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 Seven?
Just to re-cap…..
My busy, searching mind turned to the illustration of the demonic shoes. The Red Shoes Twins. The rendition was both fearful and comical.
Two fat white slugs stuffed into fancy shoes. Hot shoes, literally, with restless flames spewing. Teeth numerous, sharp like needles; eyes protruding, white and outraged. With something akin to tapeworms for limbs. To search out, to strangle, to suck out the life force.
Where had the image come from? The victim’s own imagination?
Who was Isabelle Andersen? Had she been the first one?
~ Part Eight ~
I couldn’t see Lilly at first – nor she me. The bistro was uncustomarily crowded, probably due to the recent closure of the only other cafe in the main part of the city; and, Lilly, when I eventually spotted her – seated at a table behind another, fully occupied by a family of generous proportions – had unwittingly dropped her spectacles in her café au lait.
“You’re late Fran.” She said without a trace of irritation, as I dragged out the opposite chair.
I suppose a person must have the patience of a saint to fiddle with numbers all day long. And, put up with me. “Sorry Lilly.” Twenty minutes late isn’t polite, even with your best friend. Even though walking is hindered by extreme pain and the slow gait of an old-school zombie.
She delicately rescued the pair of glasses from the frothy milky coffee and dried them on a clean serviette. She beamed me a smile and put them back on. “Speak before my lunch break is over.”
I told her of the Mrs Briggs and Dougi, daughter/father connection to which she was equally astonished. I relayed what Nadine Briggs had said about her ‘truth’, about the positive turn-around in her life.
“I suppose she’ll open a cake shop now.” Lilly interjected.
“You know I have to abide by client confidentiality… Well, as her accountant, I know she’s accumulated enough money over the years – she was very good with saving – she told me once about her love of baking.”
“Mm.” I tried not to be irritated. There were important things to discuss. I lugged the heavy canvas bag I’d been carrying, onto the table top.
Lilly stared at it. “What’s that?”
“The research I’ve been doing this morning on Isabelle Andersen.”
“Wait right there, I’ll get you a sandwich and a coffee.”
Whilst my friend was at the self-service counter kindly getting my lunch, I pulled out a particular paper file and laid it on the table. On the cover, Will had written in his now familiar neat hand:
Red Shoes – Isabelle Andersen.
“And, this is the first victim?” Lilly asked after she’d returned with my sustenance.
I gratefully sipped the hot coffee. “She’s the oldest one, from 1955; the oldest record in this country.”
“…in this country?”
“The very oldest record is in Italy, two centuries ago. But, the shoes look different.”
My friend nodded.
The Red Shoes burned a little brighter.
I flicked through the pages and stopped at a black-and-white photograph. I turned the file around so she could make sense of the portrait. Now it was the right way up, Lilly could discern the features of Isabelle Andersen; a woman in her late 20s or early 30s, with shoulder-length dark hair, rolled and pinned back off her oval-shaped face, serious grey eyes looking into the camera, and, a small, unsmiling mouth. As if the photo-snapping had been unexpected, ill-timed. Her face was void of make up and she had a kind of natural attractiveness. She was outside, against a light sky, dressed in a white shirt with a couple of the buttons undone, exposing the tanned skin at her throat. The photograph showed little else, except a small tortoise or turtle held to her chest.
“She looks like a country girl with a penchant for tortoises.” Lilly said. “Doesn’t your gran have a tortoise?”
I thought of Alfred. Lumbering about in Gran’s garden, up to mischief in the strawberry patch. “Hers is a lot bigger!”
“Well, they do get bigger as they get older.”
We eyed one another in silence until the piece of sandwich I’d been working on promptly departed in a very audible gulp!.
“Aren’t we clutching at straws here? Isabelle didn’t even live in this part of the country, the file says so – she lived in the Yorkshire Dales. There are many, many Alfreds.”
“Yes, yes, you’re right. It’s nonsense to think there’s a connection there.” Lilly conceded. “So, what else is there in the file?”
“There are letters written between Isabelle and her younger sister, Joy. Isabelle tells her sister about finding the Red Shoes; how she loves to wear them. Later letters tell of her misery and decline in physical and mental health. Of how she believes her soul is being attacked.” I had to stop speaking then because I would not allow myself to cry.
Lilly gently stroked my arm. I gulped down the last of my coffee.
“Fran, you’ve got to tell me…”
“No, no she didn’t get free. The demons killed Isabelle.”
There was also a photograph, in colour, of Joy. It showed a happy looking young woman in a polka dot dress. With very similar looks to her older sister. Balloons floated from the ceiling; a banner, hanging low, declared Happy 19th Birthday! Stooped, looking into the camera with pursed lips, she was about to blow out the candles on her birthday cake.
On the back of it, she had written: To dearest Isabelle, I really missed you on my birthday but I know it couldn’t be helped. Let’s make sure we’re together for the next ones! Love Joy.
It seemed that after her sister’s death, Joy had been given back the letters she’d written. 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.
The last correspondence from the younger sister was a postcard of a summer beach: Dearest Isabelle, please get well soon. I thought this postcard of Sandsend might cheer you. I have good news…Gareth and I just got engaged! Love Joy.
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.
…………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 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.