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 Twelve?
Just to re-cap…..
“Gran, tell us your story. How you got to know the Red Shoes?”
It hurt me extracting the truth from her.
She blotted her eyes and swigged her tea. “Alright then, I will tell you…exactly how it happened. But, girl, don’t say I didn’t warn you: It’s not pretty. I don’t know whether you will ever forgive me either.”
“How did you get them off?” Lilly asked.
Then there was a splash as my friend’s glasses dropped in her tea.
~ Part Thirteen ~
I think I should caution readers that I’ve written about sensitive issues such as untimely death and giving up children for adoption. If you think you may become too upset, please refrain from reading.
Lilly retrieved her glasses from the depths of her tea-filled cup. It would have been, otherwise, if not for the grim occasion, a moment for smiles.
“There is nothing I regret more than those shoes. And the bargain I was forced to make.” Gran said.
I didn’t want to believe the words just uttered from my grandmother’s mouth. The bargain she was forced to make. What the hell was going on? I wondered while my stomach knotted. I’d read all of Will’s files inside and out; there was no mention of bargains. “What do you mean Gran?” I said when I was able to find my voice again. “What bargain?”
I’d already guessed with whom.
“I was young, I was desperate, I didn’t want my life to end. I had years and years spanning before me.”
I stared at her, willing her to go on, trying not to lose my cool.
“The last day they held me prisoner and I knew I was dying, I called out to them. I didn’t know what exactly it was this evil power…but then I saw them.”
“The Red Shoes Twins.” Lilly said in hushed tones.
“The Red Shoes Twins.” Gran echoed. “I was alone in my bedroom – still not yet married to your grandfather, still living at my parents’ – and I couldn’t sleep. The pain in my feet, travelling up my legs – hot and burning like fire – kept me awake, while all the time I was sliding towards death. I just knew I wouldn’t be alive come morning.
“I called out to them, ‘Demons whatever you are, show yourselves!’ though my voice couldn’t have been louder than a whisper, that near to death I was. Next, I called them cowards, I asked why they were doing this to me, then, I said: ‘What do you want from me to stop all this?’
“I had on my bedside lamp but it was still too dark to see properly. I heard, what seemed to be footsteps; the clattering of stilettos, against pavement. But, I was indoors, the room’s floor was covered in carpet. There wasn’t a pavement or road that near. So, there I was, listening to the clatter of walking stilettos – from I don’t know where. I was sitting up on the bed, not in it, and my glance returned to the Red Shoes. They were not there. I was looking harder, wanting to know if my eyes were deceiving me… Then, I saw them.
“A sudden stench of something like rotten eggs filled the room accompanying them. They were the size of small dogs or large feet, glistening and white like slugs, with winding arms or tentacles like sucking worms. Their eyes, white and protruding; fixed on me. The sucking worms couldn’t keep still; winding, unwinding around my ankles and feet. Tightening and loosening their grip. One demon to each foot. One of them opened a perfectly round mouth, displaying a black hole with needle like teeth, and screamed. I thought it was about to bite my toes.
“Instead, the other one spoke to me, in a voice almost human; in a tone that was silken and slimy befitting itself: ‘My twin here wants to bite off all your toes. But me, I like a bargain. What do you say, do you want to bargain? We can bargain and you could keep your life – a bit longer.’
“I wasn’t able to really understand anything anymore. Part of me wanted to give up and die. To be done with the pain and fear. Then, there was a part of me who yearned to be a mother, to have a fulfilling life.
“The demon was mentioning children, just like it had read my mind. ‘Children! Ah, children! We love children. Unlike you they don’t question what they see or hear. Do you want to bargain? We can bargain. You could live a bit longer.’
“At that time I no longer saw what was around me in the room. The dark shapes of the furniture, the curtains at the nearby window, me, them – that had all faded away. I was in a long tunnel. Travelling in a dark space in which a far off circle of bright light beckoned. Then, I was remembering I wanted to be a mother one day. If I went then my life would be over and motherhood would never happen.
“‘Ah! I see you do want to bargain! Excellent! Agree to our terms and you can live a bit longer.’
“I thought about the children I would bear one day. I found myself nodding and consenting.
“Then I comprehended the rest of what it was saying: ‘Agree to our terms and you can live a bit longer. A modest payment really. One that doesn’t directly effect you. Give us your 2nd granddaughter and her 2nd granddaughter and her 2nd granddaughter…’
“I was nodding. It was already too late.”
I left Gran’s garden in a haze. Speechless, heartbroken, betrayed and in despair. I felt I had nowhere now to turn. My own grandmother had sold me to the devil. I thought of the twin girls I’d given birth to and given up for adoption when I was sixteen. They were safe. However, if there would be a 2nd daughter of my 2nd daughter, she too would be taken. And, of course, the curse would be handed down to her 2nd granddaughter if there was to be one.
I held onto Lilly’s arm as I needed help walking. She was crying buckets and had removed her slipping spectacles altogether. We sat in her car for the longest time while I consoled her. Then I asked her to drive me to my most favourite place to die.
Hilltop Wood – an ancient wood of oaks, beeches, birches and sycamores, located on a tall grassy slope – overlooked the city. This special wood was where I played as a child, rode my bicycles, walked with family and friends. Carved my name together with that of my school sweetheart inside a heart in the aged trunk of a beech tree. And, when he suddenly died in a road accident, aged just sixteen, I’d taken a leaf from that tree and pressed it flat in my diary. A small keepsake to remember him by. I wasn’t encouraged to keep our babies. My mother and Gran had persuaded me to give them up for adoption, where they can be properly loved, because I was far too young to bring up twin babies and because Steve was dead and wouldn’t be able to help and because certain life opportunities would pass me by. I was afraid without Steve. His untimely death took a part of me too.
I did not dare think of him for years. And no one would speak to me about my children. Stored away, I walked the city’s streets when I could not sleep.
If my own grandmother had not unwittingly sold my soul maybe that would have been my truth? The truth being the guilt I carried with me, that of giving up my own children. My truth ticket to get out of Hell.
I’d never really had that option – had I? – that of finding my own truth to set me free.
I stumbled along the path – bumping against the trunks of trees, tripping over exposed tree roots – Lilly’s protective arm around me as we headed for the summit. My energy was diminishing fast. We passed my beech tree and I fleetingly touched the etched heart for the last time. Inside the Victorian gazebo, made of black-painted, filigree-patterned wrought iron and a red-tiled roof, we sat on the long wooden seat and viewed the city.
“Thank you Lilly for being the best friend a person could have.” I said.
“Thank you Fran for being my friend.” Lilly said, squeezing my hand.
I lent my head against her shoulder. I shivered violently. Coldness had seeped into my core.
The sun set, sending out a profusion of coral, lavender and gold colours, it was truly wondrous.
“You know Fran, Gran didn’t mean to… She was tricked.”
“I know.” I whispered. “I forgive her.” My vision blurred so I closed my tired eyes. “I forgive my family for telling me to give up my children. I forgive Steve for leaving me because he didn’t mean to, but it was his time. I forgive myself for giving up my children. I will always love them even though I’m not in their lives.” I tried squeezing Lilly’s hand. “I love you too, Bestie. Get your glasses fixed.”
:::::::::: YES! TO BE CONTINUED. NEXT WEEK IS THE EPILOGUE ::::::::::
Will catch up with everyone soon. Been busy sleeping + writing. Love you. xo
…………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.