The Shoeshine Boy’s Street Story

Listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry

“Shine? I’ll make ya shoes look fine!

The man passed 10-year old Leroy like he wasn’t even there. It was getting dark and soon there would be no chance of making any money. Reluctantly, Leroy folded up his little stand and seat.

He had a long way to walk back to Harlem. He couldn’t afford any kind of transportation. Not even the subway. Every penny he made went to keep his family from starving. His father was dead. His mother who had a terrible case of gout, could barely move on some days.

His three sisters, all older than him, did what they could to help provide funds for a roof over their head, and food. Being black, and poor, almost guaranteed they would never leave the slums of Harlem.

Because of bullies, and territorial gangsters, Leroy was forced to always keep moving where he did business. Some days he walked miles, relocating three or four times out of necessity’s sake.

Leroy learned his way around over the course of several years. He got to know which neighborhoods to avoid, and where it was safe to set up shop. Still, there was always new neighborhoods to explore in his search for money.

It was a new neighborhood where he hit his best payday ever!

All day long, men in dark clothes passed the Funeral Home near where he set up his stand. Many of them wanted a shoeshine. All were quiet and extremely generous, leaving him tips.

He lost track of time until the last shine, when darkness crept up on him like a thief. There were only a couple of street lamps working. Most were dark. Leroy pulled his threadbare coat around his chest tighter and shivered. A cold wind struck up as he starting walking down the street.

He was looking over his shoulder and didn’t see the man until he bumped into him! He immediately dropped his stand and covered up his head, fully expecting to be hit for his impropriety.

When nothing happened, he looked up and saw a tall pale man smiling at him.

“Sorry sir, I….”

“Don’t worry about it boy. We all get in a hurry sometimes, and make mistakes. Could I talk you into shining my shoes right now?

Despite Leroy’s misgivings about the strange-looking man wearing an 18th century coat, he set up his stand under one light that worked.

Fear tiptoed through his head as he dutifully buffed the man’s antique shoes. He knew shoes. He was sure he never saw anything like these ones.

When he was done, Leroy shyly asked if the stranger approved of his job?

The man stroked one end of his long black mustache and nodded agreeably. “Yes, well done boy. Here’s your reward.” He handed Leroy a gold coin. His eyes widened in surprise. The only gold coin he’d ever seen was in a pawn shop.

“Thank you,” he stammered.

“I’ll make a deal with you. Meet me once a month on this same day after dark, and I will continue to pay you with a gold coin. You must never tell anyone about our arrangement however.”

“Yes…” he assured him, “I won’t tell anyone.”

Then the stranger was gone.

After he got home that night he showed his sisters his prize. They were dumbfounded and excited. The next day all four kids went to the pawn shop where their uncle worked. The uncle’s eyes opened wide in surprise after examining the coin.

It was a $4 gold piece called a “Flowering Hair Stella” and was worth hundreds of thousands of dollars! The uncle was trembling when he picked up the phone and called an appraiser he knew.

“I’d guess you’ll get somewhere around $200,000 at auction,” the expert said.

All four kids screamed out loud in joy! The uncle was busy figuring out how he could get a cut of this sudden good fortune.

A month later life had changed drastically after they moved into a new house in a nice neighborhood. This sudden life of luxury caused them all to go a bit crazy and they spent most of their money.

Leroy thought about what the stranger said. He unpacked his old clothes which he couldn’t bear to throw away, and put them on. It took him a while to find his shoeshine stand. Someone had put it in attic.

He showed up at the same street where he met the stranger just before dark. The poor lighting caused shadows to undulate along the buildings and pour out into the street. He was looking at the ones across the street when he heard a cough nearby.

“Ahhhhum,” the stranger said, “You’ve returned to shine my shoes, I see.”

“Yes sir,” Leroy meekly agreed.

This time the stranger was more talkative.

“What did you do with the gold coin I gave you” he asked.

“I used it to put a roof over my family’s head, and for food for all of us,” he answered.

“Excellent! Good boy! Here’s your payment for tonight’s work.”

He handed Leroy a gold coin that looked just like the other one.

“In a month then?”

Yes…thank you!

When Leroy returned home that night he showed his sisters the gold coin. Their excitement soon changed to suspicion.

“Where you gettin these coins?” Latasha, his oldest sister asked.

“Told you. I got it for giving a man a shoeshine,” he said sullenly.

The same man?” she queried.

“Maybe...”

“What you mean maybe? C’mon lil man, this is me! Your sissy.”

Leroy began to feel guilty. He loved all of his sisters and he was keeping a big secret from them.

“Yeah…it was from the same man.”

“How did you find him again?” Tisha, his other sister asked.

“Well, that’s easy,” Tonya, the third sister claimed. “He went back to the same neighborhood. Isn’t that right Leroy?

“Yeah.”

The next day all four kids, and their mother, went to an independent coin appraiser to cut the uncle out of this windfall. He proved to be an ass the last time, demanding finders fees.

The coin was put up for auction a month later, and sold for $250,000.

This time, the mother and sisters paid off their accumulated bills, and took the rest and invested it in the stock market. Two days later the stock market crashed on Tuesday, October 24th, 1929!

The following night Leroy kept his appointment with the stranger. Once again the stranger was talkative.

“So, what did you do with the last gold coin I gave you?” 

Leroy hesitated. He hated telling the truth and risking rebuke, but he was an honest kid.

“My family lost it,” he admitted.

The stranger’s eyes darkened in anger. He looked Leroy in the eyes as if reading his mind. His countenance softening when he spoke, “I’m sorry to hear that. Here’s your coin. It’s the last one you’ll get from me. Better luck with this one boy.

Leroy looked down in his hand and saw the same type of coin as the other two. When he looked up the stranger was gone. He stood there for minutes on the sidewalk, watching the fog creep in.

When he got home he hid the coin. He would wait until he was 21 years-old and could lay claim to it without any legal challenges from his family.

As Leroy neared his legal age, he was still shining shoes. He seemed to enjoy the streets however, and started telling fantastic stories that his customers enjoyed. Their favorite story was how Leroy was really rich and was doing this – shining shoes – to pass time.

As It Stands, this was my twist on the generous stranger genre.

The Inmate’s Revenge

Drake County, Ohio – 2012

Construction workers were excavating a huge clearing next to a new neighborhood when they found a body. The badly decomposed corpse had its hands and feet bound with fragments of rope.

One of the workers called the supervisor over and asked him what to do. They both studied the corpse that was curled into a fetal position for a couple of minutes. The supervisor set up a perimeter with warning signs and secured the area before contacting his superiors.

Drake County, Ohio – 1854

The final touches were done and the Drake County Poor House was ready for occupancy. The insane asylum, completed a month ago, was located 300 years away, but in sight of the Poor House.

Local residents were pleased with both facilities, which they felt were needed for years. Officials were appointed, and staff members were recruited from the community. The mayor of Hicksville (the closest city) gave a speech to a crowd of two hundred people who picnicked afterwards on the Poor House grounds.

A year later, both facilities were at maximum capacity. When inmates of either facility died they were buried in unmarked graves, unless they had relatives willing to bury them properly at the county cemetery.

Three years passed before there was trouble at the insane asylum. A culture of cruelty had grown among the staff who took every opportunity to make the inmates lives miserable. There were never visitors. Family, or government.

The inmates very lives depended on cooperating and not causing trouble. The craziest were actually protected by the others. John Steele, who always seemed to have one foot in an alternate universe, was protected by other inmates.

The fact of the matter was, there were sane people locked up by their own relatives and corrupt courts.

One day Steele, who the guards called Daffy, got ahold of the cell keys from a dozing guard during lunch, and released the other inmates who attacked the rest of the staff!

The county marshal, with a posse, stormed the insane asylum and restored order by nightfall. After investigating what happened, the marshal had John bound hand-and- foot, and put in solitary confinement with no food or water.

Because his cell was in the same corridor as the community cells, everyone could hear his pitiful cries of hunger alternating with screams of rage!

Four days later, the guards opened his cell. Without water for the entire time, he died that morning. They carried his body out on a dirty sheet to the exercise yard. A guard was waiting with a shovel in his hand. They planted John, and promptly forgot about him.

Drake County, Ohio – 2012

Two county commissioners and their assistants were going through a pile of old maps laid out on a conference table. One of the assistants proudly held up a map and an old newspaper article.

The group converged on the map, and compared it to the present one.

“This isn’t good,” one of the commissioners opined.

“Building over grave sites is always a problem, but we’re committed to this project. The voters decided we needed a new elementary school. This is the ideal location,” the second commissioner said.

“You know we’re going to have to keep this quiet, don’t you?” 

“Yes. I’ll meet with the construction supervisor and his superiors, to come up with a plan if any more bodies are discovered.”

“What about the one we already found?”

“What body?” the second commissioner slyly asked.

It was left up to the construction foreman to quietly dispose of the skeletal remains as he saw fit. The foreman, Larry Freeman, wasn’t thrilled with the task. He knew it was probably illegal, but he needed the work.

It took years to finalize the project, but the finished result was what the community asked for. The first classes – K-6th Grade – opened up on September 2nd, 2014.

During recess for the 1st graders, one little girl ran up to the teacher just before the bell rang and handed her a green marble.

“What’s this Debby?” the teacher asked?

“Daffy gave it to me!” she squealed with delight.

As It Stands, Bad karma has a way of coming around.

The Abby of Little Horrors

When Ivan went to school Friday night he had one thing in mind; to get even with his classmate, Miles Newton.

Their rivalry had taken on new heights in the last week when Miles visited Ivan’s girlfriend, Celia, uninvited; while Ivan was taking an exam in the world spells department.

That was the incident that crossed the line.

There’s a saying among monsters, that if you mess with another lupine’s bitch, you better be prepared to eat silver. Touch a wizard’s woman, and there’s going to be hell to pay.

Ivan wasn’t as physically big as Miles who was a werewolf, but he was smarter. He was the son of a wizard. He wasn’t going to attack Miles without some help. That’s where the Jackson twins, who were vampires, came in. They were always ready for an adventure.

Because school hours were at night, it was easy to conceal oneself in the overgrown ruins of the ancient Abby that was their school. Dusky corridors echoed with the screams of monks that were brutally murdered by Viking invaders in dark days past.

Great stones still held up the roof of the Abby, unlike the outlying buildings that were in worse repair and roofless. Stars shone down on the venerable structure and it’s strange inhabitants like curious bystanders.

The creatures of the night that attended the unusual academy of learning at the Abby, were children of werewolves, vampires, and wizards. They were taught by their elders to abide by the laws of the school without question.

Generations of little horrors were prepped for their lives by savvy teachers descended from the most powerful warlocks, witches, werewolves, and vampires of lore. For hundreds of years it had been thus.

Things were about to change.

Ivan and the Jackson twins were waiting for Miles as he rounded the corner smack dab into the three waiting attackers. No words passed. The savage brawl that followed only ended when Ivan pulled out a silver knife and drove it into Mile’s chest!

The law was broken.

When Miles body was discovered, a general alarm went off among the students and teachers. Ghosts wailed pitifully.

Magic crackled in the air angrily. New dimensions opened up. Supernatural electricity darted though the Abby’ stone walls seeking culprits for the outrage.

Chaos was taking over.

The one main rule was violated – Thou shalt not kill a fellow student.

The Abby of little horrors depended upon dark magic and ancient spells for it’s existence. The meanings of the curses and spells were long forgotten, by the central message was always crystal clear. It was a safe zone.

No longer.

A very human emotion, jealousy, was the undoing of all the little monsters. They would never be safe again anywhere. Their universe shifted slightly. A new crack grew between the real world and the supernatural one.

The difference between man and monster narrowed.

As It Stands, the line between the supernatural and the real world is a very fine one.

The Killer Child’s Story

child-halloween-killer-overalls-2

 

Chapel Hill, Tennessee – 1975

Some people are born evil.

They don’t have to have an excuse like being brought up in a bad environment, or cruel parents, to become cold-hearted killers.

Murder is in their DNA. These bad seeds often go undetected for most of their lives.

They appear normal. They may be your neighbor, or a corner grocery store clerk. Or, the kid down the street.

Barry Lee Forrest was the great-great-great grandson of Nathan Bedford Forrest, one of the most feared Confederate Generals in the Civil War.

The Union general William Tecumseh Sherman called him “that devil Forrest” during wartime communications with Ulysses S. Grant and considered him “the most remarkable man our civil war produced on either side.”  

When Barry Lee Forrest was three months old he nearly bit his mother’s nipple off! His shocked mother immediately ceased breast-feeding him. After that, he was put on the bottle and fed baby formula.

Chapel Hill, Tennessee – 1981

Forrest School – Elementary 1-6  

Barry Lee Forrest was in 1st grade. He was the shortest boy in the class. The bigger boys mistakenly thought little Barry was a pussy. The first time one of them pushed him down for no reason on the playground, they found out that out wasn’t the case.

The bully was stunned when Barry got up and kicked him in the groin. Then in the head while he was squirming in pain on the ground. And then…it took a teacher to get him off the now terrified bully.

Barry’s parents were called in and warned that one more violent incident and he would be suspended indefinitely. After that, Barry learned to get his revenge when others weren’t looking.

By 3rd grade, his one fight was forgotten, and he became popular with most of the boys and girls at Forrest School. He got high grades and was an honor roll student. It seemed there was something about his size that encouraged bullies.

While eating lunch in the school cafeteria one day with a couple of friends a fourth grader came up to him and spit on his chicken salad sandwich, and laughed. He was easily a foot taller than Barry, and was huskier than most of the kids in his 4th grade class.

Barry reacted by throwing his metal lunch box at the bully. That was enough for the bully who pulled him away from the table and threw him onto the floor. He fell onto Barry and began raining blows upon him as Barry tried to cover his face.

When the teacher and the principle got there Barry was barely conscious and was no longer resisting. He was transported to the hospital with two broken ribs, broken nose, and jaw.

The bully was permanently suspended and handed over to juvenile authorities.

Barry was in fifth grade when he found out where the bully was living and going to school. The simmering anger he carried for two years over his beating was boiling over. He skipped school one day and went over to the other side of town to Chapel Hill Elementary.

He knew the bully was going there because he was playing football, and his team played Forrest School Elementary. Barry went to all the school games with his friends. When he first saw the bully playing a plan began forming in his head.

Today was the day. He was going to follow him home. He knew the route the bully took walking home. His trip took him through a community park where Barry waited for him with a baseball bat.

It was dusk and the bully looked tired, carrying his football pads and helmet like they were made of lead. It was a long practice.

Barry stepped out from behind a tree as he passed and took a solid swing of the bat to the bully’s skull. He never knew what hit him. When Barry was done he was barely recognizable as a human being.

That’s when Barry realized he liked the power he felt when murdering someone. It was a shot of adrenaline unlike anything he’d experienced before. He became an instant addict. His next kill, also in Chapel Hill, came a month after the bully’s demise.

Word spread. There was a serial killer in Chapel Hill. The police and detectives came up with numerous profiles but no evidence on either case. School authorities warned students to not walk home alone. If they needed a ride the school provided it.

Barry’s parents, both community leaders, saw to it that he no longer walked to school. Who knew if the killer would strike at his school next? Chapel Hill Elementary wasn’t that far away.

One day, Barry brought some rat poison pellets that he ground-up to school. He went to the cafeteria as usual after second period to help set up for lunch. It was part of a good citizenship program the school had, and that he’d been in for two years.

That morning he got there early, and unobserved by the lone cook, he poured the contains of his baggie into the pot of chili.

Still undetected, he left and came back twenty minutes later when the other volunteers arrived. The woman in charge of the cafeteria gave them all chores to do. A normal morning.

Later that afternoon the reports began coming in. Two students died after eating food in the cafeteria. Then more students were reportedly rushed to the nearby hospital with signs of poisoning.

By the time the authorities figured out what killed the sixteen students it became the crime of the decade. The police utilized every resource and never gave up looking, but the days turned into months with no leads.

Barry’s thirst for blood got worse. He stole a machete out of a friend’s garage and beheaded a kid that he knew since 3rd grade, that lived right down the street from him.

His reign of terror in Marshall County came to an end abruptly a week later when a car ran through a red light and hit him in the crosswalk. He died instantly.

Family, friends, and his classmates at Forrest School Elementary went to Barry Lee’s funeral. He was remembered as a good kid, and a good student.

As It Stands, irony is a fact of life. So his evil.