This story started out as a short scene for a one-page screenplay contest last year. It’s been sitting on my computer for more than a year, seen by only a handful of people, and I figured it was time to give it a new life. Please enjoy.
THE COBBLER’S REWARD
A wizened little man sat hunched over a cobbler’s bench, hammering away at the heel of a well-worn boot. He wore a scowl and an old, grubby coat that might once have been green. Between hammers, he glanced up at the security camera that remained fixed on him, and, with each glance, his scowl deepened. Today of all days, this was not where he belonged.
Outside the shoe repair shop, the parade was just beginning. A boy on the cusp of eight stood beside his mother, who was tending to his curly- and golden-haired sisters. They were two and four, and they were everything. The music was growing louder, and the boy watched as his mother directed the girls’ gazes toward the marching band. They both clapped in delight at the sight of the instruments moving in unison, and their mother — and anyone who happened to spot them — clapped in delight as well. How cute they were. The boy rolled his eyes, and, having lost interest in the never-changing parade two years ago, he slipped away.
He walked down the sidewalk, glancing in all the windows. The furniture stores held no interest for him. The candy shop would have had he remembered to bring a bit of his meager allowance. The candle shop made him sneeze. He would have passed by the shoe repair shop without a second glance if it weren’t for the sight of the gnarled old man, barely much taller than himself, staring out the window as if he were caught in a prison cell. He was startled, and, though he’d never admit it, a little scared by the sight. But then the man looked at him, and his dead eyes came to life with a twinkle. The tiniest motion of the man’s hand beckoned the boy inside. So, inside the boy went.
With a twitch of his head, he invited the boy closer, and, always the curious type, the boy approached. Only when the old man leaned toward him, as if to tell him a secret, did he stop. Suddenly, a litany of after-school specials and school assemblies ran through his mind, and he wondered if he was doing the right thing.
“Do you know what I am?” asked the old man.
The boy looked him over and then shook his head.
“I’m a leprechaun,” he whispered.
The boy raised a skeptical eyebrow. He was young, but he was no dummy. “Prove it,” he replied.
The old man waved his hand, and without explanation, there was suddenly a bright green, golf-ball sized emerald sitting in his palm. The boy gawped, and any notion that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time vanished.
“I’m a prisoner here,” the old man explained, his expression suddenly urgent. “If you help me escape, you’ll be rewarded.”
The boy’s eyes shot to the emerald. The old man, realizing the implication, pulled it back protectively only to receive a stern look from the boy. The old man, clenched his jaw, sighed heavily, looked longingly at his emerald, and then even more longingly outside.
“Oh, all right,” he said, looking none too happy about it.
The boy beamed.
“See those shoes?” the old man asked, eyeing a pair of high-fashion high heels that no one in the small town would ever consider walking around in. They were the only shoes in the store that bore the accessory of an anti-theft device. The boy saw them immediately; they were hard to miss. “Take them.”
The look of surprise on the boy’s face was not unexpected, but the old man had been playing at this game much longer. He moved the emerald into the light, and he watched the boy’s inner struggle with a hint of glee as the sunshine played in the facets of the jewel. The boy grimaced and met the old man’s eyes, and the old man knew he had won.
Without another word, the boy dashed to the shoes, grabbed them, and sprinted out the door. At the sound of the alarm, a fat man barreled out from the back room, giving pointless chase down the street.
The old man stood, and for the first time in a very long time, he smiled. He walked over to the security camera, gave it a wink, and then shut it off. When the fat man returned without his prized shoes, he found he had also lost his prized cobbler.
Outside, having escaped into an alley way, the boy leaned against a brick wall to catch his breath. He’d discarded the shoes in a dumpster a block back, just in case. He wouldn’t know the term for another five or six years, but he understood plausible deniability like an old pro. As his breath finally slowed, it occurred to him that he and the old man had never settled terms on how he was to receive his reward. He stood up and for the first time experienced the unsettling feeling that he had been swindled.
The sound of shoes crunching against the pavement caught his attention, and he looked up. At the other end of the alley was none other than the old man, standing straighter and looking more spritely than the boy would have thought possible.
“Hey, what about my reward?” the kid called out.
The old man grinned and began walking away from the boy. Not about to give up without a fight, the boy took a step to run after him, but got no further than that due to a suddenly odd weight in his pocket. He reached into it, and, when his hand emerged, it held the emerald — solid, real, and more beautiful in the open air than he could have imagined. The boy smiled and looked up to find the old man, but the old man was nowhere to be seen.
© 2010 Elizabeth Ditty