Those Beautiful Shoes (by Gregory L Hall)
In which Dodger hears a story from his boss man.
Dodger held his cards in front of his face. It wasn’t that he was so much interested in getting an up close and personal peek at his hand, as he was trying hard not to let Ched see the wide smirk he bore.
“Go ahead,” Ched said, snapping up his cards. “Laugh it up. Like you ain’t never took shweet on a gal you never met.”
“Aw, poor thing,” Lelanea said. “He can dish it out but he can’t take it.”
“I really don’t care. I got no shame left, ash you know.”
“It’s all very true,” Professor Dittmeyer said.
The table of players all turned to find the professor peering over Dodger’s shoulder.
“He had little shame when I took him on,” the doc said. “And I’m afraid drinking himself into oblivion didn’t help matters much.”
“Heya, doc,” Dodger said. “You” wanna sit in?”
“I’m not very good at this game.” The doc poked a finger over Dodger’s shoulder, tapping on the cards one by one. “Is it my understanding that those three cards with the A’s in the corner are worth a certain amount of points?”
Lelanea and Ched looked to one another before tossing their hands into the center and unanimously declaring their intention to fold.
“Oh my,” the professor said. “Did I do something wrong?”
“Not at all, uncle,” Lelanea said. She patted the space beside of her. “Sit here. We were just taking turns sharing stories.”
The doc rubbed his hands together excitedly and sat. “Stories, you say? Well that I can do. Who was up next?”
“It’s was Ched’s turn,” Dodger said.
“Why don’t you go, shir?” Ched asked.
“Are you sure?” The doc asked. “I don’t want to usurp your turn.”
“I like to think of it ash shaving the besht for lasht.”
“Well in that case I better make it a good one.”
Dodger grabbed the cards and shuffled while his boss man set about telling his tale.
Those Beautiful Shoes
By Gregory L Hall
The old man tried to muster up a grin as he stared into his son’s eyes. They were so bright and full of hope, whereas the old man’s were not. He had lost that long ago.
“Now you know what to do, yes? Do we need to go over it one more time?”
“No, Papa. I have it all stored in my brain. My big, big brain.”
The old man laughed and patted the boy on his head. He checked the straps on the large shoes one more time before he rose. His knees groaned but that didn’t matter much now. They would be here soon. And he would be dead.
A whistling noise signaled the shortage of time as hot bursts of steam filled the upper sections of the laboratory. The old man looked up with sadness. His son looked up in wonderment.
“Papa, do you really have to turn everything off? I love your workshop. I want it to stay.”
The old man stood in silence, lingering for a moment too long, allowing his son to see the anguish he tried so hard to hide. When he heard the boy gasp in empathy, he quickly spoke up to deflect his mistake.
“I’m just shutting things down for a little while. Remember I told you about the bad men? Well, we wouldn’t them to know how to work my machines, would we? They are not smart like us. If I shut everything down, they can only stare at all these wonderful things. They wouldn’t have the first clue on how to operate them, no?”
The boy giggled with pride, his father’s weak moment already forgotten. “No, they wouldn’t. That’s a good way to keep our secrets, right, Papa? I like that we have so many secrets between us. That’s why we’re the best of friends!”
The boy hugged his father, catching the old man off balance. A smile spread across his tired wrinkled face. He was so proud of his little man.
Pounding on the outer doors shattered the magical moment.
The boy’s eyes flashed with fear.
The old man simply nodded with false confidence and walked to the last of his great machines. “Now please climb to the upper level and deactivate the last of the power units. I will get these few over here.”
The pounding increased at the far end of the building but the old man ignored the threat. He turned the final iron wheel until it locked in place as the front doors crashed inwards.
“Now to the rooftop, my beautiful boy. You must be ready to go.”
“But Papa, I don’t want to leave you. I want to help fight the bad men.”
“You are very brave. Strong and brave but these men, their kind, we can’t fight them. Not in that way. We must use our heads; our intelligence is what will defeat them. Not our fists.” He gestured to the metallic case on the upper tier. “Now please do as we discussed. We came up with a perfect plan, yes?”
The boy nodded reluctantly. He did as told and climbed the ladder with the case. The cumbersome shoes slowed him down but he was a strong and agile boy. He gave one final look back to his father before disappearing through the roof hatch. A crash reverberated down the hallway and the old man rubbed his throbbing temples. The sutures held, so he slowly turned to face his foes. He didn’t notice the roof top door remained open.
A dozen ragged men, covered in the filth of the land and reeking of their unrepentant sins marched into the laboratory. The old man stood his ground as they spread out around him, cutting off any chance of escape.
Their leader- the cruelest soul in the county- a man named Titus, stepped forward. He milked an arrogant grin as he slapped a heavy piece of hickory against his palm. “Guess you know why we’re here. People all over this territory talk about how smart you are. Of all the fancy gadgets and machines you’ve built. Things you’ve thought of to help make life easier for folks.” The gravel in his throat rattled as he spit on the stone floor. “Well, these people don’t deserve to have things made easier for them. Unless I say so.”
“You have no right,” the old man said. “You have no claims to my work!”
“Wrong, old doc. I own Red Rock and everything for a hundred miles in every direction. Even you know that. And that means I also own you. Now, show me all these mind boggling gifts you’ve made me. You got a carriage that don’t need no horse? A gun that can shoot a stick of dynamite two hundred yards? I heard you can even make people fly in the air like oil gushing out of a hot well.”
The old man held his poker face. “I have not invented anything worth noting. All of my experiments wind up as failures. I am just a foolish dreamer who’s run out of time.”
“Well, I agree with the running out of time part.” Titus signaled for his men to post up at each machine. “But here’s what my intellect tells me, Mr. Genius Man. If you were smart enough to build all these fancy machines in the first place, you probably aren’t the failure you claim to be. Now, fire these engines and machines up and show me what you’re making.”
“I can’t. I have dismantled them. They no longer work. Did you think I wouldn’t hear of your coming here? My work will never fall into your hands, Titus.”
A thug jumped on either side of the elder and grabbed his frail arms. Titus swung the hickory back, paused for a second to savor his enjoyment and then slugged his target in the gut. The blow dropped the inventor to his knees. A cough and a wheeze spilled blood out over the old man’s lips.
“Well, if you won’t turn these machines back on,” Titus said, “I guess it’s up to us to figure out how to do it. You ain’t the only big brain around here.” Titus waved to the various units. “Boys, start pulling some of these levers. Turn them wheels. Let’s crank up these useless piles of cow dung and see what they do!”
The old man let his head drop, not as much in anguish as exhaustion. He was so tired. He was so empty. But everything would be better soon. His only son escaped, and that was all that mattered.
The men clamored and banged around the great machines like fire ants, searching for clues as to how to activate secrets well hidden. They loosened the grip of jammed wheels and spun them back unleashing rattles and hums. Levers were pulled downward and large buttons were pushed multiple times as if the repetition would override any delays. Still, outside of the scattered noises and vibrations, no magic flooded out from the laboratory.
Titus leaned into the old man’s face, his breath foul and wet. “I’m getting bored here. And that’s never good because then my mind starts wandering, coming up with inventive ideas myself. Wonder how your knee caps would react to an experiment with my hickory?”
“Hey, boss!” a gang member yelled down from the upper levels. “There’s like a metal ring I can grab that’s attached to a pin. Should I give it a yank?”
“I got one on my machine too!” another thug shouted.
Titus grinned, searching for any tells on the old man’s face.
The inventor broke eye contact.
“I’m guessing you’ll each find one, boys!” Titus shouted. “Smart guess says we just found the locks the old doc thought we wouldn’t. Pull out those pins, boys. We’re about to make some real noise.”
The men eagerly did as ordered. Within seconds the laboratory shook from the released energy into the mighty machines. One of the thugs happily turned to his boss, celebrating their triumph. His face evaporated in a concentrated blast of hot steam. Titus recoiled in shock. Then he watched helplessly as blast after blast wiped out his gang. They dropped scalded to the floor and the catwalks, some with their torsos melted, others with red globs coloring their bleached skulls.
“What in holy hell—what did you do, you old devil?” Titus howled. “You set me up! You set my men up!”
The old man revealed his last saved smile. “I told you. You will never have my work.”
Titus grabbed him and in one fluid motion, put a pistol to his head. The gunshot echoed above the steam bursts like a mine explosion over a fading train whistle.
Titus spun around and looked up at the ceiling. A small boy peeked through the open roof hatch. The pistol fired a second shot but the little figure ducked back out of sight. Titus ran like a crazed bull to the upper level and grabbed the ladder in his huge sweaty hands. He launched himself through the tight opening to find the youngster fiddling with oversized shoes.
“You stop what you’re doing right there, boy.” Titus growled as he leveled the gun again. “Them shoes, whatever they do there, belongs to me. My property. I’m not above putting a bullet in your head just like I done your daddy.”
The boy did not move for a long moment. Then he quickly reached down and pulled a cord. Smoke and flame erupted, making the rooftop shake like an earthquake. Titus tumbled backwards as the boy lifted into the air. Higher and higher he rose. Titus pulled the trigger until his gun was empty. The final bullet struck the boy in the leg.
But the boy was not hurt. There was no pain. He cradled the case his father gave him and a clumsy smile covered his angelic face. As he disappeared into the cloudy night sky, his big brain reviewed his landing spot. Right outside the caverns where his Papa built the second laboratory. There he would put the contents of the case into the new machine his father built. And there they would live together forever.
The old man and his android son.
Gregory L Hall's stories have appeared in many publications, and he is the author of At The End Of Church Street.
Gregory L Hall's stories have appeared in many publications, and he is the author of At The End Of Church Street.
He is also the host/producer of the popular live internet radio talk show The Funky Werepig, now featured on TMV Cafe. Gregory continues to be on his best behavior so that his wife and children do not vote to lock him out of the house. The weekly re-evaluations occur every Friday so check back often.***************************************