Craig walked through the Central Market, idly picking up fruit to examine before placing them in his basket. He tried not to look to obvious that he was looking at the girl shopping as well. She was a young thing, maybe in her mid-to-late twenties, with long dark hair to match her dark eyes. She had an amazing smile, one that gave Craig all sorts of ideas...
He grunted as he was bumped into from behind, almost knocking him to the ground. His cowboy hat slid over his eyes and his shirt caught on a sliver of wood from the stands holding the fruit, tearing a hole in the threadbare shirt. Craig growled as he stood up, his greasy hair falling around his eyes as he adjusted his hat. He turned to look at an old man, a large nose with wide ears full of gray hair and glasses magnifying his foggy blue eyes. He was dressed in brown khakis with a button up green shirt with a brown coat over it all. He was also holding one of the baskets, which was full of bottles and bags of fruit.
"Oh my goodness, are you alright young man?" The geezer asked, moving closer to examine the tear in his shirt. "Oh my, this isn't good."
"You're damn right it isn't good! This is one of my favorite shirts you old ninny!" Craig exclaimed, poking the man in his brittle chest.
The old man looked down at Craig’s hand before looking him in the eyes. "I see that your jeans have tears in them as well. Am I responsible for that as well?"
That took Craig by surprise. The old-timer had been so friendly by had instantly turned frosty once Craig spoke to him. He didn't care though he was angry and he could whoop an old man any day of the week!
Craig sneered. "It's called fashion Pops, maybe you should join us in this century and update your wardrobe?"
The old man laughed though Craig had no idea why. "I can understand that. I remember when I was your age; I thought all old people were so out of touch. Well let me tell you a little secret:
we're not out of touch, we just don't care to know!"
Craig frowned. This wasn't how this was supposed to work out. The old man was supposed to be afraid of him, maybe offer him some money to get a new shirt. Instead, he seemed confident and jovial, like he hadn't a care in the world.
"Listen," Craig said, shoving a finger under the man's large nose. "You either pay up for the damage you caused or I put the beat down on you. How's that sound?"
"I have a better idea!" The old man said with a laugh, eyes darting up to Craig's hat. "You fancy yourself a cowboy, huh?"
Craig was taken aback by this and looked at the old man, trying to judge what his intentions were.
The geezer continued without so much as waiting for a response. "I can tell you want to look more rugged. Maybe to get a little female attention? Maybe from a dark-haired lovely over by the frozen foods?"
Craig turned and, sure enough, the girl he'd been eyeing was now standing in front of a freezer, looking over a selection of ice creams that were low calorie. Craig looked back at the man, who was smiling gleefully. "Maybe. What of it?"
"I'm a cobbler by trade, and I happen to have some boots that would look perfect on you! I offer
them to you, free of charge! Think of it as an apology for your precious shirt."
Craig thought about that. He had been saving up for some new boots, as they were pricey, and here he could get a free pair. He nodded, "Yeah, sure. Let me pay for my stuff and we'll meet out in the parking lot. Come to my car, the yellow Geo Metro with the fuzzy dice on the rear-view mirror.
"Sure, I'll be right behind you," the man said with a gracious smile.
They both paid for their goods and, once they were bagged, made their way out to the parking lot to deposit their purchases in their respective cars. The old man was parked next to him; his vehicle a large suburban that Craig thought might be as old as the cobbler himself. He snorted at the thought and closed his trunk before turning to find the old man standing there, holding a pair of weathered black Lucchese Alligator boots. Craig couldn't believe his luck! This was perfect!
Who cares if they'd been worn a bit, he thought as he grabbed them, loving the texture beneath his fingertips. They were surprisingly smooth and pliable, the Alligator hide bending beneath his fingers.
"Try them on, let me see how they look on you," the cobbler said, folding his hands behind his back.
Craig kicked off his worn sneakers and dropped the boots to the ground, pulling them on while leaning against his trunk. They were a snug fit, and amazingly warm! He wiggled his toes and found there was plenty of space for his feet; they were just his size!
"Is this a good enough payment for your shirt young man?" The cobbler asked, cocking his head to the side.
"They'll do old man, they'll do," Craig said, trying to hide his excitement. "Just don't let me see you here again, you get me?"
"Oh, you'll never see me again," the cobbler said as he walked to his car door. "I guarantee it."
"Good. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go back in the store and see if I can grab the brunette's phone number," Craig said, adjusting his hat as he took a step forward, loving the feel of the boots on his feet. They didn't even need to be broken in!
The cobbler pulled out and left, a black plume of smoke coming from his exhaust as he pulled off onto the access road. Craig didn't give him a second glance as he walked back into the store, looking for the girl.
Sure enough, there she was in the fruit section. Craig brushed some dandruff off his shirt and swaggered over towards her, giving a wide toothy grin as she looked at him, her eyes glinting in the warm light.
"I'm sure you get this all the time, but ah-ah-ahhhh!" Craig began before descending into a scream, falling to the ground. His feet felt like they were being pulled through a wood chipper! Looking down, he heard the cute girl scream as blood erupted from the soles of his boots, the Alligator-skin boots slowly climbing his leg, grinding his muscle and bone into a bloody pulp.
"For the love of God, help me!" He screamed, reaching out for the girl, whose legs were stained red from his blood spatter. His screams grew louder as the boots traveled past his ankles and up to his calves, the feeling of teeth crushing through bone and flesh wracking his body as he convulsed on the floor.
A panicked manager was on the phone with emergency services while several other men and women looked on, not know how they could help. The screaming stopped as the Craig, now pale with blue veins tracing along his arms and neck, passed out from the loss of blood.
And still the boots ate. And on the highway, the cobbler smiled.
Note: This is an excerpt from the Grimlocke Chronicles, an anthology I wrote a number of years ago with some of my favorite stories in it. Check it out!