The Girl in the Blue Shoes

The FIRST CHAPTER of my literary mystery/thriller novel The Girl in the Blue Shoes … 

The mottled scent of salt and vinegar crisps and lightly peppered tomato swirled around the sun slapped train carriage.

The ruffling air rushed its way into the compartment like rowdy school kids racing in to beat each other out of the best seat by the window or somewhere ever else about the pews. A flame haired baby waved me past, in a back garden by the tracks, the little one held aloft by grandpa, as I flew by with the rest aboard our packed metal caterpillar, at one hundred miles an hour.

I had decided to spend the day in Oxford, my familiar and favourite city. If indeed it could be called that at all, its feel and appearance so much more like that of a petrified country village, or some mythical capital, its medieval tones wonderfully rich and flowing, seeping off seemingly every surface like dripping honeycomb paint. And after all, where else is it more pleasant to spend a mid-spring day than the City of Dreaming Spires? Although, setting off the day felt much more like the middle of summer, a wafting heat lathered onto the day like thick warm syrup.

The city had once been my home. But there had been an accident. I’d fallen off my bike while I had been cycling to Christ Church, my college, one morning and ended up with a stint in the hospital. I was lucky, or so they told me. A bump on the head, a few stitches and that was that, back on my feet in no time. But it had been much more than a near miss. It had shaken me, and it was enough of a rattling of my cadge to change my thoughts, realign my priorities, and track my compass onto what more there might be for me out there beyond college life. It was my wakeup call. My second chance.

Life had been a typical mix of turmoil and intrepidity (I hoped) up until then, as with anyone I suppose. A combination of relationships, one producing a child, stints here and there but never too far afield. Never too far from my comforting corner office and side street flat. The comfy couch, the nearby pub, the illustrations framed upon the walls, catching just the right amount of dust to make a gentle perusal feel like a window into a simple life.

But after the accident I pushed out the boat. After so many years of pleasant regularity I hitched up my pack upon my shoulders and flew into the opposite of my rounded and delightful world. I moved to London.

At first it was a scary dream, a swilling bowl of ingredients which all took their own individual times to digest. After that it became home, and I celebrated the gifts it gave me of which Oxford could not. The light, the rush, the feeling of enveloping oneself within a fold so thick and running with colours that it didn’t matter if you failed, again and again. It didn’t matter who you are or were or could possibly be. Everyone in London was on a reset, or so it seemed to me. They had all been drawn there, like dirty fridge magnets slipping down the fridge door.

Soon though, contemplations of wist aside, I was alighting at the station of my destination. The ever hungry ticket machine gobbling up my pass, I then set out into the street and a familiar comfortability swept over me that I was both expecting and hoping for. I took it in with open arms, the town a dear old friend, and had been an instant love of mine the first moment I had set foot among its ancient midst and rumbling cobbled streets, what now amounts to many years ago.

I made my way as if on autopilot along the same track as I had worn down many times before, taking me towards Christ Church Meadow, and then along the paths that follow the edge of the Meadow itself. I cut through a few other parks and streets and cemeteries before sidling up Parks Road and past the Museum of Natural History.

I looked down at my dusty shoes, a long dry spell in the Shire responsible for this untidy possibility. I shook them around a little under my eyes to no avail. I cast my own pupils back onto my path when I saw her.

That girl … the girl in the blue shoes.

Thin and sharp she walked along, taking no heed of me at all. She was a woman to be more accurate, long legs in navy tights and a cardigan to match her footwear in style and colour too.

I took no hesitation to mind and instantly crossed the street and walked along behind her. She was pretty, no doubt, but all girls are. She was walking but not talking, not waving nor in discussion with anyone. But she looked like she was. She didn’t look right. I don’t mean that she was unhinged or strange or anything of that nature, by far she was a comely example of a girl of the times. But she didn’t look right. Like each town and city street, each park and house is a painting, and she had just walked into the wrong one. No hoe in hand to tend the crop, no scythe of steel to harvest the wheat. What’s more, I didn’t see her approach from any direction. But then again I didn’t notice her until she walked across my eye line, like a swan gliding across a pond, more than likely already there long before you had first lay gaze upon them, even though no splash of arrival had before met your sight.

I dropped my pace and watched her walk a different way than the one my own compass had as heading, and that was that, she was gone. Lost to the winds, and the rest of my day was laid ahead of me.

The sun did me well from then on, and stayed around without obstacle. I spent a few pleasant hours catching up with old haunts and enjoying the company of familiar sites as I soaked up as much vitamin D as possible. As the golden orb crept closer towards its earthen bed I made moves to head back towards the train station.

I walked back along the same path on which I had come, making only a few minor detours, when suddenly there was something as if in a dream. Again The Girl in the Blue Shoes, passing as if she were told to do so, set on a course by another force. Was that a look in her eye? Did she have the exact same expression as she did on her pass of me hours before? This time going in the other direction, on the other side of the street? A mirror image?

Evidence of the forgery may be in the second occurrence itself. It does not exist because it does.

Something is happening, I can sense it, I can taste it in the air. And this isn’t any idle paranoia, it can’t be. Paranoia is never idle anyway. Something has been done, some switch has been flicked, and it’s up to me to find out why. I knew that there and then, not a jot of self doubt did I have in that lightning prophesy, so much so had it sliced, clean and sharp at me right then. The Girl in the Blue Shoes had been their undoing. She and her presence would lead me to it all.

I clocked her again, but with careful eye now gleaming from my sockets. I rested my blood and bones for a moment, taking a spot on a wall opposite the position she was approaching, the low slung stone structure bordering the outside line of the Natural History Museum.

She floated along, I fancied, with similarities within her movements this time that could never be dismissed as coincidence or commonality. They were not identical in technician, I didn’t think, but in feeling and flight. She carried on her way, but this occasion I watched her progress further along the street, the length she went until a building corner blocked my view. I thought at once about following her progress, but next moment dismissed it as folly, some grasp of realism, reality fetching me. For now at least.

Chapter Five

Here follows the beginning of chapter five of one of my novels – ‘EWAN PENDLE and the WHITE WRAITH’ … If you enjoy, take a look at the rest of the story HERE 😉

“Ewan turned back around and stepped out into the courtyard. He looked up at the rough sides of the buildings which flanked it on all sides as they looked down on him with crooked judging eyes. Ewan gulped.

As he walked towards the large double doors the girl had indicated to, Ewan had to first navigate some of the fig tree’s large and thick roots as they stuck up out of the stone covered ground and snaked all over the cobblestones like low winding walls. The murmuring sound grew louder still and Ewan was now able to discern it as the high and low clatter of voices. Just as he reached the double doors and was steeling himself to pull them open and enter, a deep voice called out from behind him.

You there,’ said a voice with a presence and power that seemed to make the fig tree’s leaves shudder above Ewan’s head. ‘Why are you so late for morning meal?’ Ewan thought with a wild jolt that it was actually the fig tree speaking, and looked up into its dense branches. But the sound of heavy footfalls met his ears too, and before he could turn around to face their owner, there in front of him stood his questioner.

Looking down at him was a tall and darkly rough skinned man with broad shoulders and a proud looking head set upon them. A head that was swathed strangely in a green silken cloth, wrapped around his skull like a loose turban and covering one of his keen eyes, the bulk of the cloth falling down the back and sides of his neck. Over a long but short sleeved white gown he wore an even longer deep green vest coat, the edges of it trimmed with fine gold stitching. Around his thick waist was an equally splendid gold and black patterned belt, tied in a thick knot at his middle. The man was as tall and as large as a bear on its hind legs.

The eye of the man that wasn’t covered by the silken green cloth was narrowed and stared at Ewan with a powerful gaze, the might of the earth behind it. Presently he brought his two huge muscular arms, like tree branches, to fold across his armour like chest.

Well boy? Speak!

I – ah –’ Ewan spluttered, feeling as if his legs were melting from beneath him under the heat radiating from the large man’s scrutiny.

It’s alright, Benjamin. He is our newly arrived cadet.’ The voice that had saved Ewan’s stammering belonged to Enola; she had just emerged from a doorway off to the side of Ewan’s view. She walked up to Ewan and placed a slender hand on his shoulder.

Very well, Master,’ said the menacing Benjamin with polite reluctance, his powerful singular brown eye registering no hint of accommodation as it continued to stare Ewan down.

Thank you, Master Moham,’ said Enola in formal tones, and the giant of a man bowed his head a slight angle of respect towards Enola before he walked away. Enola watched him depart and then looked down at Ewan with her startling azure blue eyes. ‘I see you have found your way to the mess hall well enough, Ewan?’

Yes, thank you,’ said Ewan, ‘the girl, she helped me.’

Ah yes, you have met Brigid then?’

Brigid?’

Yes, she is my errand-girl. She lives at Firedrake also, with her aunt and sisters.’

Ah,’ said Ewan, casting his eyes into the direction of the little alley he had been left in by Brigid the errand-girl. Enola’s lips formed into a mysterious half smile and Ewan found it hard to discern between whether she were showing accommodation or amusement.

Although, you would not normally be seeing her around during the day,’ said Enola with a steady glance on Ewan, taking her hand off of his shoulder and rising back up to her full height. ‘And remember, Ewan, you must address me as “Master” when you are here, as you should with all of the Lenitnes Masters that instruct at Firedrake,’ Enola added, but not rudely.

Oh – sorry … Master,’ said Ewan.

Come along now, morning meal is almost at an end, and we need to get some food into that slight form of yours if you are to be any good to us throughout the day,’ said Enola in a monotone voice, however, not devoid of joviality. She stepped forward and opened the tall double doors of the mess hall and Ewan’s ears were hit with the full cacophony of chatter and clatter that he could only hear but a remnant of before.

The two of them walked into a long and wide but low hall packed with long and low tables that had long and low benches beside them. Sitting at the tables were, as best as Ewan could guess, a few hundred or so other children of varying ages, all of them wearing the same white and black pyjama-like uniform as he was. A couple of stray children in the large hall looked briefly in Ewan’s direction as he and Enola entered, but those few curious souls soon turned back to their fellows and continued their conversations or the shovelling of food into their gobs.

Ewan looked over the tables that ran up and down the hall, from where the intermingling smell of freshly cooked food was wafting along towards him. Most of it seemed to have been cleared away, but Ewan could still see the remnants of large serving bowls of porridge, a few wide plates and dishes with hot things and cold things and some tall jugs almost emptied of milk and juices of every colour and presumably every flavour available too.

The scent of food in the hall pushed its way up Ewan’s nostrils as he continued to follow Enola along. A steady flutter of hurried whispers ignited here and there, jumping up from the gathered children like scattering birds, as if a sudden breeze had just rushed into the room, borne from the slopes of faraway mountains, and one by one by one more of the cadets began to take notice of Ewan’s arrival.

Just then Enola stopped abruptly, casting a thick and surveying look over the seated children. This quelled their tittering so quickly that Ewan instantly thought Enola had them all under some kind of remote control, or else had just cast upon them some clever spell. Enola eyed the gathered children for a moment more, before slowly returning her attentions back to Ewan.

Everyone will be assembling in the dojo shortly,’ said Enola, turning her wide eyes back onto Ewan. ‘And after that the morning sessions will begin. Get some food while you can and follow the other cadets when you hear the clock tower chime. I will see you later on.’ Enola turned and left the long hall from the door she and Ewan had entered, and after a short pause, the whispering began again.

Ewan walked nervously down a line of benches and sat down. The back of his head was itching with the heat of people’s stares, but he tried his best to look unmoved. Instead Ewan directed his attention towards a large silver dish of bacon that sat in the middle of the table in front of him, slowly steaming, all the while trying to ignore the whispers and wide eyes. His stomach was suddenly painful with hunger, feeling like it was being scratched from the inside out by dirty fingernails eager to get greedy hands on food.

Ewan took an empty bowl and began to ladle thick spoonfuls of a light brownish mixture that had the apparent consistency of porridge. Ewan took up a spoon that was set on the table and shoved a large dollop into his mouth. It had a warming, sweet but tangy flavour that baffled Ewan at first, but he quickly decided that it was the best thing he had ever tasted, and promptly devoured the whole bowlful in two minutes flat.

As he was scraping away the last few bits of porridge stuck to the bowl’s walls, a far off and deep bell sounded, and the other children began to get to their feet. Chairs clumped and scraped on the hardwood floor, and the march of many feet now filled the air. Ewan got up too, left his empty breakfast bowl on the table as all the others seemed to have done with their plates, and then followed the other children out.

He joined the back of the large group as they crossed the wide courtyard, skirting around the massive fig tree and through a tall and wide archway on the opposite side. The archway led through another set of tall double doors, hundreds of pairs of feet clattering into a long and wide corridor and over the worn, dark wood floor, the imposing walls lined with more colourfully bright but old fashioned looking lamps.

As he walked through the open doors Ewan noticed that carved upon their front was the same ornately fashioned F as the one on his shirt, and indeed the shirts of everyone else about him.

All of the other cadets poured into the corridor ahead of Ewan like jam through a funnel, slowly siphoning through it towards a wide staircase at the end, all of them now tightly packed and shuffling more than walking as the crowd’s pace slowed in the more confined space of the hallway. Ewan was at the very back, some of the others ahead throwing him curious looks over their shoulders as they went. Ewan didn’t meet their stares but instead turned his attention to the walls he was passing.

The walls of the long hallway were covered in hundreds, perhaps thousands of framed newspaper clippings that extended along the high walls on either side of the hallway, right up to the wooden beam vaulted ceiling. Ewan stopped following the others and paused to read a few at his eye height. Vilmhieds do it Again! said one headline; Skene and Green Make a Mean Machine, said the one next to it; Mangrove the Vilmhied’s New Star, said yet another. One of the largest clippings on the wall was emblazoned with a heading in bold black letters proclaiming: Fachan Captured! A smaller heading underneath it read: White Lightning Nabs Fachan After Three Year Vilmhied Operation. Under the writing was a picture of a tall figure in a long dark coat. The person was holding their hand up as if they were trying to stop their photograph being taken, their face in shadow. Ewan squinted at the top corner of the clipping. It was dated nearly two hundred years ago! Ewan thought – Did cameras even exist then?

What do you think you are doing?’ Ewan leapt into the air in surprise and spun around to see the thick chested and burly Master Moham, staring angrily down at him.

I – ah …’ Ewan spluttered once again, looking around to see the back end of the crowd of cadets disappearing up a large and wide staircase across a vast room at the end of the corridor.

Why are you dawdling behind?’ the man thundered, so loudly that Ewan could see a couple of those at the back of the retreating cadets slow their pace up the stairs and turn to look towards Ewan to see what all the fuss was about. Ewan had his back to the wall of newspaper clippings, Moham’s stony chin and sharpened singular brown eye baring down on him like a cannon being aimed at its enemies.

I was just looking at the –’ Ewan tried to explain before he was cut off by more crushing words.

I don’t care what you were doing! Move yourself to the dojo now or you will be cleaning it out by yourself for a week – and exactly where do you think you are going, Miss Rue?’

The Master had spoken clearly, changing his tack without his steely eye ever alleviating its grip from Ewan’s face. The latter blinked, thinking the tall Master had lost his mind, calling Ewan ‘Miss’. But Moham’s sudden change in speech was explained as Ewan looked past the accosting man to see a girl frozen like a statue in mid tip-toe behind him, caught, as she had clearly been attempting to sneak past them both.

The girl’s face was twisted into a wince and she displayed the unmistakeable expression of someone who knew what was coming. She was wearing the same black trousers and white top as Ewan, but to his surprise, she didn’t have any shoes on.

Ah, well, Master Moham, you see, I was just coming to find …’ the girl looked at Ewan expectantly. It took him a few excruciating seconds to catch on.

Ewan,’ said Ewan slowly.

Ewan,’ the girl finished with a confident flurry, ‘of course, Ewan – and – uh – you know – show him to the dojo … Him being new and all.’ The girl had a hopeful confidence that Ewan had not seen in anybody before.

The austere looking Master Moham whipped around to glare at the girl now. She gave him what Ewan though was her most sickly polite grin. Moham turned back to stare at Ewan again and his face began to feel hot, like he was standing far too close to the sharp licking flames of a fire. Master Moham looked Ewan up and down one last time, as if he were trying to asses his weaknesses.

And once again, Miss Rue, you are defiantly not in full uniform,’ Moham spoke again, his eyes still fixed on Ewan.

The girl looked down at her bare feet and then up again at the Master’s back.

Well – yeah – you see – about that Master, I was – ’

Enough simpering, Rue!’ Moham bellowed, ‘I’ll deal with you later! Now, take your friend and make your way to the dojo – now! Or the two of you will be indulging in a little extra dojo cleaning together’, Moham added with menace.

Master Moham strode away in the opposite direction of the stairs and Ewan looked across to the girl just in time to see her pull a face at the man’s retreating back. She then motioned at Ewan to follow her and bounded towards the wide staircase. Ewan had to jog a few steps to catch up to her.

As the hallway ended it opened out into a massive kind of banquet hall, lavishly decorated with broad paintings of every monster imaginable. Deadly dragons and towering trolls to name but a few stared down at Ewan as he gazed around, all four grand and massive walls fit to bursting with such an array of Creatures in various actions and poses as Ewan could ever imagine. Other fancy fittings adorned the high walls, most of which were painted in a lushly pale puce, dangled down like bats in a cave. The ceiling was vaulted and had a long rectangular skylight set into its centre, the glass fashioned in coloured shapes and figures Ewan was sure were depictions of yet more strange Creatures.

Around the staircase that the girl had just climbed onto was a crossroad of corridors, one leading off to the left and another to the right. Another led away forward on each side of the staircase, giving Ewan five new choices including the stairway of where he could go. Ewan stopped, gazing around at the cavernous and royal looking room; he had never seen anything like it in his life.

Come on,’ the girl called back to him, now halfway up the central staircase.” SH.