A fun cross between Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and a police report from the SWATS, Hunting Grounds, was my entry into the WNDB Short Story Contest.

Now that judging is over I’m sharing with you!

I’ve posted Part 1 here, but you can read the story in it’s entirety on Wattpad here.

The blood on my shirt isn’t mine for once. I have another one in my locker, but sometimes you have to advertise to let folks know to keep their distance.
“Do you want to go to the nurse?” The question is flat. No pity.
I shake my head and keep writing. I write even though my knuckles are swelling so badly it’s almost impossible to hold my pen. I write even though the blisters crack and bleed onto the paper.
Mrs. Carroll doesn’t press me about it. It’s why I like her. She doesn’t try to make it better. It just is.
“Finished.” I rip the page from my notebook, glad for the confetti spray. It’s satisfying to see it fly, as if the poem knows how lit it is before it’s even read. Poetry is my payment for waiting out my judgement in the library instead of the dungeon they call In-School-Suspension, though I don’t think she makes this deal with anyone else.
No shadow, nor a concrete ghost
Does slink and clacker in the ward
All drowsy are the tweakers
No corner boys at their chores

“Beware Ndocky fiendish boy!
The tail that whips, the teeth that tear,
Beware the blue and red that flash
A smart boy would take care”

He took his Golden Gat in hand
Soon come his glory won and fought
He calmly sat, with hooded head
In righteous rage and thought.

Deep in ghetto thoughts he stood
Ndocky with claws and poison fang
Came whistling through the crumbling
And howled as it came!

Rat, tat! Rat, tat! And bubble and
The Golden Gat did spatter
He shot it dead and with its head
The ‘hood did well remember

Will we feast on dreams tonight?
Tell me, my American boy?
Will we drink to fantasy
No longer Democracy’s toy?

No shadow, nor a concrete ghost
Does slink and clacker in the ward
All drowsy are the tweakers
No corner boys at their chores

“You know, Stephen King used to write his nightmares. You’ve gotten better.”
I nod as if that’s got anything to do with the poem. Mrs. Collins doesn’t live around here, but she’s worked in the hood long enough. Superstitions, like accents are easy to pick up. She won’t comment on the beast. She folds the paper neatly in half and hands it back.
“Did you read the biography on Bayard Rustin I gave you?” she asks.
I roll my eyes. Any conversation I have with Mrs. Carroll either begins or ends with some question about some dusty book she gave me, as if James Baldwin or Langston Hughes have some kind of code hidden in their words that will help keep DaDa Taylor from trying to beat my face in.
“I read it.”
“And?” The question sounds salty when she asks.
“And what?”
“You didn’t read it.” It’s not an accusation.
“Okay. I skimmed it. Mark me for the beast.”
She cuts me a look. I mouth an apology for spitting on superstition again. My time is almost up. I’ve got about fifteen minutes before my Mom shows up. I close my eyes and soak up the silence. Well, not completely there is the small music of clicking computer keys. I love it here. Everybody minds their own business.
Soft fingers on my face bring me back and I flinch.
“That’s not from today, is it?”
I don’t answer. She knows an old bruise when she sees one. She’s seen them on me enough. She was my coach freshman year, the last time I actually had real friends at school, before the charter took over and Dobbs High became BEST Boys Prep, the city’s answer to low graduation rates and black boyhood in general. Supposedly single gender classes are supposed to save us from the streets and turn all of us hood boys into scholars.
“Who did it?” Usually she wouldn’t ask, but the fights are coming too often now. I’m drawing too much attention to myself.
“Can’t say.”
“Why not? I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what’s going on.” That’s what they all say. It’s sad they don’t know it’s not true.
“You can’t help me, period.”
She sighs loudly and busy’s herself checking in books. She has hope for me. Her hope is heavy and I can’t afford it. I’ll have to figure out a way to shake it off or I won’t be able to hang out here anymore.
“You don’t like school do you?”
I know I’m supposed to give an answer befitting a former honor student but I don’t.
“The teachers don’t even like me.”
“I don’t think that’s true, but I’m not going to argue with you. Have you ever considered getting your GED and starting college early?”
“What the hell kinda college accepts GED students? GED’s are for losers who gave up.”
She eyes me and I fold. “Sorry.”
Her face holds no humor. “Losers are people who don’t take control of their lives.” She says firmly. Mama would hate her for even suggesting this to me. Mama’s hope is twenty times heavier than hers. It marks me, but there’s no chance of getting rid of that.
Mrs. Carrolls’ face is twisted and I know she’s gearing up for one of her lectures but the disembodied voice of Ms. Plimpton, the school secretary, cuts her off.
“Mrs. Carroll?”
“Send Lewis Jackson to the office please.”
I stand and pack my things.
Completely out of character and unbidden Mrs. Carroll comes out from behind her desk to give me a hug. It feels simultaneously awkward and ominous. A shiver passes over me like when you walk into a cold building after being out in the summer sun too long. I have to rub my arms to get rid of it.
“Beware Ndocky, Lewis,” she whispers. The blessing shocks me, but only a little. I didn’t think Mrs. Carroll believed in the thing, at least not in a real way. There are no beasts in suburbs, on clean streets where folks turn down their music politely before ten. I must really be scaring her.
“Beware Ndocky, Mrs. Carroll.”
The door is about to close behind me when she calls out. “Oh, and by the way, I really do like those shoes.”
When I get to the office I walk up to Ms. Plimpton and slide her an America’s Finest chocolate bar. She throws me a look I’m sure can only be achieved by women who have never been called pretty and then smiles. I don’t know when we started a habit of trading snacks, but it’s definitely a thing now. I don’t know if it helps keep me out of trouble, but it can’t hurt.
The door squeaks when I open it. Mama doesn’t look at me as I sit down. Principal James doesn’t either. They both seemed to have agreed to speak only after some unknown-to-me signal has been given.
“What are you doing to protect my son?” Mama says, picking up where I know she left off. It’s a golden oldie. She begins and ends with this refrain anytime she meets with a school official.
“Ms. Jackson, Lewis broke a boy’s nose this morning and knocked another almost unconscious before the first period bell had a chance to ring. We’re lucky the parents don’t have decided not to press charges.”
My mother, my Queen, gives him that look as if to say, “So?” The fact that he hasn’t answered her question isn’t lost on him. He’s boxed with her before.
“Ms. Jackson,” he sighs with obvious exasperation, “we cannot have this kind of violence at BEST.”
I roll my eyes without any attempt to hide my contempt. When it’s me fighting back it’s violence, but when the fists are flying my way with a backup boy band singing “Faggot” as a soundtrack it’s just roughhousing.
Mama doesn’t miss a beat. “And what about the boys who jumped Lewis last Friday in front of the public library?”
“If it doesn’t happen on school grounds we have little recourse. You can imagine the need for that position with the resurgence of gang activity in our zip code.” He pauses and looks down at some papers on his desk as if he’s trying to find the right words, pretending as if he cares. Most of the time he looks stately with the practiced scowl of righteous anger and determination reserved for civil rights activists and cheesy television personal accident lawyers, but now he just looks constipated.
“With this most recent incident and the repeated dress code infractions…”
Mama cuts him off with a wave of her hand. I knew it.
This is about the shoes.
The men of BEST Prep are allowed to wear dark colored, closed-toe shoes that are not considered sneakers. We are told this at orientation as if this preppy armor will save us from all obstacles, including death, but Principal James no longer believes in real threats. He’s too good for ghetto superstition. He believes in khaki armor against flimy ideas like stereotype threat and underfunding, but if he still lived here he would. To him, my ox-blood colored sequined calf-high off-brand Ugg boots do not convey the image of the BEST man he had in mind. But I know the beast doesn’t give a shit about pressed khakis and loafers.
The tiny mirrors toss winking stars onto the ceiling, a few of them free themselves and latch onto the corners of Principal James’ mouth, bringing it down into a bigger frown.
They argue more for show than anything else and a suspension is given along with the suggestion of an alternative school that might be a “better fit”. On the way home Mama keeps mumbling under her breath, rehashing things she should have said. For the millionth time she threatens to kill me herself before she lets the streets kill me. She doesn’t mention DaDa Taylor’s broken nose.

Read Part 2

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