,” a voice rasped.

Eyes glaring, nose flaring, Old Man Ernie stood in the doorway. He was a short, wizened old man, brown as an acorn and just as nutty.

Jose paled and dropped the shears.

Ernie shoved his beaky nose into Jose’s face. “Do you know what I do to kids who sneak into my yard?”

Frozen, Jose eyed the tomato graveyard and gulped. Desperate, he pointed at the yard front bushes. “My friend is stuck.”

“There are two of ya in here?” Ernie growled. He stomped toward the front hedge, poking and prodding at it with a long stick. “There ain’t no one here.”

Jose gasped, staring in horror at the empty bush and front lawn. “They left me?”

Ernie threw down the stick and stomped back. “Why are ya here?”

Jose gestured at the withered vines in the tomato graveyard. “I wanted a bone…I-I mean a tomato.”

Ernie gave Jose a knowing look. “You believe those rumors about my wife.”

Jose swallowed.

“Don’t ya?” Ernie barked.

Jose gave a guilty nod.

Muttering, Ernie went to the shed, picked up a shovel, and threw it at Jose’s feet. “Go on then, dig ‘er up.”

White-faced, Jose croaked, “I don’t want to.”

“Dig her up,” Ernie growled, “or I’ll put your bones in there, too!”

Jose jumped with fright and obeyed. Hoping that a quick pace would get him out of Ernie’s yard faster, Jose began digging with zeal until a horrible thought struck him and he stopped dead. What if he couldn’t find any of Ernie’s wife’s bones? Would Ernie get angry? And then Jose had a more terrifying thought. What if he did find her bones? Would Ernie get even angrier? Finally, Jose had a such an awful thought he almost feinted on the spot. What if it didn’t matter whether he found the bones or not and Ernie was really making Jose dig his own grave?

“Come on boy get diggin’.”

Jose thought of making a brash escape. If he was quick about it, he could knock Ernie over the head with the shovel and be back over the fence in no time, laughing at his daring dash to freedom and bragging to everyone about he did it. They’d think he was a hero. Ernie must have sensed what Jose was planning to do because he unchained the dogs. The two long faced canines ran at Jose, circling him and sniffing at his heels like he was a big, juicy sirloin steak. Jose’s stomach sank to his ankles. He’d never make it to the fence in time now.

“DIG!”

At Ernie’s command, Demon and Killer growled low in their throats, nipping at Jose’s feet. Jose began digging like a madman, dirt and stones flying every which way. Before long the shovel banged against something hard. Panting from fear and hard work, Jose stopped.

Ernie smirked. “What did you find?”

A nasty shade of green, Jose pointed at a white shard poking up through the dirt.

Ernie eyed the white shard. “Get it out o’ there.”

After a few reluctant tugs, Jose held a long, white bone as it broke free of the ground. Shrieking, he dropped the bone, and backed away from it shaking all over.

Ernie chuckled, a look of relish on his weathered face. “That’s not my wife.”

“Wh-who is it?” Jose asked.

“Millie,” Ernie replied.

“Who’s Millie?”

Ernie’s mouth split into a smile. “My wife’s dog.”