Palo Alto Weekly 26th Annual Short Story Contest
Second Place Young Adult

Gavin Rea

Short Story Contest.

by Gavin Rea

You will want a friend—breaking and entering is not the kind of thing you do alone. Someone else will back you up and stop you from running away; from turning tail even in the face of reasonable fear.

You will want a brick. Just for irony, use the one that came crashing through your kitchen window last Sunday, sprinkling the table, dusting the dishes with shards of crystalline transparent glass. The meal was ruined. A note attached: “Get the hell out of here, go back to where you belong.” You will take sick pleasure in heaving that dull, heavy object into your own reflection cast by the streetlamp, seeing the pieces of glass sliding down to crash and tinkle upon the stained gray pavement.

You will want earplugs to silence the alarm bells. You will wish you had brought them as the noise pries into your head like a crowbar ripping apart nailed 2x4’s. You will be haunted by that metallic ring of cold hard metal on metal for weeks afterwards; you will hear it every time you close your eyes and wish for a dreamless sleep. Eventually, you will feel like that self-same piece of glass—shattered and crashing down to earth, torn in rents and scarred, nothing but the hard white sheen of light upon your flat surface. Broken, empty and see-though; a reflection of the world. You are a reflection.

Bring a flashlight. You will curse yourself for forgetting it, fumbling around in the dark gloomy shop, tearing through cardboard boxes, hands trembling, heart pounding its way out of your chest. All you will have is that stupid penlight attached to your keychain, the faint pinprick of light illuminating bits of dust swirling in the dank, stale air.

You will wish you had thought this through and reconciled yourself to the possibilities; erased those flashing blue and red lights that will blaze through your head illuminating every dark crevice and secret; erased the screeching tires that you will hear every minute but look up to a parking lot deserted but for the yellow incandescent lights falling away in the darkness.

Wear a jacket so you can cover your head; a hoodie is best. Pull the cords tight to throw a shadow over your face and give you the comfort of anonymity, of a statistic, a data point on a graph. Your quick breaths will come in cold white clouds on this starry night in late October. Shivers will wrack your body, sheathed only in your paper thin white cotton tee.

Don’t be scared. You will be so scared: scared of taking steps against fate, of ruining the best-laid plans. Your friend will tap you on the shoulder and you will turn, your face a mask of fear, the whites of your eyes wide with surprise and horror in the dark night.

“We need to go”. An order.

The hoodie will help here. You will be embarrassed for showing weakness, for proving just how deathly afraid you are. Hide in the black shadow cast over your face, show no emotion. Speak in a voice that does not tremble.


Fuming at yourself you will follow him, feet pounding on unforgiving pavement, watching his shadow dance and weave along the cracked sidewalks, past chain link fences and the burnt, raggedy lawns of the neighborhood—flying through the night.

A safe distance away, gasping for breath, braced against the night, you will open the smooth, feather light cardboard box and rip out the crinkly brown newspaper. You will tug on the Nikes, smelling of plastic, paint and fresh leather mixed with that of the damp, loamy leaves veined with frost scattering the sidewalk.

Bring thick socks, the scratchy gray ones at the bottom of the drawer. The shoes’ sharp backs will bite into your ankles like faithful hounds who know you are not their owner. But this is a fact of life and you know it: new shoes always hurt.

Legs shaking, you will stagger home, pausing to retch into the neighbor’s garbage can as the evening’s events catch up to you. Your friend will have left long ago. You are glad of this right now, glad he cannot see you weak, consumed by knee shaking, petrifying dread.

You will wince at the creaking of the back screen door strewn with shadows cast by the peeling turquoise paint. Slipping off the shoes you will stalk in with bare feet and practiced silent tread through the hall, keeping to the sides where the boards creak less.

You will put your eye to the crack of your mom’s door, and, finding her asleep, glide to the bathroom, groping in the darkness for her sleeping pills that she takes each night. You will pop three, right then you will feel like you need them. Stumbling for the stairs you will crack your shin on the coffee table and wait to see if you have roused her.

You will limp upstairs, feet padding unevenly, tossing the shoes into your closet: shove them to the very back, beyond the reach of memory; you will discover them again only upon packing your belongings to leave, years later. You will burn them then, in the early hours of the morning, to forget. That will be your last memory of the house you grew up in, looking out over the white tips of the curling flames licking their soles, bending and distorting the oak front door and the hooded window of your room above with waves of heat.

Shove the night’s events out of your mind in the same fashion. Sitting on the lip of your bed, you will massage the red-raw blisters on your heels. You will remind yourself: new shoes always hurt. As you close your eyes and drift into a troubled, drug-induced sleep you will hear the clanging of alarm bells, shrill and piercing in the clear, black night.


Judge's comment

In an engaging second person point of view, "New Shoes" tells a big story of teen struggle in compact, vivid prose, with a wonderful twist at the end.

Stay informed.

Get the day's top headlines from Palo Alto Online sent to your inbox in the Express newsletter.