Red Shoes Unshackled

Written in response to: Write a story within a story within a story within a ...... view prompt


Fiction American Contemporary

The radiant light from above-illuminated specks of dust floating around thirty-seven-year-old Aaron Gresham. He knelt with his head resting on the back of his fists, wearing no shirt or shoes, only his jeans. The room was sour, damp, and reeked of mildew and urine. Slumped over, he realized he was shackled to the floor in the center of a round room. He was surrounded by the darkness outside the circle of the spotlight shining overhead. 

The hard concrete surface was like ice to his aching knees and elbows. Glancing up, he was temporarily blinded. Quickly shutting his eyes, he dropped his head. His chestnut brown hair, matted with blood, tumbled across his arms.

What is this place? Am I still in Chicago?

The throbbing pain at his temples, along with his tender nose, was unbearable. The stinging cold on his feet and back was excruciating. The rusty metal chain connecting his cuffed wrists ran through an anchor shackle in the room’s rough concrete floor. 

Jerking his hands up and pulling, he was immobilized. He fell back on his knees, and the shackles hit with an echoing clatter. Trying again, the chain was just long enough to enable him to stumble and stand. He swayed, squinting and staring into the darkness surrounding him. 

Where am I?

* * *

A few hours ago, he was having dinner with his friend and former co-worker, Marcus Waters, at the Kenzie Chop House in downtown Chicago.  

Aaron reached for Marcus, his fingers clutching the white linen tablecloth. The soft candlelight from the center of the table flickered in his wet, brown eyes. “Man, you don’t understand. I’m not sleeping. I have a reoccurring nightmare. I’m being chased by Asian women with no clothes on, screaming, crying, and grabbing at me. I’m shackled to a ball and chain when I try to run.” He fell back into his chair and rubbed his eyes with his palms. ”

Marcus snickered, and his nostrils flared, “Most men don’t consider it an unpleasant dream to be pursued by naked ladies, buddy.”

“Seriously, Marcus, something’s wrong. I meet total strangers on the street and see things about them. Flashes of their experiences pop into my head. When they glance my way, I sense they recognize me and are afraid. It’s like I’m living on the edge of another dimension. 

 Putting his elbows on the table, he dropped his face into his hands. I think I’m going crazy.”

Marcus took a sip of wine, sat back, and said, “You need to get a grip. You're fine. You’re freaking out over the money. Remember, we earned it. Those bastards had it coming. We worked our asses off on that project.”

Palming the tears from his eyes, He glared at Marcus. Man, I don’t want to go to jail. What we did was unethical, for sure. But it was also illegal.”

Marcus put his arms on the table. Their eyes met. “Man, what we did was justified.”

Aaron glanced up, sniffling. He peered at Marcus. “I’m scared.” 

Marcus took another sip of wine. “I’m just as guilty as you are. I should feel ashamed, but I don’t.”

Aaron took a shaky deep breath. “The guilt is eating me alive.” 

“Chill, man, all you did was find the buyer and cut the deal. I’m the one who copied the source code and did the cover-up. 

And, now, you know what, we’re both two hundred and fifty thousand times better off. Fuck those assholes.” 

“But who knows what those guys might do with the software? What if they use it to harm someone? What we did was just wrong.” 

Marcus emptied his glass and peered across the table at Aaron, “Buddy. Nobody’s going to get hurt. No one's going to the authorities, and we’re clean. I made sure of that before I quit. And as for your buyers, they got some potent AI facial recognition technology for virtually nothing. Who gives a fuck what they do with?” 

Marcus motioned for the waiter to bring the check. Aaron felt somewhat relaxed as they shook hands and parted ways in front of the restaurant. He watched Marcus wave goodbye as he rounded the corner and disappeared. 

Aaron had a bit of a walk ahead. He’d had to park a few blocks away in a hotel parking garage.

The night air was getting cooler. Aaron slipped his fists inside his jacket pockets. The signal changed, and the crossing timer began counting down. He jerked them out and flipped up his collar. 

A man looking to be in his mid-forties was walking toward him. They briefly made eye contact. Aaron glanced down at the man’s feet and noticed he wore a striking pair of red patent leather shoes. He wasn't sure if the size or the bright red color caught his attention. 

As Aaron reached the other side and stepped onto the sidewalk, the man said, “Hey buddy, I think you dropped this.” Aaron turned to see him waving a small slip of paper over his head, “It looks to be a parking garage ticket. I captured it with my foot before the wind took it.” 

Aaron felt in his jacket pockets. It was the stub he needed to get his car out. In a rush to meet Marcus, he had inadvertently slipped it into his pocket. 

“Thank you. I need that to get my car out. I’ll step back over when the light changes.”

“No problem, buddy, I’ll be at the bar.” The man stepped inside the restaurant.

Moments later, Aaron jogged across the street. He dashed inside and past the receptionist, and entered the bar area. He saw the man out of the corner of his eye in a booth waving the ticket.

He walked up to him and said, “Wow, I thought I’d lost you there for a minute. Thanks again.”

Aaron reached for the ticket. The man held the ticket and lowered his hand to the table. “Please join me for a drink.” He gestured toward the bench across.

“Ah, no, thank you, it’s getting late, and I need to head out.” 

“No, I insist. Have a seat.” 

Aaron noticed how the man’s sapphire eyes sparkled in the candle’s light. Appearing non-threatening, Aaron said, “I’ll stay on one condition.”

The man furrowed his brow, “What’s that?” 

“Let me buy you a drink for finding my ticket.” 

The man smiled. “Of course.” 

Aaron bumped his foot against the man’s striking red shoes as he slid into the booth. “Excuse me; hopefully, I didn’t scuff your shoe.”

“No worries. I wore these for you anyway.”

Aaron raised an eyebrow and drew a deep breath, “Thanks again. You saved me wandering around the hotel lobby looking for someone to let me out of the parking garage.”

The man smiled and handed him his ticket, “Here you go.” His smile faded, and he whispered, “Hopefully, I’ll save you from more than that tonight––”

The waiter interrupted, “May I bring you gentlemen a cocktail?” 

The man gazed up at him, “Sure, I’ll have a double Jameson and ginger.” 

The waiter turned to Aaron, “And you, sir?” 

The man blurted out, “He’ll have the same.”

“Certainly, sir. I’ll make it two of the same.” 

Aaron stared at the red-shoed stranger and said, “That’s what I always order.” 

“Yes, I know.”

Aaron glanced around the bar, then back at the man. The hairs on his neck’s nape grew legs and crawled down his spine. He thought joining the man might not have been a good idea.

The man extended his hand, “I’m Caleb Devine.”

Aaron looked down at the man’s hand and then back to his face. He slowly shook it and said, “I’m Aaron, Aaron Gresham. Nice to meet you, Caleb.”

“It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Aaron.” 

Aaron rubbed the back of his neck. “So, how do you know what I like to drink?”

“Oh, I know quite a bit about you.”

Aaron’s jaw clenched. “Is that right? I don’t think we’ve ever seen each other before.”

“Well, let’s leave that; you’ve never seen me before.”

Aaron squinted and ran his hand through his hair. “I don’t know who you are or what you think we’re doing here, but I’m not about to—.”

 Caleb interrupted him. “Aaron, your recent experiences result from selling intellectual property to some bad people.” 

The tendons on Aaron’s neck popped out. “What the hell are you talking about?” 

Caleb sat back and locked eyes with Aaron. “You unleashed Abdiel, the demon of slavery, onto some innocents, and you’re about to be recompensed. I’m here to help you through it.”

Aaron sat silently, his eyes narrowed, his fists clenched. “You’re here to do…what? Buddy, I’m not sure who ––.”

“Here you go, gentlemen.” The waiter interrupted, putting down their drinks. 

Aaron smiled, “Thank you.” Pulling a credit card from his wallet, never breaking eye contact with Caleb, he handed it to the waiter, “Close out the tab. We’re done here.”

Caleb’s lips parted slightly, and he took a shallow breath. “Aaron, what you and Marcus did have set what’s to come tonight into motion.”

Aaron took a swig of his drink, “Look, Caleb or whatever your name is, I don’t know what you’re talking about.” 

With his shoulders back and chest out, Caleb said, “Well, you work for Speck AI, and Marcus quit, right?” 

“Yeah, so what?”

“The launch of their new facial recognition software was very successful, wasn’t it?

“You’re damn right it was. Thanks mainly to Marcus and me.” 

The company overlooked your contributions, didn’t they? 

“Yeah, they did. But how did you know that?” 

Caleb took a sip of his drink and stared intently at Aaron. “What you did has become a burden to you. You know every action has an equal reaction.” 

“So what?”

“Our actions can affect people in ways we never imagined.”

Aaron picked up his cocktail and gulped, “Where are you going with this?”

“Depending on how you––”

“You know, that’s enough. Stop right there.”

Caleb continued, “The people you’re dealt with are not who they purport to be. They’re using what you provided them to do something evil.”

Aaron slammed a fist on the table. “I said stop. Shut the fuck up!”

Caleb’s eyebrows narrowed. “You may have been treated unjustly, but you’ve unleashed evil. The demon of revenge feeds your desire to avenge what happened to you.” 

Aaron chugged his drink. Wiping his mouth with his hand getting close to Caleb, “So why don’t you go after him and leave me alone!” The waiter dropped off the check. Aaron stared at Caleb as he scribbled his name and slid it aside. 

 Aaron slammed his glass on the table. “I’m finished here.” He sprung to his feet and dashed toward the front.

Caleb stood and shouted, “Aaron, tonight’s the night.” 

Aaron hurried across the street. The sound of a passing elevated train startled him, and he glanced up. The moon was full, and a sense of foreboding embraced him. Pulling his jacket tight under his chest, he walked into the wind.

Aaron heard footsteps growing closer behind him. Picking up the pace, whoever it was kept up with him. Turning the corner, he watched another man crush out a cigarette. It sounded like he joined whoever was behind him. The farther they got from the restaurant, the more deserted the sidewalks.

Aaron looked ahead, realizing he wasn't far from the parking garage. Approaching the street crossing, the light changed, preventing him from going further. He stood staring forward and tapped his foot—the men from behind him moved to his sides. 

Through his peripheral vision, he watched them exchange a glance. The light turned green, and he stepped off the curb. The parking garage was nearest to the crossing. 

The two strangers stayed beside him in the crosswalk. A white van sped from the parking garage, stopping in the crosswalk. Its door slid open, and a heavy-set man jumped out with a burlap sack and a gun. 

Aaron felt the men at his sides take his arms. He kneed the heavy-set man before he could cover Aaron’s head with the sack. Aaron broke one arm free, but the man holding the other tripped him as he tried to run. 

Aaron fell hard, face-first, onto the sidewalk. His glasses flew from his head. He climbed to his knees, and the man holding his arm jumped onto his back. The heavy-set man moved before Aaron, grabbed his hair, and repeatedly pounded his face onto the pavement. Aaron attempted to get up again but was subdued by the man on his back.

Two men rounded the corner of the parking garage. One of them shouted, “Hey, what is going on?” 

The man with the burlap sack answered with a heavy Asian accent, “We’re helping our friend.” The man on Aaron’s back zip-tied his wrists and pulled him up. He watched the heavy-set man stick the gun in his waistband. Everything went dark when someone pulled the burlap sack over his head. 

Aaron felt them toss him into the van and heard the others jump in behind. Aaron listened to the door slam shut. He heard squealing tires, smelled burning rubber, and felt the van pulling away. 

The men inside the van were not speaking English. Blood trickled across his eyebrows, and his nose and forehead ached. One of the men pulled off Aaron’s shoes and pushed up a pant leg. He felt a stinging sensation on his calf, and everything went black.

* * *

Aaron heard a voice shrouded in the darkness say in broken English, “You provide software to identify our daughters?” 

Aaron looked around. “What? Who are you?” 

He heard another voice say, “They were kidnapped, trafficked for sex, and tortured.” 

Aaron sensed there were several people in the shadows. Someone said, “Hunan paid you so they could use software to find them.”

“Look, okay, yes, I sold some intellectual property to a firm based in China. But I had nothing to do with what happened to your daughters.”

“They used what you sold to locate them. It was your fault.”

Aaron saw men moving toward him out of the darkness, “No, wait, stop, please. I only wanted to get even with Speck AI, not hurt you or your families. I didn’t know what they would do with the software.” Aaron dropped his head and sobbed. Through the drool, he said, “I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”

The men vanished. Aaron glanced frantically around the room.

Where did they go? 

The wretched stench of the room began to change to the sweet smell of Jasmine and vanilla.  

What’s happening? 

From the darkness, he heard the voice of the man he’d met earlier, Caleb. He could see the tips of his red shoes at the edge of the light. “Don’t be afraid, Aaron! God has heard you and accepts your remorse.”

Caleb stepped out of the darkness and into the light. He was robbed in white, with luminous feathered wings towering above him. Locking eyes with Aaron, he smiled a reassuring smile. His sapphire blue eyes sparkled as they had earlier. “Aaron, pull apart the chains that have shackled you.” Aaron stood, and the cuffs and chains fell away. “Never again, avenge yourself and unleash demons to do evil.” 

Aaron dropped to his knees, bowed his head, and made the sign of the cross. The following day his alarm buzzed, and the news popped on, “Breaking this morning Top Executives of Hunan Ltd., based in mainland China and controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, were arrested in Taiwan for organized sex trafficking. They are suspected of using stolen U.S. intellectual property to identify potential victims.”

February 21, 2023 00:08

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02:12 Feb 26, 2023

OOOOHHH Chandler, I like it! I kept reading faster and faster, which is what I do when I'm fully inside the story and can't wait to read the next line. Great writing. And by the way, no one catches all their own mistakes. Just do your best and keep writing!! Get a program like Grammerly, it's free and it's a big help.


Chandler Wilson
04:11 Feb 27, 2023

Sharon, thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment on my story. I'm glad you enjoyed it. Also, thank you for the suggestion of a tool to help me with my writing. I plan to continue trying to improve.


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Lily Finch
19:00 Feb 21, 2023

Chandler, such a good story. Very interesting ending. Thanks for the good read. LF6. Some things I found you may choose to correct? Almost always he left them in his car, but for some reason he’d slipped this one into his pocket. - He almost, always left them in his car, but for some reason, he slipped this one into his pocket. - ? robbed - robed - ?


Chandler Wilson
02:32 Feb 23, 2023

Lilly, thank you, so much for taking the time to read and comment on my story. I can't tell how much I appreciate your feedback and especially for catching my mistakes. It seems, no matter how many times I proofread, I miss things. This is why I no longer submit to contests, no chance to correct (or to ever win after twenty-five submissions, I gave up) — Thanks again!


Lily Finch
04:36 Feb 23, 2023

Don't give up! Get a good beta reader. You can do it. LF6.


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