Fiction Friendship Contemporary

Leviathan, the demon of separation, had entered Seth Owens at an early age and lay in wait to seize total control and push him to his death. He would often encourage Seth to do things against his nature. When Leviathan wasn’t criticizing him, he repeatedly urged him to commit suicide, suggesting that no one cared for him and that he would be better off dead. Seth grew up as an only child without a father. His father died before he was born. 

The death of Seth's father had thrown his mother into a lifelong state of depression. As a result, Seth was frequently left alone and felt isolated. He was fertile ground for Leviathan, who used the sadness of Seth's mother to cut Seth like a knife each day, slowly separating him from the world. 

Feeling unworthy of love and that nothing he did was good enough, he was obsessed with self-doubt. As a result, he held everyone around him to impossible expectations. As a consequence, what few friends he had, abandoned him. 

Seth, now turning forty, was single and living alone in Austin. He sped into the closest spot to the gym entrance as rain pelted the hood and windshield of his Chevy Silverado. Lightning lit up a shrouded sky with flashes that flickered from the heavens. Thunder crashed like a massive fist pounding the sky. The dawn was illuminated in a stark blue whiteness. 

The view from his truck was a blur through the cascading sheets of water. There was one other car in the parking lot. The torrential downpour made seeing difficult, but he thought he recognized it. On this ominous morning, he sat in the stillness of his truck, listening to the hammering rain. Staring at his hands, he held them up and questioned his decision to get out of bed. Glancing at himself in the mirror, his green eyes glistened from unleashed tears. Today was his birthday, and he was lonely and desolate.

A routine was his only hope for control over his sense of isolation. So he did as he always did and went to the gym. Reaching into the back seat, he pulled up his ragged duffle bag. After shuffling through dirty gym clothes and empty water bottles, he recovered the familiar purple fob that unlocked the door. 

Seth jumped from the truck and hurried to the entrance. As he ran, he held the duffle over his head and glanced at the other car, “That might be Red Shoes.” A twinge of excitement hit him, but he wasn't sure why.

Seth consistently saw the same group every morning. None of them acknowledged or spoke to him. They all wore headphones and avoided eye contact. To make them friends, he gave each of these anonymous companions a nickname, a means of connecting with them to draw them closer.  

Among this collection of motley characters was ‘Carrot Top,’ a ginger-haired man with freckles and tattoos. Seth was convinced he had works of art in places no one should see. 

Never late was ‘Hay Seed,’ an older man with gray hair who wore jeans and cowboy boots but never earbuds. All the more reason not to pay attention to anyone. 

And, never to be outdone, was ‘Crazy Lady.’ She was overweight but dressed like a petite Madonna. Her outfits were extremely snug but well-coordinated. She did erotic workout dances, never noticing the jiggling fat woman in the mirror. 

Her self-absorption was matched only by 'Eye Opener,’ a tall, well-built, middle-aged man. His flimsy gym shorts left nothing to the imagination, and his package was difficult to miss. For some unknown reason, Eye-Opener appeared angry. Under no circumstances would he acknowledge anyone. However, he’d go out of his way to ensure you knew his treasure trail led to a prize.

Seth’s favorite was 'Red Shoes’—a recent newcomer. One day, he appeared from nowhere, just an average-looking guy, maybe in his mid-thirties. He was about the same stature as Seth. Feeling drawn to him as if they had a spiritual connection, on occasions when their eyes met, Seth felt a tingling sensation. 

On his stroll from the car into the gym, Red Shoes wore a New York Yankees ball cap. Once in the gym, he used it to hold his mechanical pencil, earbuds, and phone. This make-shift storage bin and its accompanying composition book moved with him from station to station.

Red Shoes squatted to write one morning, and Seth checked out his notebook. The meticulous tiny writing was astounding. But, by far, his most formidable peculiarity was his bright red shoes. Seth wasn’t sure if his shoe size or the striking color made them so pronounced. One certainly accentuated the other, and neither was inconspicuous.

Today on his birthday, Seth hoped it might just be him and Red Shoes in the gym. He waved the fob before the scanner on this rainy and gloomy day. The lock clicked open. Stepping in, he wiped the rain from his face and pushed back his wet hair. Seth's routine called for him to use the pec deck. After he put away his bag, he glanced across the workout area. Red Shoes was on the pec deck. Sheth drew a trembling breath. 

It’s only the two of us. I’m in luck. Should I ask if I can work through?

Early on, after Seth had spotted the red shoe-wearing newcomer for the first time, he decided to do some Google research. To his surprise, he found that people who wore red shoes were making a statement. They weren’t going to take crap from anyone. Nor were they going to be dominated and stand ready to fight. Likewise, they were most likely demonic or just plain evil. Knowing this, he chose to start his routine somewhere else.

When Seth walked by him, to his surprise, Red Shoes smiled and said, “Morning, sunshine. Pretty nasty out there, isn’t it?” 

Pleased he’s spoken to him but a bit taken aback, Seth turned, “Uh, yeah, but the forecast is for it to get better sometime later.”

Removing his earbuds, Red Shoes said, “Do you believe the weather forecasters?” 

Seth came back, “Sure, I trust them.”

Red Shoes gazed past Seth for a moment, then locked eyes with him.“Interesting word, trust, something imposed by faith as a condition for a close relationship. Of course, everyone knows faith is the belief in something for which there is no proof. Do you have faith, Seth? How is it you trust the forecasters?”

Seth raised an eyebrow, “What are you talking about?”

“Well, only two of us are here right now. Do you trust me?”

Seth hesitated, “Huh? What do you mean do I trust you? I don’t know you.”

“Do you need to know someone to trust them? You don’t know the weather forecasters, but you just said you trusted them.”

A blinding flash of lightning at the windows along the front of the gym. A bone-rattling clap of thunder followed it. Red Shoes saw Leviathan coiled around Seth, glaring back at him. Leviathan growled, “Leave. He’s mine.”

Seth ducked and covered his head. “Hey, I’m on a schedule here. Besides, trust is earned over time, not granted on demand.”

Red Shoes chuckled, “We all have only a limited amount of time. Today marks the beginning of your fortieth year. Forty is a very significant number. It’s associated with testing and hardships. Seth, I’m here to relieve you of your burden. Forty years is long enough.”

With a furrowed brow, Seth squinted at Red Shoes and snapped, “How’d you know it was my birthday?” A chill ran up the back of his neck, and goose pimples popped out on his arms, “much less that I’m turning forty. I don't understand who you think you are or where this conversation is going, but I’m done here.” Putting on his earbuds, he walked away.

Red Shoes followed him and touched his back. Seth jerked around and glared into his eyes, “You need something?”

Red Shoes glanced about, then at Seth, and laid his hand on his shoulder, “I’ve seen how you ignore people and how cold you can be. You've even disregarded me before. I can sense your heart’s emptiness and your feeling of isolation. I know the demon who has you in his grip. That’s why I’m here.” 

“What the fuck are you talking about? Are you nuts?” Shrugging his shoulder, he brushed Red Shoes’s hand away. “Take your hands off me.”

Red Shoes locked eyes with Seth, “You’re not alone. You have never been, nor will you ever be. I understand evil has knocked you to your knees, but I’m here to lend you a hand and set you free.”

“Look, man, you’re freaking me out, and I don’t need help from anyone. Just back off, okay?  

Oh, and for the record, I’m not looking for a fight either. I know the message you're sending with your hideous red shoes. I think you might be some kind of demon or something.”

Red Shoes smiling, said, “I can assure you I’m not a demon. However, I did wear these shoes to get your attention.” Then he put his hands on Seth’s shoulders. Their eyes locked, and a long minute of silence passed. Red Shoes whispered, “Trust me?” 

Leviathan whispered, “This man is a psycho, and you’ve got to get away from him. Kick him in the balls, and let’s hit the door.”

Red Shoes reached for Seth and took ahold of Leviathan’s tale ripping him away. Seth dropped to the floor and watched Red Shoes spinning something like an invisible laso over his head. Letting it loose, something struck the free-weight holder across the room, knocking it to the floor. Seth turned to see a whispy black silhouette of a creature with a tail and wings implode and disappear. A feeling of reassurance came over Seth, like a warm blanket wrapping around him. This was what he’d been yearning for. 

Seth rubbed the back of his neck. What the fuck just happened?" Red Shoes waved his hand before Seth’s face, and what he witnessed disappeared from his mind. 

Red Shoes took Seth by the hand and helped him to stand. “That last bolt of lighting was a strong one. Are you okay, buddy?  

Seth, struggling to come up with something to say, cleared his throat, “I apologize for acting like a jerk. May I ask you something? Your shoes, uh, are they comfortable?”

Red Shoes snickered, “Yes, very.”

A slight smile crept across Seth’s lips, “Where did you get them?” 

“Where else? Online. They come in multiple colors.” To show off his shoes, he glanced down and twisted his foot.

Seth glanced down and then back up, “Well, they certainly stand out. I don't know if I’d go for the red, but you never know, maybe.”

Pulling his cell from his pocket, Red Shoes said, “If you’d like a pair, I can forward you the link. What’s your number?”

Seth hesitated, took a deep breath, and let it out slowly, “Uh, sure, just put it in a message, and I’ll type in my number.” 

Red Shoes searched the web for a minute, “Ah, here they are.” Putting the link in a message, he handed his phone to Seth. 

Seth typed in his number and hit send before handing the phone back.

“So, can I add a name to this number?” Red Shoes said with a grin.

“I guess. Why not? I’m Seth Owens.”

Red Shoes entered Seth's name, stared at him, and grinned.“ Can I assume that you trust me now?”

Seth snickered and glanced at the floor, “Yes, I trust you.” Seth’s cell buzzed. Feeling a knot in his stomach and a lump in his throat, he looked at his phone. “Can I put a name with this number?”

“Sure, I’m Caleb Devine, and now, we know each other.” 

Seth’s hands were shaking as he typed in Caleb’s name.

Caleb offered his hand. “Pleasure to make your acquaintance, Seth.”

Seth stared down at Caleb’s hand, then back at his face. Seth grinned and shook his hand, “Likewise, Caleb, I'm pleased to meet you.” 

Caleb wrapped his hand around Seth’s, lifted it, and drew him close to his chest. Almost in an embrace, he whispered, “In life, you get what you give. Never stop sharing yourself.” Seth peered over Caleb's shoulder at their reflection in the mirror. Caleb was enveloped in a golden aura of light. Two bright white beams shot from his back. Seth’s heart pounded, and sweat beads popped on his forehead.

A bolt of energy exploded, and for a second, the room glowed. At that moment, the air was suddenly filled with jasmine and vanilla. Seth batted his eyes and peered into the mirror. A gigantic pair of luminous feathered wings protruded from Caleb’s back. They waved slowly and towered above him.  

Seth peered into Caleb's eyes. They were a brilliant, deep sapphire blue. An uplifting sense of freedom surrounded him as he gazed at Caleb's shining face, his words echoing in his head. 

The weather began to change. The shroud of gray clouds split open as patches of clear sky appeared. Sunlight danced across the carpet along the front windows.

There was a commotion as the gym door sprung open. Carrot Top and Hay Seed walked in. They were laughing as they entered. Seth turned toward them and felt Caleb's hand melt away like wax. To his dismay, Caleb was no longer there. 

Seth fell to his knees and lifted his gaze upward. He felt the wisp of a breeze on his face. Tears filled his eyes. The only sound was the hovering flutter of Caleb’s massive wings. Seth watched as Caleb slowly faded away into a white mist.

Carrot Top helped Seth to his feet, barely able to stand, much less walk. Hay-Seed dashed to help, “What happened?” Together, they led him to a nearby bench. 

At that moment, Eye Opener and Crazy Lady stepped in together. When they noticed Carrot-Top and Hay-Seed tending to Seth, Eye-Opener ran to them, “What’s wrong?”

Crazy Lady put her hand on Seth's shoulder, “Are you alright?”

Seth was afraid to tell them he’d seen an angel named Caleb, “I don’t know. I must have blacked out.”

Carrot-Top glanced up at Crazy Lady, “He was on his knees when we came in.”

“Should we call 9-1-1?”

Seth looked up into their faces. He could see as well as feel their genuine sympathy for him. What Caleb had said flashed through his mind. 

You’re not alone, nor have you ever been.

Unsteady, Seth stood, pausing a second to acknowledge each of them, looking into their eyes, “I’m okay, thank you all.” It was difficult to believe these were the same people he saw every day; they appeared so different but still the same. “I’m good, but I'd best head out.”

Crazy Lady put her hand on his back, “Are you sure? Do you need one of us to drive you home?”

“No, thanks, I'll be fine.”

“Well then, please be careful driving.”

They began putting their things away and chatting like old friends, and then on to do their workouts. Crazy Lady raised her head and sniffed, “The storm must have cleared the air. The gym smells better than usual today, don’t you think.”

Seth grinned and pulled down his gym bag from the shelf. Unzipping it to drop in his fob, he glanced into his duffle. To his surprise, he couldn’t believe his eyes. There was a pair of red shoes, just like Caleb’s. Pausing to take a deep breath, he smiled, glanced up, and made the sign of the cross.

January 24, 2023 01:46

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Lily Finch
01:59 Jan 25, 2023

This story was good. Many characters and a lot of emotion. Seth made a huge change. Well done. LF6 I think I would start with Seth's thought of suicide first and lead from there for your intro.


Chandler Wilson
13:45 Jan 25, 2023

Thanks, Lily, for taking the time to read and comment on my story. I agree that the depth of Seth's emotional state earlier would enable the reader to better appreciate the gravity of his situation. I understand there are far too many characters. But they're all real, and were primarily written for the person who is Caleb (Red-Shoes). He's a friend of mine and will recognize them when he reads it. I'll adjust it accordingly and repost. There are future stories of Caleb in the works. I’ll take your suggestion to those as well. Thanks again!


Lily Finch
13:58 Jan 25, 2023

No problem. But I think you should wait to get feedback from others. I am, by no means, an expert. LF6


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Tommy Goround
05:41 Jan 24, 2023

Seth couldn't blame his forty years old brain for forgetting names. It was simply easier to remember their traits and if Bob or Annie or Who should leave his life -- he would remember their footwear, remember their balding dreams and the way they stared into the mirror right through themselves. (Example of intro). Trying to think of a little more pep for first half. I killed 3 of my stories this week because they were negative comedies. In the absence of pep... Then we need to seduce reader into stark realities. You have suicide & Sil...


Chandler Wilson
17:00 Jan 24, 2023

Thanks, Tommy, for taking the time to read and comment. These are all valid points. This was one I've on the back burner for some time now, along with a few others. So, there's ample opportunity for me to take advantage of your sound advice. As I continue to write, I'm learning It's not so much about being clever, entertaining or winning contests, as it is about expression. Exposing that which has been bottled up and, as a man, is difficult to reveal. Seth represents just a fraction of those for me. There may never be a reader interested in ...


Tommy Goround
17:33 Jan 25, 2023

I like idea of a person giving nick names to everything, whether it's Alzheimer's or an an inability to get close to others.


Chandler Wilson
20:16 Jan 25, 2023

Thanks Tommy. This story is going through a major overhaul. Your input and suggestions are very much appreciated.


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