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 Three?
Just to re-cap…..
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.
~ Part Four ~
Fatima drove us across the city after her shift ended at nine that evening. As Brian was tending the bar since lunch-time, his working hours were over by eight. We hung about the lobby and chatted with Fatima when the manager was out of sight and it was possible to in between customer service. The day had been a busy one for the hotel staff, with the adjacent running of business conferences and the annual wedding exhibition running in the city. However, the receptionist and the barman were bent on seeing the horror mural, rather than really go for drinks.
I came along – though, too depressed to be excited.
On the other side of the city, we were disconnected from the hustle and bustle that was going on, and, only a few people were about and in the pedestrian underpass. The overhead lights in the tunnel, flickering white-blue light, were unreliable; and, pockets of darkness took up the areas where the light was dead. The air was tinged with city fumes and dust and urine. Now, and then, we heard the rumble of a passing vehicle overhead. In the back of my mind, I was hoping we wouldn’t get mugged. It wasn’t a pleasant experience to walk there.
The mural was half-way down, shocking us to a sudden standstill. It wasn’t just because of the vibrant red or the startling visual impact, I knew it was something more.
In silence we stared.
Unlike the small-sized graffiti on the door of the toilet cubicle, the underpass one was huge – a proper wall mural – spanning perhaps 20 feet across, and all the way from the ground up to where the wall met the ceiling. Two big red shoes. And, the flames of wrath licking them. Other street artists had attempted to disfigure the mural but someone had obviously, expertly, retraced the original work, leaving only threads of the intruding tags. The impression given, was of the other graffitis being burnt in the orange-red fire that had birthed and nourished – and went on feeding – the red shoes.
The Red Shoes seemed to sigh as they unexpectedly released their tightened grip. My feet, before swollen and hot, were able to cool and feel freer within the constraints.
A fleeting thought, perhaps telepathic, came to me: It, whatever possessed the shoes, was pleased.
I shook my head in disbelief.
“What is it?” Fatima said.
“I think it’s falling in love with its own image.” I said.
“Like Narcissus from the Greek legend.” Brian said.
Fatima raised her eyebrows in question. “Like the Kardashians?”
I managed a smile. “Narcissus was such a handsome young man that everyone fell in love with him. When he looked into a pool of water he was so mesmerised by his reflection that he fell in love with himself. Eventually, he starved to death because he was unable to leave his image.” I explained.
We looked down at the Red Shoes that were now softly pulsating a glowing red. A pair of purring smug cats. But, ones that lashed out with unsheathed claws in rage, at any given time.
Of course, I tried removing my feet from the shoes. An innate sense told me that it – because it was really an ‘it’, a demon of some sort occupying the shoes – wasn’t paying quite enough attention to my thoughts, then. My mind had become clearer; my soul freer. Wordlessly, exchanging looks that said more than words, my new friends stuck out their hands to me, for me to grasp, to aid my balance. However, stepping out of the shoes wasn’t going to happen. Not yet, anyway.
The abrupt roar of a car engine and the loud screeching of brakes assaulted our ears. The sounds echoed in the underpass. We stared disbelievingly. Can a car really fit in the underground tunnel? The vehicle, running between and scraping, bumping against the walls, produced firework-spectacular sparks. Orange embers from the fire. The headlights, burning bright white, zeroed in on us – blinding us – as they approached hurtling at high speed. It happened so fast. Fatima screamed. I was aware of Brian – risking life and limb – pushing her to safety against the wall nearer us. There was just enough space. But, I wasn’t so lucky. Whilst the hotel barman had saved the woman of his dreams and himself at the very last second, I was slammed into by the vehicle; hitting its bonnet, flung high only to hit its windshield before being thrown onto the unforgiving, hard floor several yards ahead.
The air was knocked out of me, I gasped to breathe – it came out in quick shallow bursts. I hurt, I hurt so much. My heart was thumping in my ears. Then, if my life wasn’t already surreal enough, time seemed to slow down considerably and my senses became numb as if I were locked inside a protective bubble. The pounding of my heart quietened, slowed to a crawl. The pain loud and jarring at first then dissipated. The bright flickering lights of the tunnel dimmed. Yes, I thought then that I was dying…
Fatima’s and Brian’s concerned, fear-struck faces stared down at me.
She was moving her lips but no sound came forth. He was wordlessly talking, gesticulating with a hand, pointing a finger away from me.
I was confused, I should have been scared, but nothing mattered anymore.
I tried to smile at them, to tell them it wasn’t so bad. Then they walked away.
An ambulance came. They carefully lifted me – still in that strange protective bubble state – onto a gurney to take to the hospital. En route to the vehicle parked outside the tunnel, I noticed a car, its windshield smashed to bits. There was a giant hole framing the driver within.
He, maybe middle-aged, maybe younger – I couldn’t tell – was lent back in the driver’s seat. Against the headrest as if in sleep. A Catholic crucifix dangled from the rear-view mirror, its gold colour glinting in the overhead lamps and the lights of the newly arrived vehicles. Whoever he was, this man of faith, he was dead. The part which stayed in my mind, though, was the deep bloody hole bored into his forehead. The diameter of a stiletto heel.
So, the Red Shoes had killed. That didn’t surprise me, but what I couldn’t get my head around was, how had it done it? What I also knew, was that it had protected me from the worst of the accident – by inserting me inside a kind of protective bubble that insulated against pain, injury and anxiety – only because I, by way of extension, was now a part of it.
There weren’t any physical defences at either end of the underpass tunnel, people had complained all the time about the likely dangers of pedestrians being hit by vehicles that shouldn’t be driving that way. The news media said the priest had experienced a heart attack and that was why he’d driven off the road and into the underpass. The hole in his head was never spoken of.
After they checked me over at the hospital it seemed I’d got away with a light concussion and no broken bones. A miracle, one of the nurses said.
…………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.