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 Ten?
Just to re-cap…..
Of course I regretted ever having set eyes on the damned things. What had I done wrong to be enticed, ensnared?
The only thing I could think of doing right then made perfect logical sense at the time. I went swimming.
~ Part Eleven ~
Because of the early hour there was only one other swimmer at the pool, an elderly, lean man who looked like he swam every morning. I put my head under the water so that my whole body was immersed. I kept my eyes shut, and for a while, was strangely able to acquire a dreamlike state that was captivating and peaceful. I felt I never wanted to leave.
Then I remembered someone pumping my chest; whilst voices, familiar, frantically called my name, and at the same time, I was being pulled away, back to that desirable serene state.
Just a little longer. I laughed because it was reminiscent of the days when I had a job and had to get up early and the alarm clock would always intrude upon my sleep and I’d think:
Just a little longer.
>No, you are waking up now.< Someone said.
Why? I answered, Why, when it’s so much better here?
>It’s not better here. It may seem it at first…<
Go away. Leave me alone, whoever you are.
I didn’t want to be bothered by the voice, although I was sure it was from someone who meant well.
I just wanted to be left alone. To sink further into this beckoning and peaceful retreat.
>Fine. Don’t come back. After all, it’s hotter in Hell.< He said in exasperation, without raising his voice.
Will. Will is that you? I don’t understand, why are you here?
I saw the flames licking my feet, licking the Red Shoes. I was perplexed at how they got to be in the pool. They became warm in a comforting way. Wrapping their orange tendrils about my ankles. How strange a sensation that was against the coolness of the water.
The flames grew, they now reached my knees. The Red Shoes weren’t even being devoured by the heat. Actually, I then realised, the flames were of the shoes. Suddenly, the heat became unbearable. Of course, of course…it was me who was on fire.
Will! Get me out of here! I screamed.
My chest was being pumped. I could see blurry forms and bright daylight from underneath my lashes. Was I really still alive? I seemed to be.
I painfully heaved and choked up water. I heard Fatima and Brian, they were calling me by my name – as well as calling me stupid, but in a gentle scolding way. Nearby I heard someone with an authoritative voice telling everyone to clear the area:
“Leave the pool. There’s nothing to see. We need space here…please…”
People murmured, I heard them step back, shuffle away. Disappointed the show was over.
“Fatima. Brian.” I tried to say. I tried to sit up but the effort was too immense. I flopped back onto the hard surface surrounding the pool. Then, I felt arms grasp me, either side, easing me into a sitting position. They held me there. I was able to see clearer now, noticed my two friends – the receptionist and the barman – from the hotel. Naturally, I’d chosen to swim in the hotel’s outdoor pool.
“Madness”. Someone said from outside the periphery of my vision. “Who goes swimming in stilettos?”
I noticed the hotel manager was standing there next to a life guard. I knew he was the hotel’s life guard because his t-shirt said so. But, he hadn’t been around earlier. The senior from the pool, with the body of a healthy forty year old, stood a little away from the life guard. Wrapped in a small towel, his face wore a concerned look.
“He saved your life Fran.” Fatima said softly.
I recalled the flames – as one with the Shoes – under the water. The Red Shoes Twins had almost succeeded with their final act; that of claiming my soul.
I knew then what to do. I was sure Gran had a lot to answer for. Therein lay my truth.
Fatima couldn’t leave receptionist duty, I’d never seen her so apologetic. “Call me lunchtime, won’t you?” She insisted with big worried eyes.
However, Brian, came with me. In fact he drove us in his car. He wasn’t working till the evening and had only been at the hotel to hang out – discreetly, behind the hotel manager’s back – with Fatima.
En route, I texted Lilly to say where I was going. And where I’d almost ended up going.
She immediately phoned me back. “I’ll be there at your Gran’s. You need all the support you can get.”
Ten fifteen that morning found Gran watering her tomatoes in her small back garden. Alfred, the large tortoise, the very one of recent confabulation, was presumably lost in the strawberry patch. Gran would only guess his whereabouts because she couldn’t see much from under the large straw hat she donned.
Of course she hadn’t been expecting me, I hadn’t phoned to mention my imminent visit. I bypassed ringing the front-door bell and went round the side of the house, there being open access to the back.
“Fran! What are you doing here?” She was a little startled as I’d unintentionally snuck up on her, courtesy of the big hat. The action had almost caused her to spray me with the hose pipe. “Why are you trembling girl?”
I looked across the colourful and thriving garden that best explained who Gran really was. Spotted Alfred supping on a large strawberry in the middle of the patch. “Can we sit down, Gran?”
She took off the straw hat and stared at me hard. “Yes. Yes, we can. Let’s sit over there.” She indicated with her hand – the one with the hat and not the hose pipe – the four seats and table on the patio nearby. The sun wasn’t yet at its pinnacle and glaring. Brian and I sat down at the table, feeling the welcoming warmth of the sun on our faces. Gran switched off the garden tap, casually leaving the hose pipe on the grass, and joined us.
“Who’s this? Your boyfriend?” She said, glancing at Brian.
“No. This is Brian, a good friend.” I turned to Brian, “You can call her Gran, everyone does.”
Brian gave a wan smile. He was apparently still shocked from the morning’s event.
“But first, I’ll make us a pot of strong tea.” Gran left for the kitchen. When she returned she noticed that my one friend had multiplied to two.
“Girl, you’re popular this morning!” Gran said setting the tea tray down on the table. “Hello my dear.” She smiled at Lilly. “What about a cup for yourself?”
Lilly disappeared to the kitchen to return with one. She knew the deal.
I waited until Gran had had a couple gulps of tea before I said: “I almost died this morning. They almost had me. It was so peaceful, there was no more pain, I was being very warmly received. Then, I was saved by good people – a complete stranger, a friend I’ve never met in this world, and friends I’ve recently made. I know that without them, I would be dead; in body and soul.
“I know that in that photograph you showed me, the shoes you were wearing are these very same shoes.
“And, I also know that, in that same photograph, the man with you, isn’t an old boyfriend…”
All the time I said these true words, I kept my eyes fixed on my grandmother’s face. She was still. And then a tear trickled down her cheek. She said nothing.
“That man who was abusive to you was my grandfather. I pieced it together, the things said over the years, from you, from Mum. All the little pieces I pieced together to finally discover that truth.”
Gran was shaking her head. The colour gone from her cheeks. “I didn’t want to hurt you. You were just a small child when he died. You didn’t need to know that. It was wretched enough for us – me, Mum, Aunt Nicky.”
Lilly could not contain herself. I’d never have a better friend. “But, but, Fran…you told me about Gran’s truth. It doesn’t make sense anymore. If that abusive man was really your grandfather, what was her truth? What set her free?”
…………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.