Dedicated to the kids of the 90's who tuned into Ghostwriter every week to catch up with the team's cases, including myself. Ghostwriter is a production of the Sesame Workshop (formerly known as the Children's Television Workshop) and British Broadcasting Corporation.
All poems mentioned have been quoted by their real authors unless stated otherwise.
Jason Baker is never mentioned or seen in the show but is mentioned in the Ghostwriter book "Alias Diamond Jones" by Cristina Salat. He is not deceased, only attending a special school for deaf students away from the rest of his family.
The sound of the plane's wheels protruding from the belly of the metal monster made Rob's stomach lurch with uncertainty. He usually didn't mind flying so much but the added concern of relocating homes always heightened his sense of fear. The plane dipped down into the white clouds with a slight jolting motion.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we are beginning our descent into the New York area. Please return to your seats and make sure all chairs are in upright positions." The captain's voice was accompanied by a crackle of static before shutting off.
Rob glanced out of the tiny window on his right and down at the sprawling layout of Manhattan. The sight of so many skyscrapers towering together resembled the Titans boasting atop Mount Olympus to him. The only sign of nature was a neat green rectangle that had been carefully nestled inside the bustling city.
"That's Central Park," his father said over his shoulder. "And down there is Shea Stadium. We could go into Queens sometime if you want to."
"And that must be Brooklyn down there," his mother added. She rubbed her hands together with anticipation. "Rob, isn't it wonderful? I can't wait to see our apartment up close."
From the look of the teen's face, you'd think he was calm and perhaps slightly bored at the scene. But inside his head, constant thoughts of doubt kept flickering restlessly.
The plane was getting closer and closer to the ground. Rob could see the cars zipping along highways and the sun's reflection ripple off the water in the harbor. Standing in the middle of the water was a small pale green figure of a woman. Rob recognized her at once:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
It was from The New Colossus written by Emma Lazarus in 1883. Always hungry for words, Rob loved to read and write probably more than anything else in the world. The feeling of putting a pen onto paper or having his fingers nimbly flying over a keyboard pouring out his throughts into poems and stories...
If only it was that easy to tell his parents. Rob's father had been transferred to the veteran's army office in New York while mother was accepting a position at an art gallery. Rob was going to attend a new middle school. But despite his father's assurance that everything would turn out more than satisfactory, Rob was disappointed.
It was a cool windy day when the taxi drew up in front of their home. People were out on the streets of Fort Greene, some holding hands with children as they crossed the lights, others walking their dogs or carrying bags of groceries. Rob stood up and stretched his long lanky arms high above his head, grateful to move his body so feely after the cramped plane ride.
"Just look at you. In six months time you'll be taller than Jason," his mother joked.
"He'll make a great basketball player. I saw several play courts on the way here and a lot of kids look like they're getting the best out the action," his father said.
He opened the door to their new house and everyone came inside. The wood from the floors gave off a faint dusty scent that reminded Rob of old bookstores. The rooms were filled with stacked furniture and boxes that his parents had shipped last week ahead before they arrived. Rob began to help his mother set up the dining room table and living room cabinets. When they were done with the larger pieces of furniture, he turned to leafing through boxes for various smaller objects.
Rob reached into one box and pulled out a screwdriver, a can opener, and box of rubber hands. He looked at his mother in confusion, wondering what to do with them.
She looked equally as perplexed as she pressed a hand to her mouth in thought. "Where's the rest of our appliances?" she asked aloud.
"How should I know? They scratched off some of the labels," his father grumbled. He kept moving boxes around looking inside at the contents.
Rob fumbled in the bottom of the box he was working on and pulled out a brass clock. His mother noticed it and knelt down beside him.
"Oh, I was just beside myself with worry if that thing broke. Thank you, sweetheart," she sighed with relief. She took the clock from Rob's hands and carefully placed it on the mantelpiece.
"Honey, our wedding anniversary gift arrived safe and sound."
"Well that's just great but can we get everything else opened up safe and sound?"
His mother handed him a stack of dish towels. "Would you put these in the kitchen drawer for me, Rob?"
He managed to step cautiously over most of the cartons in the kitchens and made his way to the drawers. They were stuck and Rob had to jostle them several times before they finally opened for him. An irritating squeaky noise filled the kitchen when the drawer slid out.
"I'll have to see about getting those fixed—if only I could I find my toolbox," his father griped. He stood in the middle of the kitchen with his hands on his hips, searching for the next box to open.
"Why didn't you throw away some of this junk before we moved?" he asked Rob. He shoved over two boxes with the words ROBERT BAKER marked in black bold letters before moving onto the china dishes.
Rob just snatched the boxes and hugged them protectively to his chest. This "junk" was the scrapbook of his mind. Poems, short stories, bits of epic tales, and even a written play had all been placed carefully aside. He never tossed out his work.
"Your room is the second one on the right," she informed him. "You go on ahead and start unpacking your things." Grateful, Rob balanced the heavy box as he made his way upstairs.
His new room had the same smell as downstairs but it felt cold and bare. At least he enjoyed decorated the place. Rob started by unrolling the woven mats and spreading them out on the hard wooden polished floors. His writing desk and chair had already been shoved into one corner of the room from the movers but Rob wasn't content until he had dragged them over towards the window. Now he had a better view of the streets and could look out onto Brooklyn while he did his homework.
After wiping his hands free of dust, he put sheets onto the lower mattress of the bunk bed. He and Jason used to share it but now the entire bunk bed was for him alone. He could use the luxury of the top bunk to toss dirty laundry or dishes out of sight but Rob would have gladly given it up if only Jason were here.
Out came the rolled-up posters of Albert Einstein and Walt Whitman. A bit wrinkled, but no tears in the paper. He smoothed them out before carefully putting them on the wall with blue Tacky Stick. The calendar pictures graced his walls with sharp angular shots of skateboarders posed in the middle of daredevil stunts. While Rob wasn't prepared to take on 10-foot leaps on his skateboard, his set of wheels was still his favorite mode of transportation. The precious skateboard was slid under the bed for protection.
His writing work desperately needed to be relocated into binders and folders for further protection. Rob made a mental note to himself as he stacked all the papers together and put them into the bottom drawer of his desk. The model ship that he and Jason put together for Christmas was carefully placed on top of his shelves.
Finally, he finished with his most valuable possessions: his books. Rob had at least three dozen various forms of literature that had been packed away and brought with him from his past home. He pulled out a thick novel of O'Henry's short stories and set it on the shelf. Then came the Chronicles of Narnia, The Great Gatsby, Ernest Hemingway's Greatest Works, Emerson and the American Scholar, The Glass Menagerie, and a beautiful set of The Lord of the Rings trilogy bound in red leather and gold-rimmed paper.
He worked for nearly two hours before kicking off his sneakers and flopping down on the bottom bunk. Moving was exhausting work.
After a brief rest, he heard his mother calling him from downstairs.
He rolled off the bed and came down the steps. His parents had set up Chinese takeout food on the kitchen table. A few boxes still remained on the floor but at least the kitchen and living room looked like they were coming together.
His father looked up at him when he came into the room. "Did you get everything unpacked, son?"
"Yes, sir. My room's all ready to go," he answered.
"The neighborhood around here looks just marvelous. First thing tomorrow I'm going to go down the garden store and see what plants are in season," his mother announced.
"It's a little late in the year for gardening," his father said. Rob quietly slid into his seat and took an egg roll from one of the cardboard red cartons.
"Oh, I can keep a few small green bulbs on the windowsill and they'll be ready for open boxes by the spring," she assured him. Mrs. Baker scooped some spiced rice onto her plate. "And what plans do you two have coming up?"
"Rob and I are going to check out his school tomorrow. All right Robbie?"
"Yes, sir," he nodded obediently. Rob picked at his chicken uneasily. New places, new faces, and a new school. The same weary routine of trying to put a life together before having to pack it up and move on somewhere else.
What could possibly make Brooklyn different from any other place I've lived?
"Come on, Alex. One more bite of cake?"
The teen clutched his stomach and moaned. "Lenni, if I have even another crumb, I'm gonna explode!"
His sister Gaby laughed and swung her legs back and forth. "You should see how he eats fried chicken." She made snarls and grunts as she pretended to wolf down a piece of imaginary food. Her brother gave her a light punch in the arm.
"Thanks again, Lenni. It was delicious," Jamal complimented Lenni. She beamed proudly and began wrapping up the leftovers in aluminum foil. The rest of the members of the Ghostwriter team were all sprawled out on the couch and relaxing after an exciting party, great food, and lively dance music.
"This is so cool," Tina gushed, fingering the shiny black pen that hung from a cord around her neck. . "I can't believe I'm going to be talking to a real ghost!"
"Technically, you'll be writing to him instead of talking," Alex corrected her. "And don't forget. You promised never…"
"…to tell anyone about Ghostwriter," Tina finished his sentence. "Yes, I promise. I swear I'll keep this a secret."
Gaby was thrilled. The Ghostwriter team was on a roll, having just solved their second mystery. With Mr. Brinker arrested and Jamal's name cleared of any suspicion, they were celebrating in Lenni's apartment along with the newest member of the team. Gaby's stomach was full of yummy yellow cake and fluffy icing and her best friend would be cracking cases with her. Could life get any better?
"So that's you, me, Alex, Lenni, Jamal, and Craig," she counted off her fingers. "It looks like the Ghostwriter team is really branching out."
"Too bad Craig won't be able to hang out with us," Jamal said. "He goes to high school on the other side of town."
"Well, that's five members here already," Gaby pointed out. "Do you think anybody else will join the team?"
Jamal shrugged. "I can't say. The first time I asked Ghostwriter why he chose us, he said, 'Some things you just feel'. If Ghostwriter knows what kind of people can help us then maybe the team can keep working on cases."
"Yeah! I'll bet the next mystery we have is going to be awesome. Who knows what else might happen?" Alex chimed in.
Everyone put their hands together in the center before throwing their hands up into the air in a whooping cheer.
The next day:
Rob tilted his head up to read the sign over his new school, Zora Neale Huston Middle School. At least it looked kind of nice...from the outside. And it wasn't too far from his home so he could get there and back on his skateboard. But the scene would be extremely different with hundreds of students flooding the hallways on Monday and he wondered how he'd bear it.
Ms. Kelly, the principal of Hurston, was certainly a friendly principal. She had curly blonde hair and a kind smile and looked at people squarely in the eye when she talked to them. She shook Mr. Baker's hand and then Rob's hand before taking them around the school. There was an auditorium used for performances, various science and computer labs, and a courtyard for recess. Rob longed to get a peek inside the school library but he didn't dare ask Ms. Kelly yet.
"We already started the track season but baseball tryouts will be coming up next month," Ms. Kelly was telling his father.
"That's perfect. I'm sure Rob will join one of the teams, won't you son?" Mr. Baker smiled, putting an arm around his son's shoulder. He gave his father a weak smile.
"Here's the computer lab," Miss Kelly said, ushering them into a large room full of blank screens. The sight of all those keyboards was making gears whirl in Rob's head.
"Can I come in here and do my work?" he asked breathlessly.
"The labs are generally full for computer class. But you're allowed to use them for personal use in study hall with a teacher's permission," she promised him. "And they're always available during after school programs as long as you save your work."
Rob glanced back at the computers hopefully.
The first few days of school dragged on. Most of the classes were easy enough for him to catch up on current topics but the constant humdrum and shuffling from lockers to classroom during breaks was tiresome.
Rob did his best to keep to himself and avoid talking with the other kids. He'd take his lunch tray to a secluded part of the cafeteria and write down his stories while he ate. Sometimes he'd get hit with a quick moment of inspiration and jolt down whatever he was thinking of. Other times he'd stumble across a great line from a story and copy it down for future analysis. Most afternoons he'd retreat to the computer lab and type out full paragraphs or correct any spelling mistakes in his short stories. It gave him something to do until the school was closing and he had to head home.
His secretive lifestyle was disrupted a month after the move. They were in language arts class, his last period of the day. The class had been taking turns reading 19th century American poetry over the last week. The whole lesson was an easy repetition for Rob, who recognized most of the authors from his own books. Rob's mind was wandering and he was doodling in a margin of his notebook when the teacher called on him.
He dropped his pencil. The teacher was asking him a question.
"Would you mind standing up and reading the first stanza of 'Captain O' Captain' aloud for us on page 84?"
Ah, Walt Whitman. Rob knew that one down pat. He rose from his seat, cleared his throat, and began to speak aloud:
"O' Captain, my captain. Our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring"
Still speaking, Rob closed his eyes and tried to imagine Mr. Whitman expressing his words.
"But O heart, heart, heart!
O the bleeding drops of red.
Where on the deck my captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead."
The teacher was starring at Rob with a puzzled look on his face.
"Is your textbook open?"
Rob looked down to see the shut book on his desk. A murmur of astonishment rippled across the classroom from the students as Rob quickly slid back into his seat.
"Did you just see that?"
"The dude just rattled off all the words!"
"Some kind of bookworm I guess…"
"….like a walking tape recorder."
"Must've been cheating to get ahead."
"That's so cool!" a female voice piped up. Rob tiled his head sideways to see a girl with long brown hair grinning at him. She wore a bright blue cap and matching floral print jumper with a long necklace of coral beads looped around her neck. Her big brown eyes shined in his direction.
"Did you already know that entire poem by heart?" she asked.
"Uh…yeah, I guess so," he mumbled.
"Woah, you must be really smart," she complimented him.
Before he could think of an explanation, the bell rang. Rob gratefully snatched his books and bolted for the door.
"Wait!" Lenni protested. "What's your…"
The door banged shut behind him.
Lenni's smiled turned down into a frown and she folded her arms across her chest.
"Hmmph!" she huffed to herself. "What's wrong with him?" She made a brief reminder to tell Alex and Jamal about the new kid as she packed her things into her bag and headed over to Jamal's house to work on their case.