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 as-many-as-it-takes 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 Eight?
Just to re-cap…..
There were several notes and cards, in fact many, though it was likely that a few were missing. There were long stretches in time that punctuated the two or three letters written a week over a duration of weeks; and, those breaks became longer and more frequent as time went on. They spoke of daily life, dreams and mishaps, intimate problems. Isabelle was quite the artist, with scribbled drawings in the margins or on the envelopes. The sisters clearly had a tight bond.
But, six months later, the very last letter was very different in tone, and not written by either sister. It was addressed to Joy from Isabelle’s husband, James. It accounted the date of Isabelle’s untimely death, spoke of the shock and the grief, and mentioned the date of her funeral.
This time the address on the envelope was different; it was my home town.
~ Part Nine ~
“Is Joy still alive? How did Will get all these?” Lilly wondered, indicating the loose pile of letters with a wave of the hand.
We’d met again, later that day, at Lilly’s flat. The time had just gone seven and we were sitting in her living room, sprawled out on her long couch. Everything is neat and tidy in my friend’s apartment, she’s the most minimalistic and organised person I know. She was the ideal person to help me. We had the contents of the files spread out on various surfaces, floor, table, couch, immediate to us. Trays of our dirty plates stood on the coffee table as we’d recently eaten a simple meal of beans on toast. Cherish, Lilly’s tabby Persian cat, was, leisurely, licking the remnants of tomato sauce from a plate. The light breeze from the air-conditioner was a welcome relief from the day’s heat – I just wished I could actually remove the demonic shoes from my feet to really enjoy it.
“Will has some personal notes here…” I rummaged through the file since it was now a dreadful mess after being in my possession these few hours. After a while, I found what I was looking for: “Mm, Will writes that Joy contacted him when she heard of his participation in helping… She’s still alive and in a care home, called Willows. Apparently, Will had put out some small ads in the local paper and elsewhere asking for people who had a past connection with the Shoes, to get in touch…
“How bizarre! He notes about some weirdos getting in touch and a salesperson trying to sell him shoes.
“He writes he was shocked to discover Joy’s age – 82 – until she pointed out that she and her sister were both young when Isabelle had her fatal experience. Isabelle was nine years older than Joy, she married James at twenty-one, and died at twenty-nine. James, five years older, was a doctor. There weren’t any children. They had a dog and a cat – a tortoise – and she drew and painted in watercolours, particularly of the local countryside and their life together.
“Then, Will concludes, he was shocked again to discover just how long the Shoes had been around – since the 1950s. (This was before finding out about the shoe demons of Italy two centuries ago).”
“So, she’s still alive. Where’s Willows?” Lilly said.
The care assistant frowned. “I don’t know, Mrs Lapierre doesn’t like to be disturbed after lunch. Who did you say you were?”
The carer, a slim middle-aged woman with short bleached blonde hair looking like straw, moaned and muttered under her breath as she lead us into the labyrinthine corridors of the Willows care home. I lost count with how many corridors we walked down and how many heavy safety fire-doors we had to pass through. Finally, when I thought my painful feet couldn’t manage another step, and I’d adjusted to the lingering smell of urine and disinfectant, we arrived. The door to the room was like all the others, painted white with a handwritten sign naming the person within. Mrs Joy Lapierre.
With a curt knock, the carer opened the door and stepped inside the room. Lilly and I lingered behind in the corridor, not wishing to appear rude.
“Joy… Joy, you have visitors. Your granddaughters are here to see you.” We heard her say.
Then: “My granddaughters did you say?” A surprisingly young-sounding voice replied.
A pause, and then: “Yes, bring them in. I haven’t seen them in such a long time I’d forgotten they existed.”
The carer emerged from the room. When she looked into our faces I knew then that she was genuinely concerned about her elderly resident. “Please remember she gets easily tired; don’t keep her long.”
She left and I wondered if we would get lost finding our way back. Lilly tugged my arm, “Come on Fran, don’t keep our grandmother waiting.”
The room, comprising a double bedroom and a small lounge with a door going off to its private bathroom, was in semi-darkness. At the patio doors, the curtains were almost closed, the foot-long gap presenting us a view of a well-plenished garden.
“I like to feed the birds.” Said the small figure from where she sat in an armchair facing the window. She was dressed in a short-sleeved cotton top and trousers, wore slippers on her feet. Her hair was snowy white and her eyes grey; they reminded me of Isabelle’s eyes as the camera caught her unawares, all those years ago.
Lilly and I exchanged looks. I spoke first: “I’m sorry we lied…”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you Fran – you’ll have to introduce me to your friend. Then, why don’t you makes us all a cup of tea from the tea things over there?” Joy interrupted. “I’m sure you are thirsty in this hot weather. You can sit down and tell me about your acquaintance with the Red Shoes.”
Lilly introduced herself, greeting Joy with a gentle handshake, before going to the kettle spotted across the room. I sat on a small sofa at a right-angle to our new ally.
Despite wearing nighttime slippers, Mrs Lapierre was a stylish woman; her natural hair was expertly cut, and there was a touch of colour to her face in the form of coral lipstick and tinted powder. She smelled faintly of Chanel No. 5 – I know it because Gran wears it. The small gold cross round her neck, which was barely visible, I guessed was a symbol of her faith.
Like Dougi, she wouldn’t address the Red Shoes with a look.
“It’s a tragedy what happened to Will.” Joy began as we clutched cups of hot tea. “He had a kind of foresight that it would happen. But, he didn’t know when. Of course, he wanted to rid them himself, send them right back to Hell where they belong… He knew he was running out of time.” She sighed.
“Will told me in my sleep that it wasn’t my fault, but I feel guilty. I know that my own life is in jeopardy; each day that comes and goes they take another part of me. How did you know we were coming?” I said.
“Fran, Dougi phoned me the morning after you visited him, that is how I know of you. He mentioned to me that you might be visiting because of your own affliction. Will knew about you – only days before his murder – he was looking for you.” She stared at me. “Will wanted to help every poor soul. Especially those afflicted by the ‘Shoes’.”
I recalled coming across a file from Will that explained his introduction into his research. It was dated from the end of March, some six months earlier, and started because of the first victim he knew of, a Lucy Brown. She had, in desperation come to his church for help. And, somehow, he did help her. Although he didn’t, at first, believe the story about the Red Shoes possessing her, he helped her find her truth. The victim came to realise that her anorexia – and the root cause of the anorexia – was killing her and that very day discovered the shoes missing from her feet. Where they went nobody knew…until Will successfully traced the next victim two weeks later.
“Joy, how did the Shoes follow you here? I read in Will’s file that your sister was living in Yorkshire.”
“We grew up in Yorkshire but her husband’s job took her – them – to another town within the county, too far away for daily contact. Most people didn’t own cars in those days. Then, together with Gareth, I moved further away, to this fine city.
“After she passed, I inherited her clothes, our letters, and some other things. I was newly married then, living with my Gareth here. He died ten years ago…he was a good man to me. He was a Welshman and his father a Frenchman – you might have wondered at my surname. We met when as a boy, his family moved to Beverley, Yorkshire; we went to the same school.
“I was never personally drawn to the Shoes – and I didn’t know then that they were the cause of her death. I didn’t desire them; they didn’t desire me. I don’t know why.” She shook her head in wonder.
“Strange.” I said.
Joy continued: “I’d left them in a box at the back of a cupboard, and one day, they’d simply disappeared.”
In my mind I pictured the Red Shoes walking away in search of souls. Some souls desirable; some souls not. For reasons only the Red Shoes Twins knew.
The clink of her cup meeting its saucer brought me back to the present. Joy Lapierre’s grey eyes suddenly twinkled. “How is Alfred these days?”
…………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 2018
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.