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 One?
Just to re-cap…..
I thought of my shoes on the bench. Just who had left them there? And, why?
“Could my shoes really be hers?” I asked Lilly.
“They might have been, but for one thing.”
“My client’s feet are tiny.”
~ Part Two ~
A few days later, when I was walking tall with my elephant feet, feeling quite wonderful, I bumped into a woman who was staring at my shoes.
I didn’t apologise like I usually did, even though this time it wasn’t exactly my fault: the perpetrator had walked into my path. Nor, for that matter, did she say a thing.
And, then, she didn’t let me pass. She stood in my way, all five feet of her, whilst I stared in disbelief over her head.
“Where did you get those?” She said fiercely. Although her words were nicely spoken, her actions weren’t befitting of a lady.
Of course, I was incensed at this rude abrupt behaviour. I wanted on my way! “None of your business.” I snarled at her.
The people in the pedestrian zone of the city, clotted about, started to stop and stare at us.
I made a side-step but she followed suit and blocked my way again.
I looked her over. This woman with her exotic dark looks, burning hateful eyes and dishevelled frizzy hair and appearance; the blouse buttoned up the wrong way, the stark creases in her skirt, the ladder in her stockings and the scuffed heels.
I didn’t know her! I had never met her before.
“Get out of my way, you skinny bitch!” I said. I think the Red Shoes made me use coarse language – it certainly felt that way.
“I want my shoes back!”
“Look, there’s going to be a catfight.” Someone said.
But there wasn’t because in the next instance we were taken to the police station for disturbing the peace.
I noted the small room I was in. Windowless, a toilet and a sink in one corner and a hard thin ‘bed’ in the other. The light was unnecessarily bright and it stunk of disinfectant with base notes of vomit. I felt a bad headache coming on.
Soon, I found out that we were in next-door cells to each other when I heard her wheedle through the thin wall that separated us.
“I just want my shoes ba-a-a-a-a-ck. Pl-e-e-e-a-ze.”
I tried to ignore her at first, but she got to me. “Shuddup!” I told her. “You’re not getting my shoes.”
The fluorescent light flickered, then completely went out.
I swear on Gran’s – no, my cat’s grave – that the shoes glowed red in the dark. I was still staring at them when the lights came back on and everyone cheered.
I tried kicking them off but my feet must have become too swollen and they wouldn’t budge a millimetre. With an exasperated sigh – full of the woes of my wonderful day being ruined – I sat against the hard wall, on the hard bed. The coldness of the cement wall seeped into my body. She was still wheedling through the wall for the shoes which by now felt very uncomfortable and hot, despite them having become a part of me.
When the police finally let me out an hour later – and after the verbal bashing – to my surprise, Lilly was waiting for me outside.
“How did you know I was here?” I asked, leaning against the wall next to the door.
“Your mum called me. Said that your gran saw you being arrested outside Just One Quid!”
“Really? What was Gran doing there?”
Lilly shrugged her shoulders, mystified.
“Probably buying bread.” I said to myself. Gran loved her sandwiches. Egg mayonnaise, ham and mustard, beef paste and sweet pickle (I know, strange)…
We went to sit on a low brick wall in front of the station and the parked police cars. Managing to catch the last rays of the evening sun. Being next to the road, now and then a car or a bus drove passed. I quickly told her what had happened.
My best friend looked aghast. “What’s got into you, Fran? You’re acting deranged. I don’t know who you are anymore…”
She was right: I had not only behaved badly but also unusually for me. I wasn’t me anymore. And, it had something to do with the shoes.
My feet felt much hotter than earlier. Kicking the shoes off didn’t work. They seemed glued on for good.
“Your feet! They look very swollen.”
“I know, I can’t get them off.”
Just then, the door to the police station swung open so fast and wide it smacked into the wall before rebounding and almost knocking out the small woman who had opened it. Someone shouted at her from within.
Lilly’s mouth was agape and her glasses slid completely down her nose.
“Don’t look! Don’t look!” She whispered to me, shielding her face with a hand and looking away.
Hiding wasn’t easy to do being only 10 yards away. I didn’t help matters by staring. It was the skinny bitch who was obsessed with my red shoes.
“You know her? How can you know her?” I said in bewildered hushed tones.
“It’s that working-girl client I told you about – but she looks a mess. I didn’t recognise her at first. SShhh, she’s looking our way.”
Ahh. The high-class call girl with the tiny feet. That didn’t make sense.
It didn’t make sense at all.
“You think they’re yours!” She snarled and spat bad breath, her blazing eyes directed at my shoes. “But they were mine. Are still mine.”
“Mrs Briggs, might I remind you that the police station is only just there?” Lilly said.
“I never stole them! I found them!” She stood there with hands on both hips. The badly creased skirt sticking out at awkward angles. Barely giving her former accountant a glance.
“Where did you find them?” I had to ask.
Mrs Briggs nervously licked her lips and looked sideways. “Finders keepers. Losers weepers.”
“Where did you find the shoes?” Lilly asked.
She sat on the wall beside Lilly, but not too close. As if she was afraid of being physically attacked. Ever so quietly she told us her story:
“I was finishing with my meeting at the Star Hotel, coming down in the lift to the lobby when I noticed what looked like a homeless woman leaving something on one of the chairs. She had short blonde hair and wore a purple trench coat. I would have said something to her, but she left so quickly. It was a plastic supermarket bag. I looked at the man at the reception desk but he was busy talking to a hotel guest.
“‘Curiosity killed the cat!’ my husband used to say.
“Anyway, I didn’t have another meeting that night, so didn’t have to rush off somewhere…so, I went to have a look. Obviously, you already know what was in that bag.
“I couldn’t believe my luck when I found out that they fit me.”
“My shoes wouldn’t fit you.” I pointed out, pointing one of my Red Shoe clad feet at her.
There was a pause in which her gaze became focused on the shoe.
“That’s a strange thing.” Mrs Briggs said finally. And, then, she just walked away without another word or gesture.
It was as if the very truth had released her.
I’d never been to, or inside, the Star Hotel before, although I had a vague idea where it was. Lilly told me she sometimes meets clients in the restaurant or the business rooms for hire. Apparently, a lot of serious business types frequent there. It was the slimmest of chances that I would find the blonde woman in the purple trench coat. What if she was just passing through? A scruffy hotel guest or anyone? Just because she looked unkempt – as did Mrs Briggs, who, Lilly explained, used to be elegantly turned out in a previous life – it didn’t mean she was living it rough on the streets.
So, who was she? What was her story connected to the Red Shoes?
The hotel was quite pretty in an exotic way, as well as clean, and smelling nice from the beeswax and the pots of gardenias dotted about. The sea of royal-blue carpet, I followed into the lobby, trickled through the downstairs corridors and gushed into the restaurant and bar areas, where it met the numerous, elegant dark legs of the tables and chairs. The downstairs walls were painted happy colours: a sunflower-yellow with motifs of stencilled gold hummingbirds and passionflowers; a lush emerald-green with velvet flocking of twisty Swiss cheese plant leaves and vines; a summery melon-red with a scene, outlined, hand painted in black, of pineapples and cocktails being sipped by cosmopolitan people; and, a serene pale-blue reminiscent of the sky because of its airbrushed mottled white clouds. Furthermore: the doors, walls, ceilings and floors had Art Nouveau imitation fittings and accents in gold metals; the furniture, like the tables and chairs, again, in dark woods, though in simpler shapes and lines; and, the windows were dressed up, in draped and knotted billowy satin of varying jewel-colours. I sat in the lobby, with a view of the reception desk, the main entrance – and if I swivelled my head, just so – also of the archway leading into the restaurant and bar. I occasionally walked about, getting to know people, even the staff. However, most times, I drank coffee after coffee after coffee. Walking was becoming increasingly difficult.
On the tenth consecutive day of my detective work, Fatima, a twenty-something Moroccan who grew up in France from the age of six, and whose job entails shift-work on reception, said to me: “That burning kind of obsessional love never lasts.”
“Fran, I see the haunted yet passionate look in your eyes. I notice you spend many hours here, searching…Searching for someone.”
I was taken aback. “Really? You see all those things about me?”
I wondered if she had a complicated love-life.
Her face lit up.
“And, not right.” I watched her face pull in a confused frown. “It isn’t a man – or a woman – it’s shoes. But, I am searching for someone.” I went on to tell her about the story of the Red Shoes so far, including the chapter concerning Mrs Briggs, and the chapter before that, about the mystery blonde in the purple trench coat – of whom I was searching for.
Brian from the bar caught most of my story when he walked in on it, on his lunch break at two. “You spin a magical yarn! Too much Dorothy and Wizard of Oz, if you ask me!”
“Brian, we weren’t asking you.” Fatima told him, flashing him a ‘look’.
The young barman looked sheepish because he had a thing for her. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to offend anyone.” He glanced over his shoulder before turning to me. “You don’t have anything to do with that graffiti do you?”
Over the past couple of weeks since the shoes had come into – well, overtaken – my life, I was learning its idiosyncrasies. It was as if it – or they – had feelings; ears and eyes that listened in, looked on. Whenever it found anything or anyone dis-pleasurable the shoes burned. When it wanted to make me listen to it, the shoes constricted themselves tighter around my feet – like a python throttling the life out of someone, except it was restricted to my feet. But, of course, the implications went further than that – the Red Shoes were, in effect, constricting my entire life.
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.
…………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
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.