Sneaker Wars

Ella grew up at the sneaker factory. Her family had a house, but the company was her father’s pride and joy. Every day after school, Ella went straight to the factory. That’s where her Dad was, so there was no point in going home, not after her mother died anyways.

Together they looked over shoe designs and profit margins and performance reviews. Their company was going to be big someday. Really big. And then Dad would retire and Ella would be in charge. But Dad would never really retire, of course. He just wanted to sleep in late every once in a while.   He’d still be there to talk things over with Ella in the afternoons.

One day, Dad went away to a shoe convention in Las Vegas. He came home married to someone new. Ella’s stepmother had two girls around Ella’s age. Dad introduced them to Ella with his isn’t-this-great smile. It wasn’t great.

Her new stepmother wanted Ella to call her Mom, but she kept forgetting Ella’s name and called her Emily. Her new stepsisters were into fashion, shopping, getting their nails done and texting their friends. Ella tried talking to them about sneakers, but they just rolled their eyes.

In the afternoons, Ella hurried over to Dad’s office, but her stepmother was already there and sent her away to play. Dad never asked Ella’s advice anymore or showed her the new shoe designs. Ella hardly ever saw him at all. And then one day, just after Ella graduated from high school, he died.

“Emily,” her stepmother said. “With just a high school diploma and no other skills, I could hire you to do custodial work, but not really anything else.”

“But I know what Dad had planned for the factory,” Ella said. “I could help you.”

“I know enough to run a shoe factory,” her stepmother said. “Of course, I’m hoping that it’ll eventually be bought out by a bigger company. That would leave us all free to move on to bigger and better things.”

“Like what?” Ella asked. What could be better than the sneaker factory?

“Well, my girls want to be fashion designers.   They’re starting here with shoes, but a bigger company would be able to launch their careers. I’ve already begun talks with Crown Sneakers.”

Ella frowned. “They don’t have design experience.”

The stepmother frowned. “They know what’s popular with teenagers today. That’s what’s most important. Are you going to take the custodial job?”

“No thank you,” Ella said. And she started applying for scholarships.

She worked nights doing custodial work at the local college. But, with a few scholarships and a lot of hard work, she got through school with minimal student loans.   And then, she used crowdfunding to start her own sneaker company.

She knew what she was doing. Her education had begun at her father’s knee, and her design degree filled in the gaps. Her line of sneakers was the talk of social media.

Sadly, her father’s company hadn’t done as well.   Over the years, all the new lines of sneakers had bombed. Her stepmother had been caught embezzling funds, and was forced to resign. The company eventually declared bankruptcy.

The day that Ella got the news, she put down the phone with a sigh and started to go through her mail. She had a letter from Crown Sneakers asking if she’d consider a merger.   Instead, she took out a loan and bought her father’s shoe factory.

Ella started to follow her Dad’s plans for the factory. It took a few years, but after some of their designs were seen on runways and red carpets, the company finally started to grow again.

And then came the glass slipper. It was the nickname for their newest sneaker, because of its ice-blue color and shimmery fabric. They couldn’t keep up with the demand. Once again, Crown Sneakers came calling.

This time, the company president sent his son, Royce.   He was just a little older than Ella, and very charming. “Ella,” he said. “We’d still want you in charge of your factory. You’re doing a great job. We just want to help.”

“For a share of the profits,” Ella said.

“Of course,” he said. “But don’t you need to expand? We have factories that could start manufacturing glass slippers for you as early as next week.”

“I’d still be in charge?” Ella asked.

“Of course,” he said.

“I want to see it in writing, and then I’ll take it to my lawyer,” Ella said.

“Of course,” he said.

When the merger between her company and Crown Sneakers was announced, Ella got some angry letters from her stepmother and stepsisters. But there was nothing they could do about it. When she married Royce, they tried to crash the wedding. “I hate you, Emily,” her stepmother said as security dragged her away.   Ella lived happily ever after, and designed amazing sneakers for the rest of her life.

Too Many Godmothers

Once upon a time, there was a kingdom with more than its share of pretty, kind young ladies. All of them, of course, had troubles of one kind or another. It’s part of growing up, I suppose.

This was a magic kingdom, and so many of these young ladies had fairy godmothers. Each godmother only wanted the best for the young lady in her care. Unfortunately, even though this kingdom had lots of wonderful young ladies, it only had one prince.

And so, when the young prince held a ball and sent out invitations to all the young ladies and their families, the fairy godmothers all declared war. There were some that were working from a disadvantage, because their young ladies had obstacles preventing them from attending the ball. It only made their fairy godmothers more determined to get them there.

The fairy godmothers needed something to work their magic on, so each of the young ladies needed to start out with a basic dress.   Naturally, the dress shops in town had expected to sell out of all their fanciest dresses, the kind that are all beads and lace and embroidery and far too many layers.

Instead, they had a hard time keeping the simple dresses in stock. They worked late into the night stitching together cheap cotton dresses while the dresses they’d designed with care and love sat in the shop window day after day.

Meanwhile, the fairy godmothers pulled out their wands and the battles began. Small animals were sent from house to house to spy on the competition. Dress designs changed from one moment to the next, depending on the competition.

“The blue fairy is adding a sparkling overlay of snowflakes stitched in silver? Doesn’t she know that the snow queen look is so last year? Wait until she sees the beaded roses on your gown!”

And of course, there was the issue of transportation.   The girls couldn’t walk to the ball or take a taxi. Who did that? Coaches were made from vegetables and fruit and sticks and seashells and mailboxes, and bugs and mice and worms were transformed to drive them.

Eventually, each young lady was wearing a fantastic dress, standing next to her coach. It was time for the finishing touch. Each fairy godmother smiled. This was the easy part. They waved their wands and said the magic words. Each young lady was now wearing a pair of clear, glass slippers. “The magic lasts until the last stroke of midnight,” the godmothers warned.

And the young ladies went to the ball. Some were early, some on time, some late.   All were lovely. The prince danced with them all. He had no idea how he was supposed to pick a future wife after one dance.   Most of the young ladies he met seemed pretty and kind.

The young ladies were also having a wonderful evening, except that they were learning that glass slippers were uncomfortable and hard to dance in. They had to be tight enough to pinch a little, or they’d slide right off. They didn’t allow the toes to bend or the foot to shift easily from side to side. Worst dancing shoes ever.

And then, the clock struck midnight. At once, most of the girls jumped up and ran for the door. Alarmed, the prince followed them. What was going on?

The girls looked at the steep steps and every one of them pulled their slippery glass shoes off and left them at the top of the steps. Then, they jumped into their carriages and rode away.

The prince looked around at the pile of glass shoes, and then watched the carriages race away. He walked slowly back inside. The ladies left inside the room were a little less wonderful than the girls who had just left. However, the girls who had just left seemed to be a little strange.

“So, did you find a nice girl to marry?” the queen asked her son.

The prince sighed. “I don’t know. It was too hard to decide.”

“Maybe we should hold another ball. If you spend more time with them, maybe you’ll get to know them better and find one you like the best,” the queen said.

A week later, another invitation was sent out.   Round two. The dresses were fancier. The carriages were crazier. The shoes were still glass.

The queen stood next to the prince just after midnight and looked at the piles of glass shoes on the steps. “Maybe we should send you to visit your grandparents’ kingdom where I grew up. I think the girls in this kingdom are a little too strange. They’re pretty and nice, but strange.”

When the prince found his bride elsewhere, the fairy godmothers were outraged. Within a matter of two weeks, they’d all sent the young ladies in their care on quests.   The kingdom seemed a lot smaller when they left. There were a lot less glass slippers, too.

In the end, too many godmothers spoil the ball.

Charlie’s Room: A Halloween Carol

“I’d like to go to the Halloween party,” Isaac said.   “I really would. But I have a headache.”

“We’ll wait for you,” Marianne said. “Take some medicine. We’ll go when you feel better.”

“No, I don’t want Charlie to miss out,” Isaac said.   “Go ahead and go without me.”

“All right,” Marianne said. “But we’ll miss you.”

And she and Charlie dressed in their costumes and left.   Isaac changed into his pajamas and went to bed to try to sleep away the awful headache. He pulled his pillow over his head to shut out light and sound and eventually drifted off to sleep.

He woke up to a pinching feeling on his right pointer finger. His headache was mostly gone.   He pushed the pillow off his head and sat up. He looked at his finger.

There was a bright orange spider ring on his finger.   It waved a front leg at him.   “Hello,” it said. “I’m the spirit of Halloween past.”

“Really?” Isaac asked.

“Absolutely,” the spider ring said. “Let’s go see a memory.”   The room started spinning.

“I think my headache is coming back,” Isaac said.

“Not to worry,” the ring said. “We’re here.” They were in a room decorated with orange and black streamers. Adults and children were in costumes playing games and talking. “Hey, look who’s over there,” the spider said.

“It’s me. And there’s my dad,” Isaac said. “This is the party where he dropped his glasses in the punch.”

“How did that happen?” the spider asked.

“He took them off to wipe the glitter off and someone bumped into him,” Isaac said.

Just then, a small bumblebee ran into Isaac’s dad and his glasses fell into the punch with a plop. “How unfortunate,” the spider ring said.

“It’s not that bad,” Isaac said. “We all laughed about it for years afterwards. It’s a good memory.” Isaac watched his father fish the glasses out of the bowl with a ladle as little Isaac giggled.

Isaac woke up feeling like his teeth were glued shut.   His mouth tasted like caramel.   His headache was mostly gone. He pushed the pillow off his head and sat up.   There was a caramel apple sitting on the nightstand.

Isaac picked it up and took another bite. He looked around the room. Shouldn’t there be another spirit? An origami bat fluttered down from a dark corner of the room.   “I’m the spirit of Halloween present,” it said. “There are a lot more treats at the party. Do you want to see?”

“Of course,” Isaac said. “Take me there, please.”

The room dropped out from below them and another room rose to meet them. This room was decorated with white and black balloons. Children and adults in costumes were playing games and talking.

“Great party, isn’t it?” the bat asked.

“Where’s Charlie? Where’s Marianne?” Isaac asked.

“Oh, they left. Charlie said it wasn’t as fun without you.”

“Well, take me home,” Isaac said. “We can all go to the party together. My headache is gone now.”

“Sure thing,” the origami bat said. “I’ll tell the vampire teeth that they’re not needed.”

“Thanks,” Isaac said.

“Have a happy Halloween,” the bat said.

Isaac woke up when he heard a door slam. He pushed the pillow off his head and sat up.   “Marianne? Charlie?” he said.

Charlie burst into the room. “Dad? Are you feeling better? We came home to get you. It’s a great party. You don’t want to miss out.”

“Thank you, Charlie,” Isaac said. “I am feeling better. I’ll change into my costume and we can go.”

“Hurry! We need to get back before all the caramel apples are gone,” Charlie said.

Isaac looked back at the nightstand. There wasn’t a caramel apple sitting there, but his mouth still tasted like caramel. How strange.

“We’ll wait for you by the front door,” Marianne said.   She and Charlie went out and closed the bedroom door behind them.

Isaac jumped up. He needed to hurry and change into his costume. He had a party to attend!