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Ship of Souls

Ship of Souls

Titel: Ship of Souls
Autoren: Zetta Elliott
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    I live in Brooklyn, and I believe in magic.
    For years I passed a large boulder in Prospect Park that marked the site of Battle Pass. The plaque on it explained that American and German soldiers had fought there at the start of the Revolutionary War. Sometimes when I walked by the boulder I would wonder, “What if that plaque was really a door that opened late at night?” In my mind’s eye I could see dimly lit stairs leading down into the earth—but I couldn’t see farther than that.
    On the first warm day of spring in 2010, I walked up Flatbush Avenue toward Grand Army Plaza. Through the cast iron fence on my left, I heard a rustling in the dry brown leaves that covered the ground. I assumed it was just a squirrel and so continued on my way. The rustling persisted, however, and so I stopped—and the rustling stopped. I resumed walking, and whatever small creature was following me continued as well. I stopped—it stopped. I walked on and it pursued me. I finally turned and searched the park floor but couldn’t find a chipmunk or squirrel or any other source of the sound. What I did see (in my mind’s eye) were three kids—two boys and a girl. I saw something invisible grab the youngest boy and drag him along the ground. His friends came to his aid and saved him from being dragged underground. I stored that scene in the back of my mind and walked on.
    During the summer I came across an online article about an eighteenth-century ship that was found during construction at Ground Zero. “Why would a boat be buried underground?” I wondered. Archaeologists suggested it had simply been used as landfill when lower Manhattan was being expanded in the seventeen hundreds. I had other ideas but tucked them away until November. That’s when I found a beautiful cowrie shell on the ground near my home. I assumed it had fallen off someone’s jewelry or bag and simply put it in my pocket and walked on. A week later my favorite literacy organization, Behind the Book, brought me to JHS 13 in East Harlem. Though they were studying Bird , Ms. Mayers’s sixth-grade students asked me to tell them about my latest story, and so I told them about the rustling leaves, the voices I kept hearing, and the scenes unfolding in my mind. They urged me to finish the story and return to tell them how it ended. I promised that I would.
    In December, I found a second cowrie shell—tiny, white, fragile, yet miraculously intact. Two perfect shells—once used as currency in Africa—lying on the streets of Brooklyn, waiting for me to pick them up. It had to be a sign. For years I had wanted to write about the African Burial Ground in lower Manhattan—a sacred site outside the city limits where, up until 1794, fifteen thousand free and enslaved blacks were buried. Four hundred and nineteen of those burials were uncovered in 1991 during construction of the Ted Weiss Federal Building. Community members mobilized and fought for the study and preservation of the remains, and today an impressive monument marks the resting place of those unnamed souls who built the colony that became New York City.
    A week before Christmas, I sat down and began writing Ship of Souls . For me, Christmas is a magical season filled with miraculous stories. I knew that my story would be about redemption and release. By the lights that decorated my little tree, I wrote through the blizzard that immobilized the city. I told a story of loss and loyalty, an urban fantasy woven together with fragments of the city’s history and my own contemporary reality.
    I’ve always known there was magic in this city. Or rather, I believed that magic was possible here, and so magical things have happened to me. I didn’t feel that way when I was growing up in Canada. I dedicate this book to my cousin Kodie, who lives in Canada and so may have to dream himself into existence just as I did when I was his age.

    “W alk like a man, not like a pimp.” That’s what my mother used to say. She was my best friend. That might sound weird, but my mom was all I ever had. No dad, no aunts and uncles or cousins. Mom didn’t like to talk about our family, but I knew it wasn’t normal, the way we lived. I used to tell myself that Mom must have testified against the mafia and so the FBI put us in their witness protection program. Somewhere out there was a whole other life filled with people who loved us but couldn’t be trusted with our new identities. That’s better than the
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