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.

Charlie’s Room: The Birdbath

Isaac looked out the kitchen window as he dried the large stewpot. The crisp winter weather was perfect for stew, and he was happy to have some already packed away for his lunch tomorrow. He smiled and hummed and put the stewpot away. Time to wash the frying pan.

He glanced out the window again. It still surprised him that the rosemary was blooming.   Was there any weather that plant didn’t like? In the summer it had grown in the heat that had wilted the plants around it, even when they’d been watered daily. And now, as the weather began to turn bitter cold, it was blooming.

Perhaps rosemary was an alien plant. Mentally, he added it to the list of odd plants that just didn’t seem to follow the rules. It wasn’t as strange as pineapple though. Or onions. Few things were as strange as onions.

Something small circled the branches of the rosemary plant, hovering over the blooms. It looked like a hummingbird. However, it was December. Could it really be a hummingbird?

Isaac set the pan back into the sink and went to get his coat and scarf. Marianne and Charlie were in the living room reading. “Hi Dad,” Charlie said as Isaac walked past. “Can you check my homework after I finish this? I just have one chapter left.”

“Of course,” Isaac said. “I’m not finished with the dishes yet.” He ducked into the entryway and pulled his coat and scarf out of the closet.

He put them on and walked past the living room again.   “Where are you going?” Marianne asked.

“I think I saw a hummingbird by the rosemary,” Isaac said.

“It’s December,” Marianne said. “You probably saw a leaf blowing around or something.”

“I just want to check,” Isaac said.

Marianne smiled, nodded, and went back to her book.   Isaac went through the kitchen to the back door. The hummingbird was still there. It was definitely a hummingbird. As he walked closer, it flew over the fence into Miss Marta’s yard.

The fence was just low enough that Isaac could watch the hummingbird zoom towards a shallow birdbath at the edge of the yard.   It hovered over the surface of the water, and then it dove into the water. And then the hummingbird disappeared.

There was no splash or sound or flash of light.   The water didn’t even look disturbed.   One moment there was a hummingbird, diving towards the water, and the next it looked like it dove through the water without touching the water at all, and then it was gone.

The birdbath was plain, made from what looked like concrete or gray stone of some sort. The water looked normal too. Isaac looked around Miss Marta’s yard. There were a lot of birds there, even though the weather was too cold to normally see this many birds. He could see a robin, and a widgeon, and was that a pelican? Why was there a pelican here?

Miss Marta came out her back door just then, tossing out handfuls of seed and a few fish. The birds dove at the food, some taking their spoils straight to the birdbath and disappearing inside. Others ate first before leaving. It was amazing.

When the clamor had died down a bit, Miss Marta looked around at her yard. She looked up at Isaac and froze, looking a little worried. Isaac smiled. “Is that a new birdbath?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said and slowly nodded her head. “I bought it this summer.”

“I like it,” Isaac said. “It was a good find.”

“Thank you,” she said, and smiled. The wrinkles around her eyes and mouth seemed to smile too.

Isaac smiled back. “See you later,” he said.

“See you,” she said.

Isaac went inside and finished the dishes. Then he went to find Charlie so he could check his homework. Charlie was waiting in his room, reading. He was already reading the second chapter of a new book.

Isaac looked over the homework. “You only have a few things to fix,” he said. “I marked them with a pencil.”

Charlie put a bookmark in his book and looked over his work. “What did I do wrong?” he asked.

“See if you can figure it out,” Isaac said. “Try redoing the problems.”

Charlie figured out the mistakes. “Thanks, Dad,” he said. He picked up his book again.

“Wait,” Isaac said. “Let’s go to the store and pick up a bird feeder. We can take Mom too. I think we’re going to see a lot of birds in our yard this year.”

“Really?” Charlie asked. “Wow. Let’s go!”

Isaac’s Adventures Underground: Chapter Five

At first, Isaac was mostly worried about getting away from the log house quietly, as far away and as quickly as possible. But after a while of nothing coming crashing out of the undergrowth behind him, he slowed down and realized that he had no idea where he was.

He was lost in the middle of a potted plant forest in a hotel lobby at the bottom of a cave in the middle of the woods next to Jimmy’s house.

When he thought about it like that, it sounded like nonsense. He stopped and looked around.   How could all of this be inside the potted plant? Just then, he heard music. There was a violin playing a cheerful tune somewhere nearby.

Perhaps the musician would be able to give him directions.   Cautiously, Isaac followed the music.   He didn’t want to be too loud, just in case it was the ants again.

He peeked through some bushes into a clearing and was relieved to see that there weren’t any ants there. Instead, a grasshopper was playing a violin and humming, while several fuzzy caterpillars danced in circles and laughed.

The grasshopper stopped playing. “Are you having fun yet?” he asked.

“Yes,” the caterpillars responded in unison.

“Good,” the grasshopper said. “If you’re not having fun, then it’s not worth doing. Next song!” And he started playing again.

The caterpillars started dancing again. It wasn’t an organized sort of dance at all. Each was running around the clearing randomly or spinning in circles or stomping their feet in time with the music.

Two of the caterpillars raced towards each other coming from opposite directions. Both were laughing and neither was looking where they were going. “Watch out,” Isaac yelled.

The caterpillars looked in Isaac’s direction and continued running. A second later, they ran into each other and began to cry. “Now look what you’ve done,” the grasshopper said. “The dancing isn’t fun any more. You might as well come out of the bushes and tell us a joke or a story to make up for it.”

Isaac pushed the branches aside and walked into the clearing. “Hi, I’m Isaac,” he began.

“Introductions are boring,” the grasshopper said. “Skip to the joke.”

“After I tell you a joke, would you help me..” Isaac began.

“I’m always very helpful,” the grasshopper interrupted.

“Well that’s good,” Isaac began.

“What is?” the grasshopper asked.

“What is what?”

“What is good?” the grasshopper asked.

“Helping,” Isaac said.

“Of course it is,” the grasshopper said. “If it wasn’t good, it wouldn’t be helping, would it?”

“I don’t think so,” Isaac said, feeling a little confused. “Would you like me to tell a joke now?”

“Yes, pleasure before business,” the grasshopper said.

“Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?” Isaac asked.

“Of course not,” the grasshopper said. “If you work first, you might not have time for play. So you must play first. That’s the good part.”

“But then you might not get your work done,” Isaac said.

“Even better,” the grasshopper said. “It’s like eating your dessert first. If you’re lucky, maybe you can only eat dessert all the time and be too full to eat anything else.”

“I don’t think that’s very healthy,” Isaac said.

“Who wants to be healthy?” the grasshopper asked. “Now tell us a joke.”

“A joke!” “A joke!” “Tell us a joke!” the caterpillars said. They stomped on the ground with their feet until it sounded like thunder.   Isaac cleared his throat and suddenly everything was silent.

And Isaac couldn’t think of any jokes at all. After what felt like a very long time, he remembered one. He smiled. “I think I know one about a zebra with a sunburn. Or was it a penguin? No, I think it was a newspaper.”

“You are terrible at telling jokes,” the grasshopper said. “I will tell a story.”

“First could you tell me…” Isaac began.

But the caterpillars began to chant, “A story!” “A story!” and stomp their feet until Isaac couldn’t even hear himself talk. The grasshopper played a few notes and the caterpillars settled down.

Isaac sighed. He could ask for directions after the story. Surely it wouldn’t take all that long. He wrapped his arms around his legs and put his chin on his knees and waited for the story to begin.