Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes – A Book Review

ghostboys

Though this book is aimed at young readers in terms of sentence complexity, the plot and themes of Ghost Boys are so important that I believe adults would benefit from reading it as well.

Ghost Boys is about a young black boy named Jerome who is shot and killed by a white police officer. The aftermath of his murder involves Jerome’s family, his best friend, the police officer, the police officer’s family, and the multitude of young black men and boys who previously died under similar circumstances.

However, the book does not progress in a linear fashion. It alternates between when Jerome was alive and when he’s not. By using this method, Jewell Parker Rhodes builds suspense and keeps the reader enthralled.

I think Ghost Boys is an excellent book for introducing young readers to the very real racism that still plagues our country to this day. It offers a glimpse into the racist murders of black children dating back decades, even centuries, and it does not shy away from pointing out that murders motivated by racism have yet to end.

Ghost Boys delves deeply into the fact that real change cannot occur without acknowledging racism and the horrors that it perpetuates. Yet it does so through simple paragraphs and a very fast pace.

Jerome’s death is vividly described, but it does not cross the line. Young readers need to understand the awful implications of gun violence. I think Rhodes does a fine job of respecting young people enough to avoid pulling punches without drifting into the overtly gratuitous.

Ghost Boys is the kind of book that can foster change. I encourage you to read it, allow your middle or high school child to read it, and then discuss it together afterwards.

Stranglehold: A Short Story

STRANGLEHOLD

I can’t breathe.

All the time.

You hate me so much.

You hate me if I laugh.

You hate me if I cry.

You hate me if I silently kneel.

You hate me if I peacefully march.

You hate me if I speak my mind.

You hate me if I don’t want to talk.

You hate me if I’m smarter than you.

You hate me if I’m not smart enough.

You hate me if I look you in the eye.

You hate me if I turn my head.

You hate me if I live in the “bad” part of town.

You hate me if I’m your neighbor.

You hate me if I’m sitting on my porch.

You hate me if I’m at the park.

You hate me if I’m in my car, on the bus, or riding the train.

You hate me if I’m walking somewhere.

You hate me if I’m rich.

You hate me if I’m poor.

You hate me if I go to college.

You hate me if I don’t like school.

You hate me if I’m your boss.

You hate me if I’m unemployed.

You hate me if I’m submissive.

You hate me if I fight.

You hate me if I win.

You hate me if I lose.

You hate me if I live.

You hate me if I die.

You hate me so much.

All the time.

I can’t breathe.


Author’s note: Since George Floyd’s murder, I have felt inept. I didn’t know what to say, what to do, or how to act. I finally decided to follow the adage of putting myself in someone else’s shoes. “Stranglehold” is the result. It is my sincere hope that this work helps with the struggle against hate, inequity, police brutality, racism, discrimination, and injustice.  


Copyright © 2020 by Scott William Foley

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

In This: My Short Story Of the Week

IN THIS

Dr. Timothy Walker tried to enter the grocery store on the wrong side. After a long day at work, he’d forgotten that they had recently established a designated “entrance” and “exit.”

As he walked along the storefront, he pulled out his cell phone and cued up the list his wife sent him. Thankfully, it wasn’t very long.

Once he grabbed a basket, Dr. Walker made his way to the produce. His kids were out of Honeycrisp apples—basically the only fruit they’d eat. Next, he made his way to the carrots, which, as you probably guessed, was their vegetable of choice.

The store had plenty of both. He wondered if he’d be so lucky in the toilet paper aisle.

Dr. Walker double-checked his screen for the next item. As he did so, he noticed a man walking toward him. They briefly made eye contact. Dr. Walker realized the stranger aimed to confront him.

But why? Dr. Walker still wore his surgical mask along with his scrubs—there’s no way anyone could recognize him. Could it be the mask? Dr. Walker noticed the man did not wear one. Perhaps he was desperate and planned to steal Dr. Walker’s.

Dr. Walker turned to face the man with his phone positioned upright at the waist and recording. If he was about to be attacked, he would be sure to collect evidence. His free hand balled into a fist. Something about the man’s intensity set him on edge.

When it seemed obvious the man did not intend to honor six feet of distance, Dr. Walker ordered, “Stop there.”

“What?” the man asked.

“Just, stop there, okay?”

The man said, “I want to say something to you.”

“Okay,” Dr. Walker replied. “Go ahead. Just, don’t get any closer, all right?”

“Yeah, okay. Yeah—you’re right. Sorry about that.”

Dr. Walker stared at the man from behind his surgical mask.

“I just wanted to thank you,” the man said.

“What?”

The man continued, saying, “Yeah, you know, you guys, you’re all out there, on the front lines, protecting us all—keeping us healthy, saving our lives. So, thank you.”

Dr. Walker stammered, “Er—You’re welcome. Of course. It’s just that—”

“No, no,” the man interrupted. “Don’t be humble. I know you’ll say you’re just doing your job. But you’re not just doing your job. You could have quit. You could have walked away. But you didn’t. All of you—all the doctors and nurses—you’re all putting your lives on the line for us. Thank you. Thank you all.”

The man’s eyes got misty at the conclusion of his statement.

“I … It’s an honor,” Dr. Walker said. “I should probably tell you, though—”

The man asked, “Can I shake your hand?”

“Absolutely not,” Dr. Walker replied.

“You’re right. That was dumb. Anyway, I’ll let you get back to shopping. Doc, if you ever need anything, you just ask, okay?”

Dr. Walker replied, “I need you to wear a mask, friend.”

“Yes! Yes, as soon as I get home, I’m going to make one. I saw a thing on YouTube about turning a jock strap into a mask.”

Dr. Walker said, “Oh, well, I don’t know about that. A tee shirt would work just as—”

“God bless you, doctor! Good luck. I’ll keep you all in my prayers!”

The man walked away. Dr. Walker watched him for a few moments. The man didn’t have a cart or a basket, he just collected items in his arms as he strolled along.

Dr. Walker continued shopping and, as fate would have it, found a mega-pack of toilet paper. It wouldn’t fit in his basket, though, so he had to wedge it between his left arm and his body as he made his way to the cash register.

As she rang him up, Dr. Walker made pleasantries with the woman behind the plexiglass. The young man bagging his groceries was far too close, but what could they do? They both wore masks, so Dr. Walker deemed it an acceptable risk.

“Doc, one last time—thank you, brother! You’re saving lives!”

Dr. Walker looked over to see the man from earlier walking by on his way to the self-checkout units. He couldn’t wave to Dr. Walker because his arms were full of groceries, so he tried to lift his chin higher and higher as he smiled.

Though the man couldn’t see it, Dr. Walker beamed from ear to ear while giving him the “thumbs-up” as he said, “We’re all in this together, my friend. Thank you for the love. Much appreciated.”

The cashier asked, “Are you a doctor?”

“Yes,” Dr. Walker replied.

“So, you’re, like, treating people with the Covid?”

“No,” Dr. Walker said. “I’m a podiatrist.”

“Yeah, but,” the bagger began, “that guy acted like you were in the thick of it, you know?”

“Yeah,” Dr. Walker confirmed. “I tried to tell him, but he wouldn’t let me finish. It was so heartfelt; I just decided to go with it.”

“But …” the woman began. She was too polite to finish her thought.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Dr. Walker chuckled. “I got the whole thing on video. I may not be on the front lines, but I have plenty of friends who are. That guy is going to make their day.”


Copyright © 2020 by Scott William Foley

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

Actual Reality: My Short Story Of the Week

ACTUAL REALITY

 

Captain David took cover behind a burning transport vehicle. His combat armor could easily withstand the flames, but the heat played havoc with his infrared display. Intelligence reported that his primary target remained hidden within the bunker seventy meters north of his position. Unfortunately, he couldn’t determine what kind of resistance awaited within the bunker.

“Command,” Captain David said into his communication link. “I have reached the location. About to infiltrate. Potential enemy combatants unknown.”

“Copy,” Command replied into his earpiece. “Proceed.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Though no one shot at Captain David in particular, artillery flew in every direction as he powered across the open ground. His fellow soldiers had different objectives at other locations, and he could see them zigzagging every which way. Some were bursting into other bunkers, some were being cut in half on the battlefield, and some were simply kneeling in place. He couldn’t afford to stop moving, not if he wanted to succeed with his mission.

A light round bounced off his armor. He glanced in the general direction from where it came, but didn’t see anyone. Between the glare of the flames, the dark of night, the spasmodic shadows, and the general chaos, it was hard to discern much of anything other than his intended objective.

He squeezed off a series of rounds at the door frame ahead of him before shouldering his way through. As the door toppled, he next saw Goga Sedov–the Russian Razor. Sedov had left the Russian Armed Forces in order to become a mercenary. His methods were so good that terrorist cells were hiring him as their strategic officer. Because of the Russian Razor’s global threat level, Captain David had been ordered to eliminate him.

“Target in sight,” Captain David huffed into his microphone.

“Fire at will,” Command replied.

“Yes, ma’am.”

Captain David continued to move forward, closing the distance between them. Just as he began to trigger his artillery gauntlets, he realized that Sedov did not raise his own weapon.

Captain David glanced down as Sedov grew nearer and nearer only to realize that he held two children captive. They were set up as a human barricade. Because Sedov kept his guns trained on the kids, he appeared to count on Captain David halting.

Captain David never stopped moving. Instead, he leapt forward with his arms outstretched. His right hand pressed the fire button; his left hand knocked Sedov’s weapon away from the hostages.

The children burst into tears, but they were safe.

Sedov, now bisected, lay strewn upon the floor.

“Target mitigated,” Captain David said as he knelt to the children and wrapped his arms around them.

“It’s okay,” he said to them. “He can’t hurt you.”

Command replied: “Drone shows two civilians on the premises.”

“Affirmative, ma’am,” Captain David replied. “Diverted enemy fire away from them. Both are alive and well. Comforting in process.”

“Well done. 250 commendation points awarded for target elimination. 250 points awarded for valor.”

“Thank you, ma’am.”

As Captain David hefted the children from the ground, one in each arm, he requested: “Permission to escort civilians to refugee extraction point.”

“Granted,” Command replied. “Note: you are 750 points away from achieving Major.

“Thank you, ma’am.”

“Hold on,” Captain David said to the children. He then rushed out the door and raced across the battlefield. Explosions erupted all around Captain David as his legs pounded as fast as possible. The added weight of the children slowed him down more than expected. Furthermore, his primary weapons–the gauntlet guns–were rendered useless.

He needed to find cover, to rest a moment, and to strategize. Simply running across the combat zone would get them all killed.

An upended tank came into view. It would provide the protection he needed. However, when he reached the vehicle and rounded its corner, an enemy soldier lurked. The soldier had an M240 machine gun trained right on him. Captain David spun and dropped to his knees as the soldier opened fire. At first, the bullets ricocheted off his armor, but at that range it was only a matter of time before the ammunition pierced his gear.

Then, without warning, the gun’s thunderous discharge ended.

Captain David turned to see the enemy fall in a heap. He then looked around and observed a low-ranking ally, a Lance Corporal, running away. “75 pts.” flashed in bright blue above the Lance Corporal’s head for a few moments.

“My thanks …” Captain David said into his link before casting it to the fellow soldier.

“10 points awarded for gratitude,” Command informed. “And another 250 points for selflessness–you shielded those children from ordnance.”

“Davey!” a voice called out from above.

“Did you say something?” Command asked.

“Negative, ma’am,” Captain David replied. “Background noise. Disregard.”

“Davey! Can you hear me?”

Captain David looked in the direction of the refugee extraction point. If he could get the children there, he’d easily make Major. His visual display read 450 meters–over a quarter-mile. Such a trek seemed impossible, but it was well worth the risk.

“Hold on, kids,” Captain David said. “I’m going to get you out of here or die trying.”

“10 points awarded for reassurance.”

“Davey! Why aren’t you answering me?”

Captain David broke into a sprint. Explosions ignited all around him and sent debris banging against his visor. The children shielded their faces against his gauntlets, but he could see the chunks of metal and earth pelting their bodies.

“Hold on!” he yelled at them. “We’re going to make it!”

“Davey! It’s time for your dinner, honey. I made your favorite–fish sticks!”

Command inquired: “Who’s voice is that? Have you been compromised?”

Captain David continued running as he shouted, “No ma’am!”

“Davey!”

He’d covered 300 meters …

“Can you hear me, Davey? Are you still playing that silly game?”

“Your vitals suggest distraction, Captain David,” Command reported. “Do you need a break?”

“Negative, ma’am!” Captain David screamed. “I can do this!”

The whine of the missile appeared moments before the projectile itself.

“Game over,” Command informed. “Please try again.”

“Davey! Your food is getting cold. Get up here!”

David flung off his headset and screamed, “Mom, you fat witch–you just made me lose!”


Copyright © 2020 by Scott William Foley

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental to the story

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.