Dear reader, I had said I’d publish this short story in ONE GO, but it ran away with me, growing into a longish short story – too long for one sitting! So, I’m breaking it up into 3 or 4 parts, to be published every Sunday (the usual day when I posted The Hotel Unicus series). I’ll be rating it 16+ due to the mature themes, but as is my way there is more mystery in the absence of gory details, which terrify me. Horror/mystery/pretanatural. I hope you like it.
Have you missed Part Two?
Just to re-cap…..
I felt my feet burning. “What?”
“The weird graffiti in the loo. OK, OK, don’t kill me!”
I tried toning down my irritation. “What are you talking about?”
Brian looked over both shoulders. “Come on…what was your name, again?”
“Come on, Fran, you might be very interested in this.”
“Take me a photo!” Fatima called after us.
~ Part Three ~
Brian remembered – and took – a really good photograph of the graffiti.
On the back of one of the toilet cubicle doors, someone – unknown – had spray painted a pair of stiletto shoes, and the words: Be careful whose shoes you stand in! Underneath that helpful statement, were two further words:
It certainly had an impact, what with it being sprayed in bright red, and the warning executed precisely in black – but it wasn’t a Banksy.
Fatima, Brian and me studied my shoes.
Despite the heat of the shoes, a chill ran through me.
“What am I to do?” I whispered.
I felt too depressed to come back to the hotel the next day. I went to the park instead and cradled a takeaway coffee on a bench. My legs took up the entire space so I could dangle my painful feet over the edge of the seat.
I counted on my fingers how many miserable days and nights it had been since I hadn’t been able to remove the shoes.
Seven days. A week.
Two weeks ago I was soaring with happiness because of the shoes, but the honeymoon period was over. Just like an abusive relationship, things had turned irrevocably sour.
Would I end up as mad and destitute – worse-off than before – like Mrs Briggs?
I was already feeling the loss of my identity.
Was my life in danger?
My eyes wandered along a curving path that disappeared behind large overhanging oak trees and sprawling dog rose bushes. Happy childish cries from playing children, and a man calling a dog, vaguely reached my ears. I followed a jogger with my eyes as he turned the bend in the path, soon disappearing behind the greenery.
Without conscious thought, my eyes rested on a group of three people under the trees. I hadn’t seen them at first. The shade had in part obscured them from sight.
They were those who live on the fringes of society. Invisible. Maybe forgotten.
I could make out one woman and two men – or perhaps the smaller slimmer man was a woman. This genderless one was drinking out of a bottle, whilst the other two, who seemed closer and were physically closer to one another, shared a cigarette or a spliff.
A disturbing thought intruded this almost spaced-out feeling: Had the Red Shoes brought me here only to witness my own imminent downfall?
My mobile phone rang, it was Lilly. She asked me where I was then said she’d be there as soon as she could get there. She wasn’t only concerned for my welfare, she had something to tell me.
“Mrs Briggs just phoned.” Lilly said, nearing the park bench where I sat and suffered.
Lilly wore an expression of barely concealed excitement.
“Budge up.” She parked her bottom beside mine and poked with an index finger, her travelling glasses back up her nose. “She actually sounded normal, rational – like she used to when I was her accountant.”
“Sounds suspicious to me.” Lately, for some reason, I’d become rather untrusting.
“She went on to say that she was thrilled to have met you because you have made everything like it used to be. Whatever that means.”
I remembered the awkward encounter – the one outside the police station. Afterwards. How the crazed woman had reacted to me pointing out that my shoes wouldn’t fit her, (being that her feet are so tiny). The stunned look followed by her puzzling words: “That’s a strange thing.”; and then, her quiet relief as she walked away, like a completely different person.
As if the power of the Red Shoes held their sway over her no more. She had been released, her freedom restored.
My feet were so hot and swollen despite the cool shade of the trees. Lilly offered to try pulling the shoes off. She gave it her best go but it was no use. While we were doing this, the group of three – who I’d earlier spied – walked passed. The smaller man, I noticed at this closer distance, was actually a young woman – wearing little makeup, a crumpled trilby hat and an open purple trench coat over frayed denim shorts and a vest top that had been white but was now grubby with stains. She wore dirty lilac coloured canvas shoes with off-white laces.
She stared at my shoes and I stared at her.
A few strands of her chin-length hair had escaped the hat where they stuck out behind her ears.
The blonde woman in the purple trench coat.
The look in her eyes sent shivers down my spine. The whites of her eyes were enlarged in horror. The hand she pointed at my shoes, shook.
“They will bring you nothing but bad luck. Find a way to get rid of them.”
“How?” I asked, the alarm making my voice rise in discordant notes.
“I don’t know. I can’t help. It’s different for everyone.”
“Please stay,” I pleaded with her, “I need to know more about your connection with them – to understand how I can rid myself of them.”
“The relationship we had holds no answers for you. Good luck.”
I couldn’t make her stay. My feet burned brighter while the shoes constricted tighter…
“Fran, I think I know what the answer is.” Lilly said as we watched the threesome hurriedly walk off down the path between flower-beds filled with colourful bedding plants. In the near distance, a woman scolded a child and a chocolate labrador dog barked as it ran after a far-flung tennis ball.
“How can you know that?”
“They say that evil delights in lies. It seems to me that the truth will set you free.”
We were walking at this point, following the others – a good way behind – along the path, in the direction of home. Every now and then the purple of the mac flashed through the trees on the curve of the path. Spontanenously, I gave Lilly a quick squeeze of a hug.
Then, as she bent forwards to the ground, to collect her spectacles that had completely fallen off her retrousse nose during the impromptu hug, I said: “But, what truth. Which particular truth will set me free?”
“You look like hell.” Gran said. This, the same gran who, only recently, told me frightful bedtime stories about red shoes.
I don’t know why folklore has it that grandmothers are sweet, wizened, old women because my gran is none of those things.
She dyes her shoulder-length hair burgundy, sports a tattoo of a Phoenix arising from flames, between her shoulder blades, and her main mode of transport is a 1970s’ Triumph motorcycle – all shiny chrome and black leather and a growl and rumble like the earth is being ripped apart. She’s 73. She also plays scrabble on Sundays with the Reverend. That last bit is true – as is the rest.
Maybe that’s why it’s called folklore.
“Fran didn’t you hear me, girl, I said, ‘you look like hell’.”
Did I forget to mention the outspoken part?
“Mother, I hope you can help our Fran.” Mum said, poking her nose round the door into Gran’s tiny kitchen where we sat at a tiny formica topped table.
“I’ll give it my best shot.” Gran answered without taking her shrewd eyes off me.
She poured us tea from a teapot into big ceramic mugs. This looked like serious business when Gran got the Teapot Out.
“Now,” she began, as she added the milk (neither of us taking sugar), “as you already know, we all have to find our way in the world, and what’s right is sometimes hidden.”
I just nodded, wondering how long the sermon would last.
“But, the truth is an awesome thing: no matter how much, or, for how long for, it is held back, it will always arise like the Phoenix. You can never hide the truth. It always comes out.”
I sipped my hot tea and nodded again when she came to the end of her speech.
“More tea, Dear?”
It was odd that she mentioned the ‘truth’ after it had reared its ugly head, yesterday. Though, I hadn’t connected the two events by then. Why would I? I wasn’t one to believe in synchronicity – and all that hocus-pocus – that’s for loopy people, right?
We drank more tea until my bladder was drowning in it and looked through old photographs of gran when she was another being: a much younger version of herself and much more sensible.
She kept poking a finger at a particular black and white photo; one, where she wore a 1950’s gown and high heels. She was very pretty – all the women are attractive in our family – and had her pale blonde hair pinned up high and wore dark lipstick. Red, she said, we all wore it. The sullen young man beside her wasn’t my grandfather, she informed me, but an ex-boyfriend, who she thought she would marry. That was until he became mean to her and she came to her senses and called curtains on the relationship.
“And, that, Fran, was my truth.”
“What happened to the red lipstick?” Fatima asked me when I dropped by the Star Hotel.
“I hate red now.” I said, glancing at the Red Shoes (still holding my feet hostage).
She seemed to understand. “They scrubbed that graffiti off the toilet wall.” She told me. “When the manager found out he went ballistic! Thought one of us was playing a joke.”
“Why would he think that? It seems rather paranoid.”
“He is paranoid. He thinks everyone’s got it in for him.”
I told her about the chance encounter with the blonde woman with the purple trench coat in the park. Complete with her utter horror of seeing me wearing the shoes. The same Red Shoes she’d had an unhappy relationship with.
“Apparently, I’m supposed to find my own individual ‘truth’ to set me free.”
“What’s that then?” Brian interjected, strolling over to the reception desk. I never took him for the brightest bulb.
Fatima and I exchanged rolling-of-the-eyes looks.
No doubt, still trying to impress the pretty Moroccan, Brian told us of another story concerning the same kind of graffiti he’d seen in a pedestrian underpass, the other side of the city. I say the same, but the wording was slightly different: The, Be careful whose shoes you stand in! was omitted, leaving just, The Devil’s Shoes; and, a single word, Truth.
“Did you take a picture of it?” Fatima wanted to know.
“What?” Brian rolled his eyes.
The photo on his mobile phone was disappointing. It was too dark, badly blurred, showing only a glimmer of bright red.
“What happened?” Fatima asked.
I, on the other hand, wasn’t surprised.
“I don’t think it wanted to be photographed.” Brian said. Then: “Why don’t I take you girls out tonight?”
“Only if we get to see the mysterious mural first.” The receptionist winked.
“OK.” I said, feeling I was running out of time.
And, in response, the Red Shoes burned a little more.
…………to be continued!
Did you enjoy this story?
If so, I’d love to hear from you!
Inspired by: My own red Italian shoes (in another life when my life was more high heels than wheels).
The Red Shoes by Hans Christian Andersen
The Red Shoes, the film, 1948
Animated gifs from giphy.com and gifandgif.eu
Copyright Faith McCord 2016
Story and artwork belongs to Faith McCord who is the author and artist holding the copyright. This is not a public domain work. Worldwide rights.