Please vote for the piece that you feel is most deserving:

Poll closed Oct 2, 2010.
  1. daffers - If The Shoe Fits

    0 vote(s)
  2. baarf - If the shoe fits ...

    2 vote(s)
  3. Wicked - Killing Machine

    3 vote(s)
  4. KellyMichelle - Summer

    1 vote(s)
  5. Alexandra_Riera - If the shoe fits, just wear it!

    1 vote(s)
  6. ManicHedgehog - The Prodigal

    6 vote(s)
  7. wavodavo - Flash

    0 vote(s)
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  1. Gannon

    Gannon Contributor Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England

    Voting Short Story Contest 76: If The Shoe Fits

    Discussion in 'Monthly Short Story Contest Archives' started by Gannon, Sep 20, 2010.

    Voting Short Story Contest (76) Theme: If The Shoe Fits

    Thank you for all your entries. The winner will be stickied until the next contest's winner is crowned. No more entries are allowed in this contest.

    Voting will end Sunday 3rd October 2010 to give you all a chance to read the entries.

    It is possible to vote for yourself, but I would hope in the name of good sportsmanship that you would only do so if you have read all the other stories and given them your honest evaluation. You gain nothing if you base your vote solely on how you feel about the author or whether you have personally invested time and effort in the story. In the end, your conscience is your only judge.

    Any entries under or over the suggested word limit will be flagged as such - they are still entered in to the contest. It is for you to decide whether they are still worthy of your vote.

    Any entry not in accordance with the theme will be dealt with on a case by case basis to determine eligibility. Consider how the author has responded to the theme in making your decision.

    Good luck to everyone.
  2. Gannon

    Gannon Contributor Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England
    daffers - If The Shoe Fits

    Mum was right yet again, she said he was a plonka. I couldn’t see it, couldn’t see past the ‘drop dead gorgeous’ face and body. Couldn’t see past the Jag or the swimming pool.

    Turned out he didn’t want commitment, didn’t want a wife and 2.4 children. He wanted a bimbo on his arm when he went out and when he discovered I had a brain behind my pretty exterior he nearly beat the 4 minute mile as he ran in the opposite direction.

    “Yes mum, I should have known, I should have looked past the exterior. Could you just not keep reminding me how much of an idiot I am.”

    “If the shoe fits, wear it.”

    “Next you’ll be telling me that I made my own bed and should lie in it!”

    “Well you were always too trusting of what’s on show, you don’t look hard enough.”

    “I know, I know and probably won’t change. Bye.”

    “Where are you going?”


    “Where ‘out’?”

    “Nowhere you would know.”

    “You won’t know that unless you tell me.”

    “Nice try mum, be back about 10ish.” And out I went knowing mum would watch from behind the nets to see if she could get a clue as to where her ‘number 1 daughter’, namely me, was going.

    I had a sneaky smile on my face, I had a new mobile but hadn’t given mum the new number. This time mum didn’t need to know I was meeting a new man either.
  3. Gannon

    Gannon Contributor Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England
    baarf - If the shoe fits ...

    I looked longingly out the port, watching the ice form on the body of my erstwhile companion. I had originally chosen to kill him because I thought he was going to kill me, but I am new to the whole murder business. I am the victim of poor planning. Peter and I had started out to do a little prospecting across the Erebus Montes. We had met at the spaceport, and after little conversation, and way too much alcohol, we decided to buy a prospecting license, and try our luck in a previously unexplored area to the west or the port. With supplies for 6 months, and an older but solid rover to move around in, we felt we were safe, and since we had a magnetic survey map, we also had good data to lead us to the various magnetic anomalies, and hopefully, a deposit of iron ore big enough to set us up for life, or at least, another stake.
    I remember it just like it was last week. Actually, I think it was last week. Things can really go wrong in just a few days…..
    “Fred, steer a little more to the north right here, the map shows a big indicator about 12 klicks from here.” He walked to the back of the rover, sort of like an over sized motorhome, with an airlock, GPS, and its own portable magnetometer, and Gieger counter built in. We did not skimp on the tools of our trade, at least as much as our budget could afford. The landscape of Mars is dull, red, and strewn with big and little rocks. Kinda like the desert where I grew up, but without a single cactus or creosote bush in sight. “Fred, I said more north!” I looked down at my compass, it was reading due north. “I am heading north!” I replied. Calmly, peacefully, I did not yell like Peter did. He walked forward, and looked over my shoulder. He was always looking over my shoulder, like I did not know what I was doing. It was really getting on my nerves.
    Peter smacked me on the back of my head. “Not magnetic north you dummy!” He pointed to the GPS map. “Go by the GPS map north!” He stomped back to the magnetic prospector indicator. The antenna for it was directed ahead of the rover, so when we were close, we could set up a shot, and get ground map from the resulting explosion. I held my temper. I am a calm peaceful man, never losing my temper, but after 2 months roaming around the Martian outback with Peter, I was near the breaking point. We needed to find something. I muttered to myself “North, GPS, drive, steer, stop, whatever.” It was nearing the end of the day, and for safeties sake we would set up camp, tie everything down, and wait out the long night. Usually the weather service would give you warning about any local dust storms, and we were not out during the normal storm season, but after the Novobatski party disaster, you just did not take chances. I pulsed the ground radar, and saw a good solid chunk of rock to anchor to, and headed over to stop for the night.
    “What the hell!” Peter cursed, “Don’t you know how to follow a GPS?” He stomped forward again, and leaned over my shoulder, again, and got right in my face. “What are you doing?” His breath was foul, I don’t think he was brushing regularly any more. I calmly replied, “It’s late in the day, we need to stop for the night.” I pointed to the ground radar readout “There is a good piece of solid rock right over there to anchor, I am parking.” I turned away from his ugly mug and ignored him.
    Peter leaned back and looked at the chronometer.”OK, I guess you are right.” He sat in the co pilot seat. “Let’s park over on that rock for the night.” Like it was his idea in the first place.
    I parked on the broad flat, a rocky face across from the right side shielded us from the continuous breeze that was a constant on Mars. There was not much atmosphere, but it was always in motion. I got up from the seat I had spent too much time in that day, and every other day before that. Peter was an engineer, so he ran the instruments, as I was an over qualified rocket jockey, I had taken a crash course in Areology, so I drove, and watched for the outcroppings of rock that would signal a good find, or at least the area where it should be.
    “I’m going out to set the spikes.” I said, walking past Peter to get into my Mars-suit. Ain’t technology a grand thing? The bulky spacesuits of the first Lunar explorers was a thing of the past. A Mars suit was light, durable, and you could work in it for hours just like a comfortable set of work clothes. It had to be fitted to you, but came in average sizes, so once you had the initial fitting, replacement parts for it were not too expensive.
    “Yeah, go ahead; I’ll be out in a minute.” Peter was bent over the last printout of the magnetometer, comparing it to the GPS map, planning out the next day’s course. I knew this meant he would come out just in time for me to finish the last anchor point, way too late to actually help. Out the airlock, I stomped around the rover to look for any damage, kicked the tires, no rubber here, but spun metal that would probably outlive me. They really made these babies tough. That was why they were so expensive. I looked around at the outcropping of rock we were sheltered in. Something about it seemed familiar, something itched my memory. It would not come to me, so I ignored it and set the anchors. As I expected, Peter stuck his head out of the airlock just as I set the last anchor.
    “Hey Fred!” He yelled through the intercom. I grimaced, and for the millionth time reminded him, it was a radio, he did not have to yell. “Dang it Peter!” I held a hand up to my head “I’m not deaf, and even if I was, the radio does its own amplifying!” He looked at me sheepishly, again for the millionth time.
    “Sorry Fred, I always forget.” He stepped down, and looked around, hands on his hips. “Something about this looks familiar.” He wandered around the rover. Nothing better to do, I followed. “I don’t know, after the last few weeks, it just looks like another crummy patch of Martian desert to me.” As we passed the side of the rover, I could see the flashing light on the face of the external readout of the Geiger counter. “Hey Peter, are we expecting a solar storm?” I reached over and tapped the readout, as if I could change what a digital display was showing by tapping it that way. Peter turned back and joined me at the display panel. He punched the control, rolling out the entire external access, and pulled out the portable counter. He flipped it on, and we could hear it clicking, though the thin atmosphere carried sound poorly, even with our external mikes on.
    “No, no storm warning, that’s automatic, we would have heard that loud beeping, and had to park and deploy the shields.” We carried powered magnetic shields we could deploy in the event of a strong enough solar storm, Martian atmosphere being too thin to stop much radiation, but it required stopping, and used full power, so you were stuck for the duration.
    “ So it must be a local source.” I looked at our rover “Can’t be anything we brought with us, can it?” I ran across everything I knew about the Rover. Peter shook his head. “I don’t think so, the only thing with nuclear material is the reactor, and it so heavily shielded, we would have noticed something before now.” He walked away from the Rover, toward the face of the rock we were parked on. I followed, and the Geiger went wild. I took and involuntary step back. “Uhh Peter, if its reading that high, maybe we want to park a bit farther away….” Peter was standing still, head back looking up at the rock face. He did not move for a long time.
    “Do you know what this means?” He said quietly, using the intercom right for the first time. It was just beginning to dawn on me too. Now I knew why the rock looked so familiar. I stepped forward again, looking closely at the rock face. “It’s pitchblende!” I exclaimed. “We need to map out this area, shoot off a shot for the ground map, and see how big it is!” I took off back toward the Rover, Peter called out. “Stop!” I slid to a stop. Turning around, I could see Peter had an expression on his face I had never seen before. It was hard, sharp, and just a bit unsettling. “What’s wrong?” I asked, all the happiness of just a moment ago running down my feet like water. Peter walked slowly toward me, staring at me with strange intensity. “We need to keep this to ourselves” He said. I wrinkled my brow in confusion. “What do you mean?” I asked. “We don’t even have it mapped or registered yet……..” I could see I was not getting his point. He shook his head. “Did you ever here of anyone discovering fissionables on Mars?” I thought hard, I mean really hard. Nope no joy. “Noo, I don’t think I have.” I started back to get set up for the shot. “Look, Pete,” I knew he hated being called Pete, but hey, he was the one acting weird “What we really need to do is get this mapped and claimed so we can go home and start spending money!” I pulled out the charges and started setting up the drill. Peter reached over and grabbed my hand.
    “Wait!” He was right behind me. Looking over my shoulder again. I set down the charge, and stepped away from him. “Ok, Peter, what are you getting at, exactly why should we not map, report, and claim this find?” It was my turn to stand there, hands on hips, and stare back at him. Now Peter actually looked a bit embarrassed. “Look, I know we have had a hard time out here” he sat down on the fender, “I’ve been here a lot longer than you, and I know a few things, bad things, that you may not be aware of.” He rubbed across the face of his mask. “There was another prospector, he wandered into town on foot” standing, he turned to look at the rock face “He said he had discovered a large uranium bearing meteorite impact zone, and his partner turned it over to the Corporation, set him outside of his rover, and drove away.”
    Peter crossed his arms “He walked back to town, out of oxygen, out of water, running on pure guts, told his story, and then died from multiple organ damage.” His intensity was disturbing. Was he trying to scare me? Who does he think he is? “Who do you think you are?” I roared! “We have just made a discovery that could mean retiring young, and rich, and you are telling stories!” Taking up the demolition charge again, I walked over to pace out the rock face, and triangulate the best spot to set off the shot so we could get a good image. “If this is just a meteor, we are only rich, but if this is the peak of a vein of ore, we are filthy rich!” Muttering happily to myself, thinking of the debauchery I would indulge in once we got back, the expensive food, the wine, the, the, the anything, anything but having to look at Ol’ Pete’s ugly face! As I started to set the last charge, I realized not only was it getting really dark, but Peter was nowhere to be seen. Standing and stretching my tired back, I also noted the communication laser was aimed at the horizon. Now I could not tell if it was actually in use, lasers were only visible in scifi movies. But the only reason to pop it up would be to talk to one of the satellites overhead. Who was Peter talking to? I trudged back to the rover, shook off the dust, and cycled through the lock.
    “Peter! Who are you talking to?” I asked as I pulled my helmet off. The skin of the suit radiated cold form being outside for so long. Mars average temperature was almost 100 degrees below zero. Peter must have his suit on. It was not hanging on its rack. I could hear the generator spooling down from full power; the laser took everything to run, and then some. Coming out of the lock, I heard a loud electric snap, and smelled burning insulation. “Peter!” I was angry now. I stepped out of the lock into the main area of the rover, and Peter stepped guiltily away from the communication console. “I was calling in a claim!” His voice squeaked “ I don’t know what happened.” He waved the screwdriver in his hand. “I was just looking for the problem when……” His voice trailed off, and he looked at the wisp of smoke seeping out of the panel. “How could you be calling in a claim?” I asked quietly. “We haven’t even mapped it out yet. I still haven’t set all the shots for a seismographic image.” I could feel my anger building like lava erupting. “You are an engineer!” I shouted “How could you think it was safe or smart to be messing around in the circuits when it was active!” I stepped forward and shoved him back away from the panel. Looking inside, I could see where the circuits still smoked. “It was just an accident Fred!” He stepped back toward me and pushed me back. “Don’t you ever lay your hands on me again!” He leaned right over my shoulder again, as I stood looking at the ruins of our only long distance communication device. That was the last straw! I swung from down low and struck him right on the chin, knocking him back against the wall. I was bigger than Pete, and I knew he always thought of me as the dumb grease monkey, and he was the brains of the outfit. Peter smacked against the wall, and slid to a sitting position, shocked look on his face, blood beginning to run down his chin from a split lip. And rapidly changing to anger. I was a little surprised myself; I thought I would have knocked him out. Peter leaped up and charged toward me, I rushed to meet him, reaching for his throat. We met with a plastic clack, as the chest pieces of our suits smacked together. My hands scrabbled at the collar locking ring, trying to grip his throat to choke the life out of him. His fist struck over and over into my gut. We staggered back and forth, and I finally got my hands over the helmet collar, and put my thumbs into carotids. I squeezed.
    Peter’s eyes bulged out, and his mouth opened wide gasping. He jerked back and forth like fish trying to free himself. I felt a sharp pain in my side and back. Peter was stabbing me with the screwdriver, over and over.
    I threw him away from me, and tripped backwards, landing on my butt, knocking the wind out of me. I could feel the blood running warm down my side. Peter was lying on his side, gasping, his hands at his throat. I had to do something fast before I lost too much blood. I looked around for a weapon. I still hand the rock hammer hooked to my belt. I stood with difficulty, and Peter scrambled to stand, the screwdriver back in his hand.
    “Stay away from me!” His voice sounded weak and harsh. I lunged forward, and so did he. Swinging the hammer, I struck him on the shoulder, the spike stabbing into him. “AHHH!” I screamed at him, as he dropped, a strangled gurgle coming from his damaged throat. I raised the hammer over my head, and he stabbed my foot, the screwdriver went clear through and pinned me to the floor. “You bastard!” I yelled. Dropping the hammer I bent over and grasped the handle of the screwdriver, and pulled at it. It was lodged firmly into the floor anchoring my foot. Peter shoved past me, and I fell, my foot bent almost sideways before the tip of the screwdriver pulled out of the floor.
    I was really getting the raw end of this fight. Blood running down my side, my foot had a screwdriver stuck through it, and my ankle felt broken. Who would have thought Ol’ Pete had it in him? He started cycling out of the lock, so I pushed up and tripped along after him, yelping each time the tip of the screwdriver hit the floor. Peter screamed as I fell through the inner lock just as it closed. We fought back and forth as it cycled, and we both gasped as the outer door popped open and we tumbled out. I still had my helmet flipped over my back, Peter’s was still in the lock. I held him away from the door, and he grabbed the nearest thing he could find to hit me with.
    The detonator.
    As it struck me in the head, a bright light lifted me up and threw me away from the rover. I lost track of Peter, but as I gasped for breath, I flipped my helmet over, and activated the seal. Air and heat flowed into my suit, but I could feel and hear the leaks all over, and see blood bubbling out of my boot. At least I had lost the screwdriver somewhere along the line. Taking several deep breaths, I looked for Peter. “Peter?” I could see him lying away toward the rock face. A bloody smear showed where his head had met the rock when the charge I had left by the hatch had gone off. The side of the rover was discolored, and the hatch was pushed in. I could see into the air lock, and the forward wheel was missing, the whole vehicle tilted toward the missing wheel. I walked over to Peter’s body. Yep, he was dead. Nothing a new head wouldn’t fix. I started laughing, and realized with the multiple holes, and shock, I was not tracking well. I needed to get back into the rover. The outer hatch was a lost cause. Nothing short of a full machine shop was going to fix that. But it opened. I went in through the inner lock, ignored the pressure alarms, and hurriedly got through the inner hatch and sealed it. Then I passed out.
    I woke several hours later. It was dark outside, and the emergency lighting was on. I still had pressure in the inner hull, but I had leaks in the outer hull, which meant the heaters were running to keep it warm without the insulating air layer in the outer hull, and the reactor sounded funny. I guess having seismic charges go off underfoot was bad for the rover. I finished removing my mars-suit, and inspected the damage. I figured it would not be fatal, or I would not have woken up, so I was not really concerned. Just very sore. After bandaging my foot , my side and back as best I could, (you try putting a bandage on your back with only a small mirror to help) I fixed a ration packet, and started checking what I had left. The tilt of the cabin kept throwing off my limp from my punctured foot, which hurt the worst of all my injuries.
    I swore silently. The most serious damage was the sheilding for the reactor. I had about 40 hours till it warned of shut down due to radiation leakage. It would still run, and not meltdown, but I would be glowing in the dark after a couple of days. And the closest place to hole up for rescue was at least 3 days drive back. Luckily only about 4 days walking, as the rover was not designed as a fast transport, prospecting was done at slow speed. The batteries would last only a few hours due to the loss of heat, so I had to plan my own rescue, as I had no long distance communication since Peter, damn him, had deliberately fried the communication laser.
    I packed a light bag, low residue lightweight energy rations, the nasty emergency stuff that comes with the rover, water, and a change out for the oxygen generator on the back of my mars-suit. Going over my suit, I patched the holes in it, and then found my biggest problem.
    Peter may have still managed to kill me. The hole in the bottom of my shoe could be patched; but the patch material would not insulate. My foot would be a heat sink the entire time I was walking, and I would lose my foot to frost bite in less than a day, the cold being my biggest problem to overcome. Which brings me full circle to me standing here looking out at Peter’s corpse sitting out there. I was a fairly big guy, I could reasonably carry enough supplies to walk back the emergency shelter, and call for help. Then I could file my claim, explain how Peter went bonkers, and live happily ever after.
    If only the shoe fits………..
  4. Gannon

    Gannon Contributor Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England
    Wicked - Killing Machine

    The room was small and dimly lit, with a low concrete ceiling, like some old bunker buried deep underground. The sound of a slap broke the silence, and Isamu, sitting in an uncomfortable metal chair, winced, his cheek red and stinging.

    “Liar!” one of the two other men in the room, the short man with shaved head who hit him, bellowed. The other man, a big muscular guy, was looking away, staring at some nondescript crack in the opposite wall.

    Isamu wasn’t sure if they were from the Jouhou Honbu, the Japanese domestic intelligence service, from the Security Bureau, maybe even from the Naicho, or from a different similar organization. He cared little about it anyway.

    “I’ll ask you one more time” the short one hissed. He reached behind his back, gaze still locked onto Isamu’s eyes, and in a single fluid motion drew a seven inch knife. “How did you get into this facility? Who was helping you?”

    “I don’t know. I was lost” Isamu replied. His answer didn’t sound convincing even to himself, but at this point it wasn’t important. Not only was he caught red handed in a top secret JSDF research facility, but he was also carrying a powerful explosive device concealed under his coat. It was only by sheer luck that he was discovered before he could blow up the laboratories, and the fruits of two decades of expensive research with them. There was no way he could have gotten this far without internal help, and his primary concern now should be to conceal his helper's identity for the sake of the Front for Natural Humanity.

    The Front, or as it was called in Japan, the Saizensen, was an international enterprise recognized as a terrorist organization by the United States, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Russia and most European countries, as well as some South-American ones. They first surfaced in 2016, when they broke into a stem cell research laboratory in the US. Since then they have vigorously opposed any form of research into genetic engineering, cybernetics, or anything else that changed humans from what, according to them, “mother nature intended”.

    The short man’s face turned into a nearly comical mask of fury. His eyebrows bunched up together, eyes ablaze, teeth exposed. His right hand tensed around the knife’s handle. Isamu decided that he was not a very good actor; if he were he wouldn’t be exaggerating his expressions this way.

    “Wait, Masaru-san” the big man intervened. “Let me try…”

    He stopped talking mid-sentence, and Isamu could easily see why. A tremor passed through the room, and the lights dimmed even further for a couple seconds before returning to their regular brightness. Isamu sneezed – the tremor stirred a cloud of dust that irritated his sinuses.

    “What was that?” the short man, Masaru, cried out.

    The tremors repeated, stronger this time. The lights dimmed again, and small chippings of concrete fell down from the ceiling. Isamu’s interrogators briefly looked at each other before storming out the room, pausing briefly on the other side of the door to lock it before continuing in a run.

    Isamu stood up and approached the door slowly, then almost lost his balance as a new series of tremors, stronger than before, passed through the room.

    After almost half an hour of idle waiting, he heard the door’s lock turning. The door flung open, and Isamu recognized the Saizensen mole, Tomomi, standing in the doorway.

    “What the hell are you doing here?” he whispered. “You’ll expose your cover!”

    “There’s no time for that”, Tomomi replied, cutting him off. She had a long, smooth hair, and was wearing a black conservative skirt. “The entire place is being evacuated”.

    “What the hell, what happened?” Isamu asked, incredulous. “Is it an earthquake?”

    He followed her outside the interrogation room and into the corridor.

    “I don’t think so”, she replied as she led him through one turn after another. There were no windows in this place, they were five floors underground. “Come on, we’ll go with the science staff, that way you won’t be recognized”.

    “But… won’t they come back for me?” he asked.

    “Apparently, whatever is happening has completely grabbed their attention. You’ve been completely forgotten”.

    They reached the emergency stairs, and started climbing as fast as they could manage. So far Isamu haven’t seen a single human being in the corridors. He even noticed a plastic cup resting near a pool of spilled coffee, presumably hastily thrown and abandoned in hurry. The place really was being fully evacuated, and nobody was willing to waste any time retrieving him from a locked, empty room. Except for Tomomi, of course.

    At the ground level, they burst into what looked like a comfortable small lobby. Isamu has been here only yesterday, bowing to the receptionist as he gave her a fake name. Tomomi covertly arranged a security pass that was waiting for him here. But that was seemingly a lifetime ago.

    Now, through the window, they could see smoke rising from other parts of the facility. A big cargo helicopter has just finished loading passengers, and was lifting from the tarmac.

    “We’re too late! They are leaving!” Tomomi cried out.

    The helicopter was moving slowly, probably overloaded with evacuees. It reached an altitude of thirty meters… and suddenly exploded into an orange and red fireball. The windows all across the lobby broke with the force of the shockwave, debris and burning human corpses could be seen raining on the ground below, before the blackened wreckage of the airframe itself plummeted down after them. Isamu could feel the floor vibrating slightly as it crashed, somewhere behind one of the burning buildings some distance away.

    Their ears were ringing, and for a moment they were both overwhelmed.

    “What happened?” Tomomi finally blurted out.

    “I think it was a missile” Isamu replied in shock.

    He then noticed the big undamaged LCD screen across the room. He walked to it, switched it on and turned up the volume.

    The JNN anchor was trying to hide his feelings, but it was still plain obvious he was terrified.

    “The Japanese Self-Defense Forces spokesperson, in an emergency communiqué, has assured the public that the People’s Liberation Army was being opposed at every step. After landing amphibious forces on the shores of Honshu and Hokkaido and conducting air strikes on various JSDF facilities across the nation, the Chinese proceeded to fortify beachheads and invade further into Japanese territory. The president of the United States of America assured the prime minister that the United States Seventh Fleet’s carrier battle group would be in place to help within two days”.

    Isamu muted the TV, and listened. Now that everything was quiet and the ringing in his ears had subsided, he could hear the air raid sirens wailing in the nearby town, punctuated occasionally by machine gun fire.

    “We’re in trouble” he whispered to himself.


    An hour later they were thirty meters underground, in one of the most highly classified areas of the facility. It wasn’t easy to pass through the security doors, but thankfully they found an abandoned security pass someone dropped in their hurry while evacuating. Tomomi hoped they could barricade themselves and survive there until the facility is retaken by the JSDF, that is, if it ever would be.

    Right now the picture was grim. Tomomi used a computer to tap into what few security cameras were left operational in the facility. Chinese soldiers have taken the entire surface above them. A tank was parked right at the front door, next to the now pockmarked “Welcome” sign. Around it, the PLA were buzzing with activity, setting up a camp. Armored personnel carriers and trucks were arriving by the minute, disgorging more soldiers in green camouflage.

    Shortly they began to pump some kind of gas into the underground portion of the complex. It wasn’t a problem for now, since “Kuroi Sector”, the area which they currently occupied, had an independent air and power supply, but in a couple of hours they’ll begin clearing the compound on foot. If that happened, the two would be completely helpless against the heavily armed Chinese squads.

    They were trapped like rats.

    “Over here!” Tomomi interrupted Isamu’s grim thoughts.

    “What is it, Tomomi-san?”

    “I think I have an idea”

    Isamu trotted over to the room from which her voice seemingly emanated. Sure enough, there she was, standing besides a whole bunch of weird-looking machinery.

    “Look” she said, then placed a helmet on her head.

    “What the…” Isamu managed to blurt out, but then a red light appeared on the helmet, along with the sound of a buzz.

    “Sh**”, the young woman cursed, tossing the helmet to the floor.

    “Would you mind telling me what the hell was that?”

    “Sit down” she said, offering him a plastic stool. He followed her request, and she lowered her well-defined body onto another stool in front of him. “You do have an idea about the sort of research they are… were… conducting here, right?”

    He nodded. “Sure, Tomomi-chan. Everything we oppose, human augmentation, turning human beings into heartless killing machines to serve the Emperor and the nation. Super-soldier project”.

    “Right” she agreed, “But you don’t know the half of it. I’ve been working here for six years, but only recently I received the security clearance for this project" She paused, and took a deep breath. Then she looked into his eyes, before she continued: "They weren’t merely augmenting human bodies; they were transferring human minds directly into the pre-fabricated bodies of fighting machines”.

    Isamu was speechless. His head was spinning with the revelation. He was disgusted by what he’d heard, and said so to his friend.

    “Normally, I would agree. But… right now, this would be our only chance to survive”

    “What?!” the stool fell sideways to the floor as he bolted on his feet. “You want us to transfer our minds into killing machines?”

    She didn’t reply as she stood up and walked over to the helmet she was wearing earlier.

    “Only one in ten thousand humans have the right neural pathways to successfully transfer their mind in this way. The rest will die if it were to be attempted. This helmet can tell you whether you’ll be rejected”

    “One in ten thousand! That’s insane!”

    “I am apparently not one of them, but you yet might be. Our chances are slim, but we owe it to ourselves to try”

    Isamu grumbled, but stepped over and placed the helmet on his head. A few seconds later, the helmet was illuminated by a green light, and a robotic voice intoned loudly: “Match found!”

    “No way! I’m not doing it!” Isamu screamed. He thought about how it would be to abandon his life behind and become a purposeless killing machine.

    Suddenly they heard an explosion. The room shook a bit.

    Tomomi turned her head, then ran toward the nearby computer. “They’ve breached the sector!”

    “Damn it all! How can they be here so soon? How long do we have?”

    “Fifteen minutes, maybe twenty”

    Isamu closed his eyes. Why did he have to make this decision? One in every ten thousand… why couldn’t he be one of the other nine thousand nine hundred ninety nine? Now he had to choose between two deaths, and he wasn’t sure which one he preferred.

    “Isamu, it’s time to decide” Tomomi said. “The shoe fits you, and only you. If you don’t wear it, we would be doomed. At best we’ll be placed into a concentration camp and be slowly worked to death. That’s after being tortured for what we know”.

    “This is irreversible, is it?” he asked.

    She slowly nodded.

    “If I were to do this” he said. “I have a final request”. He stepped closer to Tomomi.


    To her utter shock, he hugged her. “If I am to spend the rest of my life in a cold shell of metal, I would like to feel a woman’s warmth for the last time”.

    He kissed her, and started unbuttoning her shirt. She did not resist him.


    Fifteen minutes later, Isamu was lying in a coffin-like space, as Tomomi activated the machine that would end his current life forever, and turn him into what he despised the most. The PLA troops were five minutes away from finding them.

    This better work, he thought.

    He slowly closed his eyes then, and fell asleep.


    When he woke up, it wasn’t a gradual process. Consciousness was suddenly switched on, and he could see the grey walls of the hangar around him, as well as enemy troops apparently preparing to load his body into a truck.

    Trying to transfer him to another facility for reverse engineering, probably, he thought.

    The image was strange, it was extremely detailed, yet felt distant somehow. Not like the regular organic eyes he was used to.

    He was utterly emotionless as he lifted the 30-mm chain gun mounted on his right hand. His new brain wasn’t wired for emotions, but for functionality, although a slight curiosity as to the coming battle’s outcome remained. His thoughts were clear as the head of a nearby soldier exploded into red mush – there was no adrenaline to cloud them.

    After the soldiers around him were lying motionless, he stepped out of the hangar. It was evening, and the daylight was rapidly waning away to nothing, but his FLIR pod helped him discern the hostiles around him. A hundred meters to his right he could see an impromptu prison camp with two dozen prisoners inside. That was surprising, he thought everybody went down with that helicopter. He recognized the shaved head of one of them as Masaru, one of his interrogators earlier today.

    He started walking in that direction, killing anything that seemed threatening.

    Somewhere far beneath his armored feet, a woman wept.
  5. Gannon

    Gannon Contributor Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England
    KellyMichelle - Summer

    It was a monday in summer, I remember it very well, it was my birthday. Now, most people expect to wake up, have all their family phoning off the hook and tightly hugging so much you can barely breath. That kind of feeling on your birthday is expected right? So why now, when I recap over my birthday do I remember waking up to an empty house and a car-less drive?

    Oh yeah I remember, because they were at the wedding. without me. I didn't even know.

    In my pyjama's I muttered to myself 'Happy Birthday' and went and helped myself to a blueberry muffin freshly baked, slightly warm. At this point in time I had no idea where anyone was, and i suppose, deep down I was hoping it was a big surprise and they would soon all turn up with a big gift, but no nothing, I went into my sister's room, it was nearest the kitchen and I needed a hair tie, and there sitting on her desk was an invitation 'Dear Sir/Madam, You are Cordially invited to mine and Alex Wayham's Wedding' it went on, to give the details, then there at the bottom it said, 'the night when Cinderella and her Prince finally become one'.

    Betrayed and neglected I showered and decided to go down to the wedding, or if anything be nosey and walk past....It was just as I was leaving, the phone rang, I stood for a second still thinking of the possible outcomes of answering or not answering the call, it was my mum....'Play safe, be nice' I thought. She was sobbing, 'Alex hasn't turned up, he's done a runner' My mind went blank, how could this be?

    Later, they all arrived home, I sat down with my little 7 year old sister who said to me 'If they didn't like each other why did courtney buy such a nice dress?' I didn't want to baffle the poor child with the actual reason, she wouldn't understand, So i turned to her and I said 'You know Cinderella? she meets her prince? Do you remember how they knew they were in love?' she smiled and said 'Because the shoe fitted her silly' I smiled in relief, so 'If the shoe fits....' she butted in 'does this mean the shoe didn't fit?' I looked to the floor in a mini daydream, 'I can't say, but one day, when your older and you fall in love, you let me know if your shoe fitted'.
  6. Gannon

    Gannon Contributor Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England
    Alexandra_Riera - If the shoe fits, just wear it!

    That’s what that silly woman keeps telling me: if the shoe fits, then just wear it. Easier said than done; I work in a shoe shop and I really can’t afford to buy every single pair of shoes that I fall in love with in this shop. That woman bloody knows that I work there because she comes to the shop every single day and buys a new pair of shoes that never fit. I either have to tell her that she should get a bigger pair or a smaller one, but no; no, she’d have none of that, she wants the pair of shoes that she first saw on walking into the shop. I really don’t know what the hell is wrong with her, I work in a shop that is in a street full of shoe shops, most of them are what I call delicatessen shoe shops where I can’t even afford to look at the window just in case I get charged for contemplating such wonderful pairs of intricate and delicate works of art that are way too high for me to afford. I’m sure this woman could walk into any of the other shops and find more beautiful shoes and I’m positive she wouldn’t have to worry about the price tag. She’s always dressed in expensive clothes and now that I think of it, I’ve never seen her wear any of the shoes she’s bought from me. I know she hasn’t bought any other shoes anywhere else because at break time or lunch time, I get together with other sales girls in the little café round the corner and I’ve asked them if they’d seen that woman in their shop. The answer has been a rotund no and worst of all, they didn’t recognise her as a celebrity or anything like that, and I trust their opinion because a couple of the girls, Selene and Georgina, are really mad on fashion, celebrities and all that pinky dinky gossip; well versed in the matters of the rich and famous, basically. This woman, this compulsive shoe buyer at my shop is a nobody by the looks of it and it’s driving me crazy.

    Every morning I’d open the shop and she’d be there, ask for a pair of shoes, try them on, buy them whether they fit or not and then leave. The funny thing is that she doesn’t come to the shop when I’m not there. If I’ve been to the doctors or I’ve been late, and I mean, really really late for work after having had a massive oversleep, like three hours late; perfectly explainable to my boss with a sorry, I overslept and then the bus broke down or the bus crashed, or I forgot my purse and I had to go back, all perfectly good excuses, really; that woman doesn’t come into the shop until I’m in and ready to serve clients.

    I wonder if she either follows me around or she waits hiding in the shadows till I come in. The thought is a bit unsettling to tell the truth but I honestly don’t think this woman is capable of doing any harm; she is old, well, oldish for a start, she could be my mum and then she walks around with her walking frame. She seems very frail. I have to help her sit down so that she can try the pair of shoes she intends to buy. At first I used to get angry and hid it from her, then as time went on; she’s been coming to the shop for a year now, I got less angry and sometimes showed her my impatience. Not a good thing to do according to Mr Collins, my boss, as the in-house motto was that the client was always right. I never said she wasn’t. She was in the right or perhaps I should say she wasn’t in the wrong, she didn’t complain if the shoe didn’t fit nor brought any of the pairs she had bought back for either a refund or a change of pair or size so in a way she didn’t do anything wrong, in fact, she was doing something very positive, she was coming into the shop every day. She wasn’t the shop’s bread and butter but it looked good to have such an expensive client walking in the shop to buy a new pair of shoes every day.

    Two days ago I formed a plan in my head, I planned to question her as to why and who she was but in the end I didn’t dare, I thought I’d break the bubble so yesterday I came up with a new plan. I’d follow her and find out more about her.

    The following day I applied some whitish make up on to make me look very pale and I made sure I arrived at work on time. When she came in, she remarked on my appearance and I told her I wasn’t feeling too good loud enough for my boss to hear. I don’t know if she suspected my plan or not but the thing is that that day she left the shop very quickly after buying yet another new pair of shoes. I had to act fast if I wanted to catch up with her and her walking frame so I pretended to almost vomit in the middle of the shop and grabbed my stomach as I went on the floor on my knees pretending I was in severe pain. Mr Collins came rushing to me and told me to go to the doctor’s immediately and that’s what he thinks I did. I went to the back of the shop, still pretending I was in pain and about to vomit, took my bag and ran out of the shop.

    I could just see that woman turning a corner down the street so I belted down after her and as soon as I got closer but not too close, I slowed down and hid behind people or in portals. She didn’t see me so I followed her to the bus where I found it difficult to hide so that she wouldn’t see me but since the bus had two doors I went through the other door and went straight to the top part. It was difficult to check when she was going to get out and I was really worried she’d see me emerging from the bus after her but I shouldn’t have worried, she had seemed too preoccupied with her walking frame to look behind her.

    After the bus, she walked a little down the street and stopped in front of a massive house; well, a mansion, really. She opened her bag, took a key out and let herself in. I couldn’t really follow her inside the house so I sat on the pavement thinking about my next move; perhaps I should go back to work or perhaps I should go home and do some lazy things like read a book for a whole day.

    Just as I was about to leave, the door opened and that woman came out wearing not her expensive clothes but wearing a normal and cheap dress like the ones you find at markets and the shoes, I had to look at her shoes, they were a pair of shoes I had sold her when she had first come to the shop a year back. I like shoes and I remember shoes. Yes, that had been the only pair of shoes that had fitter her. She wore no jewellery but that didn’t surprise me, jewellery would look odd in her new garb. I made myself invisible like when kids play peek a boo and hid behind a lamppost in the hope that she wouldn’t recognise me but she did.

    I had two choices then; pretend it was just an accident that we had met in the street, or confess and in the end planning was no use as I lied through my teeth; I told her I had been to the doctor’s and had taken the wrong bus for the way back. She just smiled and then asked me if I wanted to accompany her to do some errands to which I replied that I’d be delighted to be of help since I was feeling much much better and that I had nothing important to do, like work, as my doctor had said that I should take the day off. Another lie. Agreeing to go with her made me feel a bit better about myself; I don’t really like telling porkies, it was bad enough having to invent excuses for being late for work on an almost regular basis.

    We took a bus down the city slums and on the one hand I was glad I was there to help this woman, she was mad to go down that area and on the other hand I was even madder to actually agree to go with her. Luckily it was daytime and no chance of darkness approaching for many hours yet so that made me feel reassured. When we got off the bus, she directed the way towards a derelict building which windows were all barred with planks of wood. I thought she’d go past it but no; she stopped at what looked like some kind of a door, a window shutter covering an entrance, and knocked there. A man wearing grease stained overalls pushed the window shutter aside and let us in. He greeted the woman with a warm smile and to me he just grunted.

    There were some stairs but we didn’t go up them, on the steps there was a queue of young people, all barefooted. One of them, a young good looking man with horrible clothes, came up to the woman and bowed to her, put his hands out and she handed him the pair of shoes she had bought at the shop that morning. The young man tried the shoes on and the little twinkle he had in his eyes just disappeared, the shoes didn’t fit. He returned the shoes to the woman and then went to the back of the queue. Another young man came up and then three more girls came up. By the tenth person, the pair of shoes had found someone, a young girl, which fitted them. The woman then rummaged in her big shopping bag and took out the empty box of shoes and handed it to her. I was wondering about the why of giving the empty box and then I saw the girl look into the box expectantly and then produce a beaming smile as she took a paper out of the box. The seemingly unimportant paper granted the bearer all the books necessary for studying at college till completion. Wow! That girl was not only getting a pair of shoes but a chance in life.

    That was it, we left and I accompanied her back to her house in complete silence. I had many questions regarding what she had just done and what she had been doing for the past year but I didn’t voice any of them except one; I had one question that was really really bothering me and when we arrived at her house I asked her what her name was.

    “Michaela,” she said.

    I didn’t answer. I just nodded and wondered if I should ask her more questions.

    “Would you like to come with me some other time?” She added, “I need helpers, you know. I can’t do everything on my own and you’d be great. Are you free on Saturday afternoons?”

    I beamed at her, of course I would help her and I told her that I would at least as long as helping didn’t include buying new pair of shoes everyday and she laughed. The first time I had heard her laugh.
  7. Gannon

    Gannon Contributor Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England
    ManicHedgehog - The Prodigal

    In Stone Ferry, Ohio, things don't change. They simply die off.

    As he sipped from his can of mocha espresso in the parking lot, Michael Burkhardt thought he had found the lone exception to that rule: A Marathon gas station on the main drag. What was once a little two-pump convenience shack was now a twelve-pump, one-stop-shop basking in the neon glow of ads for beer, cigarettes and lottery tickets. It was a rare dose of corporate interest in a town built on blue collars and family values.

    As he leaned up against the rented Impala, Michael perused a copy of the Wall Street Journal and sipped his coffee in a can, hoping he could wait the day out. It seemed so easy in the sun-splashed corner of his favorite Starbucks, with the San Francisco Bay at his back and a newspaper in his hands.

    It wasn't so easy in Stone Ferry. Michael folded up the paper and looked at his watch. He was still wound up like a slinky, and he still had somewhere to be. At times like these, he wished he still smoked. With a heavy sigh, he hopped back into his car and started east down Hickory.

    Stone Ferry had become a graveyard. Old downtown was full of boarded up shops and For Sale signs that had been in the windows for years. The two-screen movie theatre on Third Street, where Michael had his first date and saw his first R-rated movie, was abandoned — its battered marquee announced, "TH NK YO FOR 73 Y ARS! THE SHO WIL GO ON".

    With the streets barren and the younger generation, including Michael, having moved on, Stone Ferry could rest in peace in the shadow of the great rubber factory. The factory had been the beating heart of Stone Ferry for decades, and when that heart stopped beating, it was only a matter of time before everything around it died.

    The rubber factory was dead. Downtown was dead. And now Dad was dead. The only surprise to Michael was that the old bastard hadn't kicked the bucket sooner. He probably died with a bottle in one hand and dollar signs dancing in his head. In Stone Ferry, Ohio, things don't change.

    Michael felt the goosebumps rise on his arm as he turned into his old neighborhood. He let the car drift slowly up to his childhood home. Yes, that was Dad's red Caddy convertible in the open garage, looking as new as the day he'd bought it. And, yes, that was Eric's pickup in the driveway.

    "Sh**," Michael mumbled as he parked along the street, among a few cars that likely belonged to people who wouldn't be too thrilled to see him, even after all these years.

    Michael stepped through the tall grass and yellowed leaves of the front lawn, feeling his ankles weighed down as if by a ball and chain. It wasn't too late to turn back, he thought as he stepped onto the porch. No one would ever have to know he had come by to make a fool of himself. And for what? For Dad? The more he thought about it, the worse this idea began to sound.

    Michael rapped softly on the front door, and every eye in the living room turned to meet his.

    For an eternal moment, no one said a word. No one's expression changed. Michael simply stood in the doorway, meeting the looks of shock with an embarrassed half-smile.

    "Michael," Liz muttered. She was kneeling over a box of trinkets and bowling trophies, looking at Michael as if he'd come back from the dead.

    "Hey, sis," Michael replied.

    Eric took one step from the dining room and turned up his chin. "What are you doing here?" he asked.

    "Good to see you, too, Eric," Michael said.

    "That's not how it works, Michael," Eric growled. His face was as red as Dad's Caddy. "None of us have seen you — hell, none of us have even heard from you in years. And you suddenly show up, hoping to be a part of this family again?"

    "I came for Dad," Michael replied.

    "Yeah, about 24 hours too late," Eric said. "You know the funeral was yesterday, right?"

    "I came as soon as I could," Michael said. Eric was now a little more than a foot from where Michael stood in the doorway, well within arm's reach. "I had a conference in Indianapolis I had to be at yesterday. I wasn't even sure if I was going to be able to make it today."

    "Nice to see you can find time in your busy schedule to make room for your family."

    "If the man's as dead and buried as you say he is, Dad's not going anywhere. I can still pay my respects."

    Eric lunged at Michael and slammed him up against the door by the collar. Zeke, who had been frozen by shock until now, was quickly on Eric's back and hauling him away.

    "Come on, Eric," Zeke said. "Now's not the time."

    Eric wrestled away from Zeke and glared at Michael. His face convulsed with anger. "This is how you choose to do it?" Eric fumed. "After Dad tried so hard to raise us the right way?"

    Michael loosened his tie, which had begun to feel as if it were strangling him. "I don't think I need to justify that with a response," he said. "After Dad tore apart this family, nearly bankrupted us, drove Mom away. I'm surprised we turned out alright." He fixed his eyes on Eric. "Well, most of us."

    "F*** you," Eric said, looking ready to pounce again.

    "Okay, that's enough!" Zeke shouted, placing a firm hand on Eric's shoulder. "We've got a lot of work to do here. You guys can spill your testosterone later. Eric, finish up in the dining room. Michael, come with me. You can help me clean out the kitchen."

    Michael followed Zeke through the dining room and into the kitchen, taking care to fire a glance at Eric as he passed. Eric always had Dad's side, even to the grave.

    Walking into the kitchen was like diving face-first into a dumpster. The stove and sink squirmed with grime. The fridge was open*and belching forth a violent stench. A half-empty garbage bag sat at its foot, and there was probably plenty more where that came from.

    "I'll take care of what's in the fridge," Zeke said. "Check the cupboards. I'm sure there are some canned goods that are good enough to donate."

    "Gladly," Michael replied. He opened the cupboard slowly, making sure there were no bats or roaches waiting within before he proceeded.

    "That was a really sh***y thing you did," Zeke said.

    "What?" Michael asked.

    "Showing up here like that," Zeke said. He emerged from the great white beast long enough to display his disappointment. "Showing up when you did. If you're going to come for Dad, the least you could do is show up for his funeral."

    Michael avoided Zeke's glance and turned his attention to the cupboards. "Like I said, I had a conference to attend. Besides, Dad probably wouldn't have wanted me there in the first place."

    "You're family, Michael," Zeke said. "If there was one thing Dad always preached, one thing he always cared about, it was family."

    "Among other things," Michael replied. He pushed aside a can of green beans and pulled out a glistening bottle of brown liquid. "Just one bottle of Crown? Must have been time for a run to the liquor store."

    Zeke sighed and shut the door to the fridge. "Why did you come, Michael?" he asked.

    "What do you mean?" Michael replied. "I came for Dad. I came to support you guys."

    "You and I both know that's not true. You didn't come for Dad, at least not for the Dad you knew. Or the Dad you think you knew. You clearly still haven't forgiven him, even after he's dead and gone. So why now?"

    Michael set the bottle on the counter. "I'm going to see what needs done in the bedroom." He walked out of the kitchen, feeling Zeke's eyes on him all the way.

    The path to the bedroom was narrow and cluttered. Michael could have sworn the door frames were a little wider, the ceiling fans a little higher, the afternoon light in the windows a little brighter. Time has a strange way of warping memories.

    The dent in the wall was still there, across from the bathroom door. The blood was long gone, but the memories were fresh. Dad's investments had gone south, all at once. His company was bleeding cash and cutting staff, and he might be the next to go. No one else in the family really knew how bad it had gotten — he never talked about it until the booze dragged it out of him.

    But Doyle had one last prospect for him, one last investment. This was the one that would get the family back on its feet again. All he needed was five hundred dollars. Dad still had that distant gleam in his eyes. He still followed the money, as he always had. But he no longer had the sense to find it.

    Mom was a meek woman, one to always put her family before herself. So it came as a bit of a shock, both to Dad and herself, when she said no.

    No, she would not authorize a check out of their joint account. It was time for him to move on from a company to which he'd given 20 years of unwavering loyalty. It was time to move on from Doyle and his wild investments. And it was time to put a stop to the drinking. Mom didn't raise her voice; Michael wasn't sure she ever had the capacity to shout. But she was firm, and at the very least, she thought that Dad loved her — that he loved his family — too much to object.

    The subsequent impact rattled the halls like thunder. Michael remembered coming out of his bedroom and seeing his mother in a crumpled heap on the floor, blood flowing from the back of her head. Standing over her, a silhouette in the moonlight, was Dad, with anger and confusion in his eyes. Anger and confusion, but no remorse.

    That was the only time Michael ever took a swing at Dad. He spent the next two days in the hospital, mostly for precaution.

    When he returned home, Mom was gone.

    If only she could see him now, college educated and more successful than she ever thought he would be. He still believed that leaving Stone Ferry was the best decision he'd ever made.

    So why come back?

    Dad's bedroom appeared to be undisturbed. Half the bed was unmade, with the sheets pulled out at the feet and a nightshirt tossed upon the pillows. The other half of the bed was pristine, fully tucked in on both sides, with two pillows stacked neatly on top of one another, and a golden throw pillow at the head. Seventeen years since Mom had left, and nine since she had died, and Dad's bed still looked as if he was expecting another woman.

    Michael opened the closet to find dozens of white shirts, suit jackets and ties hanging within, accompanied by the familiar scent of moth balls. It had been a long while since Dad had needed to get dressed up, though Michael wouldn't have been surprised if Dad had still been wearing a suit and tie around the house. For most of Michael's childhood, that's the only way the man knew how to function.

    "Dress for success," Dad preached, and successful he was, for a time. He was always in the Caddy before the end of breakfast, and he was often gone before Michael was up in time for school. On some nights, he wouldn't come home until the darkest hours of the night. Michael learned to stop lying awake, waiting to hear the front door open and Dad's shoes brush softly across the kitchen floor. The longer he was out, Mom said, the more money he was bringing home for a bigger house and a college education.

    None of that mattered much to Michael at the time, though. He didn't want a bigger house, and he certainly didn't want more schooling. He wanted a father. Dad never did get good at providing that.

    A wooden box peeked out from darkness underneath the suits and slacks, and Michael had to pull it out to make sure his eyes weren't deceiving him. Yes, this is the same box. He ran his fingers across the script "M.B." carved into the mahogany. It still looked brand new, even after all these years. He released the clasp and opened the box.

    The shoes within had seen better days. The black leather was creased and missing its distinctive shimmer. On the back of the left shoe, a deep scratch marred the script initials Dad had paid handsomely to have engraved.

    They didn't have the look of it now, but at one time, these shoes made Dad business royalty. When Dad opened the wooden box, he wasn't just dressing for success. He was dressing to conquer.

    These shoes had seen the world: New York, Los Angeles, London, Moscow, Tokyo. Dad even wore these shoes during a running of the bulls on a business trip to Spain. He was wearing them when he received his first promotion, and when he used the subsequent bonus to buy his Caddy. And he was wearing them on the day Michael was born.

    To a young Michael, these shoes were a treasure from distant lands. According to Dad, they had been given to him as a gift by the pope's personal shoemaker. Michael's belief in that story died alongside his belief in Santa Claus, but to a small child growing up in a Catholic household, Dad's shoes may as well have been signed by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

    Michael remembered being about five or six years old, slipping into Dad's closet one weekend and putting on the shoes. Even though he could hardly walk in them without tripping over himself, he'd never felt more important. At least until Dad had come in, and he fell backward, out of the shoes, for fear of punishment.

    Instead, Dad just laughed, kneeled down and slipped the shoes back on Michael's feet.

    "Don't worry, Michael," Dad had said. "They're too big now, but someday, you'll grow into them."

    The shoes were still two sizes too big when Michael wore them to his freshman prom. He was so clumsy and awkward that night that all he could do was stand by the punch table all night and participate in the occasional slow dance. But the shoes still worked their magic that night when he met his first girlfriend and had his first kiss.

    Now the shoes seemed lifeless. Michael removed them from the box, placed them on the floor and slowly, tentatively slipped them onto his feet. They did not wobble on his feet, nor did they feel two sizes too small. They were a perfect fit, as if they had been made for him all along.

    Michael soaked in the silence of the house, waiting for the magic to take over.

    "I didn't expect to find them here."

    Michael turned around to see Liz leaning against the doorframe. She nodded at the shoes on Michael's feet.

    "I always thought Dad would take those shoes to the grave," she said.

    "Yeah," Michael said. "He really loved these things."

    Liz shrugged and smiled. "Who knows? Maybe he was saving them for you. I always got the impression that he'd give them over to you someday."

    "I don't think Dad was saving anything for me, except maybe a few harsh words."

    Liz's smile faded. "Were you telling the truth earlier? About wanting to pay your respects to Dad?"

    "I guess so," Michael said. "Though it's probably too late to do any good."

    "Like you said," Liz replied, "Dad's not going anywhere." She unhooked a set of keys on her jeans. "Come on. We'll take my car."

    Michael nestled the wooden box back into the darkness of the closet. "Where are we going?" he asked.

    "To see Dad."

    Liz rushed out to the car ahead of Michael. Michael arrived to find her tossing fast food bags and water bottles from the passenger seat into the back. Michael ducked into the old Saturn and wedged his feet into a pile of papers and trash.

    "Sorry my car's such a mess," Liz said as she started the engine. Rock music rattled the car for a few seconds before Liz hastily turned it off. "F***, sorry again. I'm not used to having passengers. And I sure as hell didn't expect to have my big brother riding along today."

    "A few days ago, I wasn't so sure I did, either," Michael said.

    Halfway down the block, Liz pulled a cigarette out of her purse and lit it with the car's lighter. "Smoke?" Liz asked, holding a pack of Marlboro Ultra Lights out to Michael.

    "No," Michael replied. "I've kicked that habit."

    Liz took a drag and chuckled. "You?" she said, blowing a stream of smoke out the window. "The kid who smoked like a freight train all through high school?"

    "That was a long time ago," Michael said. "I've changed."

    Liz looked over at Michael and smiled. "Look at you," she said. "White-collar, cappuccino-sipping, big-time California man." She paused and flicked her cigarette. "Dad would be proud."

    Michael conceded a quick laugh and rolled his eyes. But the smile on Liz's face was completely sincere.

    Autumn had taken over the Sacred Heart Cemetery. The sun peeked through yellowed leaves as it edged toward the western horizon. Michael and Liz passed a Vietnam War memorial and trudged through a field of little American flags that peeked through the leaves.

    Michael felt uneasy. It had been nine years since he'd visited Sacred Heart, nine years since Mom had died. The gravestones and American flags seemed to stretch even further than before, up over the hill and out of sight.

    "So what happened, Michael?" Liz asked as they walked. "I went five years without getting so much as a Christmas card from you. Deep down, we all just kind of hoped you weren't dead or in jail."

    "No," Michael replied. "I just needed a fresh start. I needed to get out of Stone Ferry."

    "I get that," Liz said, brushing her hair out of her face. "What I don't understand is why you needed to get away from us."

    "You knew it was going to happen, Liz," Michael said. "We grow up, we make our own lives. That's what happens."

    "People don't just abandon their brothers, their sisters, their father, when they need them," Liz said. "Sh**, Michael, losing Mom was tough on all of us, but we all stuck it out together. All of us but you."

    Michael looked over and watched a tear crawl down Liz's cheek. She shook her head and brushed it away, cursing under her breath. That was Liz: always ready to say exactly what was on her mind, with whatever words were damned well appropriate. Nothing like Mom. Michael pulled her in close, and she sighed.

    "I told myself I'd never come back to Stone Ferry," Michael said.

    "Well, I'm glad to see you back," Liz replied. "Just...try picking up the phone once in a while, you know?"

    "I'll give it a shot."

    Michael felt his heart sink as they pulled to a stop in front of two small gravestones. He knew this spot. He knew the yellowed maple that hung overhead. And he knew the scent of flowers on a fresh grave.

    "Mom," Michael muttered. There was her gravestone, buried in grass and leaves. The roses at his feet were wilted and decaying into the soil.

    Directly to its right, bouquets and framed portraits flanked the headstone of a new grave. A faded color photograph depicted a young man with a wide smile and a distant gleam in his eye. In another photograph, that man was joined by a small, meek woman in a flowing white dress.

    Michael scattered the leaves with his foot and inspected the gravestone. "Martin Burkhardt. April 3, 1949 - October 5, 2010."

    "So this is Dad," Michael said. "And Mom."

    "Just the way they had wanted it," Liz said.

    Michael shook his head and took a step back. "I don't understand," he said, his voice tinged with frustration. "Mom and Dad were divorced."

    "You know Mom," Liz replied. "She never could hold a grudge."

    "But he *hit* her! She left us because of him!"

    "Nine years is a long time, Michael. Time has a way of healing old wounds, and with Mom, no wounds were too deep to heal."

    "But Dad..."

    "Dad made a lot of mistakes, quite a long time ago. But everything he did, he did for us. He missed Mom like you wouldn't believe. But when he died, he just wanted to know he'd left his family in better shape than they had left him." She paused and smiled at Michael. "You were the only one he'd lost contact with, but he seemed to know you were doing OK. Not sure where he got the idea, but Dad was always a smart guy."

    Michael looked down at the grave and realized he was still wearing Dad's shoes. He thought he was ready to say something, but he choked it down.

    "People change, Michael," Liz said. "You just have to give them the chance."

    Michael tucked his feet into a bed of leaves. The worn leather had given way, and it felt a little looser now than it had when he'd first put them on.

    "Yeah," Michael said, after a long pause. "Maybe."

    Michael shoved his hands into his pockets and shivered, feeling the winds change as the autumn light danced on the faded, smiling faces of the bride and groom.
  8. Gannon

    Gannon Contributor Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England
    wavodavo - Flash

    Flash tore across the mowed lawn in the dark hoping he wouldn't catch his new red Sketchers on a buried sprinkler.

    He was breathing so fast he squeaked. Flash knew he could sprint. He'd just won the summer Fun Run and he was only 8 and that's why everyone called him Flash. But the Reichert's four Dobermans were gaining.

    He held his breath and poured all his strength into his legs. His mind spun. He had no hint of a way not to be run down and torn apart by guard dogs.

    He angled toward the low gnarled oak branch that had let him cross the brick wall and onto the Reichert's front lawn, but it was too far away. The dogs'd catch him sooner. Wheezing again, legs melting, he aimed for the nearest wall.

    Behind him, growling. Claws tearing at grass. Lights coming on; from the big house behind him, along the wide curving driveway to his right, outside the closed double gates, atop the wall.

    I'm so dead, he thought, trapped between a wall as a tall as any adult and four killer Dobermans.

    At the wall, the toes of his red Sketchers scraped two desperate running steps up the bricks, giving enough height to plant his heaving chest on the gray pointed capstones.

    He hooked slender arms over the wall, the capstones scraping his skin. He hung, legs dangling, too winded to pull himself over.

    The four dogs barked excitedly. Fangs closed on his laces and yanked his legs down hard.

    Flash tried a stern voice like Sheriff Taylor used on her German Sheppard. "No!"

    The word came out shrill. Shaken violently, his right shoe and sock left his foot.

    Horrified that his bare foot was to be ripped loose next; he curled backward to get his legs up over his head.

    In his panic, he curled so much that he flipped over the wall to land back first in low bushes with long thorns. The bushes smelled sickly sweet like his mother's bathroom aerosol.

    "Yah!" He rolled off onto acorns, crackling dead leaves, and snapping twigs.

    The dogs barked excitedly behind the wall, claws scraping at the bricks. The barking moved down to the two iron driveway gates. Under large ornate lights there, the dogs' eyes glowed green at him. Their pointed ears erect, snarling, the dogs tried to force themselves through the bars in the gate.

    Feeling scratched open,Flash stood up. His right bare foot hurt on the pointy acorns and twigs so he eased his weight off it.

    The foursome stopped barking. As one, they disappeared down the wall.

    Flash stiffened. The dogs knew a way out of the yard. He ran onto the asphalt road leading from the Reichert's to the nearby edge of town.

    Excited barking far off in the woods. Flash knew the dogs didn't need light to know exactly where he was.

    He ran. His bare right heel smacked the pavement hard, sending bolts of pain up his leg. The barking grew closer. He looked through the dark for somewhere safe.

    The woods ringing the Reichert's opened to a streetlight, a lawn, a wooden church with a bell tower in back and a rectory beyond.

    Growling replaced barking, claws ripped through loose leaves and twigs, circled in from behind Flash. As he ran under the streetlamp, his shadow loomed ahead of him. Low shadows with high pointed ears loomed onto his.

    Side aching, he bolted up the church's brick front steps and straight armed the doors. They flew nosily aside. He raced toward a lit candle in a red glass globe on the altar.

    Claws scratched murderously close on the plank floor. Feeling the dogs' breath, Flash passed the low altar and rushed through a heavy curtain to one side. He ran waving his arms ahead in the incense scented blackness beyond.

    The curtain ripped. Claws changed gait. He sensed dogs readying leaps meant to take him down.

    His hand hit a pair of thick ropes. Grabbing them two-handed, he swung out wide. In the darkness, something heavy brushed his hip, growled, and was gone. Excited barking started. Swinging wildly, he climbed hand over hand.

    Teeth sank into his backside. His howl was drowned out by a deep bong from the church bell. The barking stopped. Flash took that instant to stop climbing. He kicked his bare heel into the dog hanging from his rump. His heel thudded into soft fur, warm flesh and hard bones below. The dog let go.

    Flash felt himself rising sharply in the dark. The big old bell sounded another bass note. The dogs began barking again. He could hear them jumping up and down in the dark, their claws clicking each time they landed.

    Flash climbed a little further and then too tired to pull himself up, he wrapped his legs around the ropes. He felt the bell above vibrating through the rope. He put his cheek against the rope and hung on.

    Lights came on, shining though the edges and through the rips in the curtain. The four dogs stopped barking to turn their chiseled muzzles toward the light, their ears bending in unison toward the sound of footsteps. Low growling began. The dogs backed protectively toward Flash like hyenas protecting their kill from a lion.

    "Who's in there," came a deep female voice he knew was Sheriff Taylor's.

    "Me!" Flash yelled, his voice high.

    "Okay 'Me'. What going on with those dogs in there?"

    "They're Reichert's dogs. They chased me up the bell rope!"

    He heard Sheriff Taylor say calmly, "Marty, call the Reicherts. Their dogs are loose in St Mary's." A bit of static answered her.

    He said, "My arms hurt. Pepper spray 'em or something!"

    The dogs suddenly gave a menacing bark. "E-easy, fellas," Sheriff Taylor said from somewhere behind the curtain. The dogs went back to growling and huffing out deep breaths.

    "Kid," the Sheriff called, "Can't get close. Tie yourself off somehow."

    Flash looked around in the gloom. He was too tired to do anything but hang on.

    Hurried footsteps came into the church beyond the curtains. The dogs stopped growling and began to whine.

    A man's voice said crisply. "Boys! Heel!"

    The dogs gave little yips and rushed through the curtain into the main part of the church.

    An arm in a long blue sleeve poked through the curtain and shoved it aside. Sheriff Taylor's bulky female form was silhouetted in the doorway. With a click lights came on in the room. She looked up at Flash from under a wide brimmed dark blue hat. "Oh, we meet again. Harrison, Claude M. You hurt?"

    Flash shifted uncomfortably on the rope. "A dog bit my butt."

    The Sheriff brought a microphone to her lips. "Marty. Aid car. St Mary's."

    She tucked the microphone out of sight behind her.

    Flash tried to lower himself down the bell rope, but his hands couldn't hold him. He simply slid suddenly and unceremoniously down the rope. His tired legs buckled under his weight and he landed on his backside looking up at the Sheriff. The two ropes shot upward. The bell tolled once more loud enough to make the Sheriff flinch and scowl down at him.

    Father Anthony's thin face framed in wispy white hair peered over the Sheriff's broad right shoulder. Mr. Reichert's handsome face peered over her left. None of the adults looked down at him with concern.

    The Sheriff balled her meaty fists and set them against her wide hips covered in beige pants. Over the reverberations of the bell, she asked Flash, "So, what happened?"

    Flash's gaze shot to Mr. Reichert. The kids at school said the Reicherts had a huge meat eating plant in their greenhouse. He hesitated. Somehow telling her that seemed to be a bad idea.

    The Sheriff's thick blonde eyebrows rose ever higher as Flash thought desperately.

    He said, "I was just out, you know. And his dogs got out and came after me and one of them bit me!"

    The Sheriff's broad hat tilted to the side as she considered this answer. Flash kept his face straight and his eyes wide open.

    "Your dogs were out, Derrick."

    "Yes. I'll look into that."

    Flash said as firmly as he could, "His dogs attacked me."

    Mr. Reichert's face went dark red. He said "I do admit my dogs left the yard, but...." He glared down at Flash. "That still doesn't explain why you were in my yard in the first place."

    "I—I wasn't."

    Mr. Reichert lifted something over the Sheriff's shoulder and let it hang in the light by its laces, a torn red Sketcher with a white sock hanging out. "Near my gate on the inside of my fence."

    Seated splayed legged on the bell tower floor, Flash could feel their eyes on his dirty bare right foot. He tried to cover his left red Sketcher and its white sock. Any look of puzzlement or confusion left the faces of all three adults.

    Flash felt his face burning.

    He heard a car pull up in front followed by slamming doors.

    The Sheriff took a slow step forward. She turned to face the two men. Without her blocking his view, Flash realized both men were in pajamas and slippers.

    The Sheriff said, her voice resigned, "Alright, Gents, Aid's here. We'll sort out charges tomorrow. Derrick, give me that shoe and be sure to keep 'the boys' tied up until you fix the hole in your fence."

    Both men gave Flash baleful looks before leaving. He listened to the click of claws leaving the church. The Sheriff turned to him again and nailed him with her sternest look.
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